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April 5, 2012

Midnight Movie of the Week #118 - The Intruder

It's probably not fair for me to lump The Intruder into the midnight movie category with the rest of the films of Roger Corman.  Heck, the director has long vocalized that he hates being known as a master of crap cinema - and here I am, ON HIS BIRTHDAY(!), lumping one of the films he's most proud of in with a bunch of silly supernatural tales and other tomfoolery based films.  But I certainly mean no disrespect to the man or his work, I simply want to talk about just how impressive The Intruder is. 
I'm not an authority on history and the civil rights movement, but I do know that The Intruder was bold enough to address racial tensions in the time of desegregation.  Though many would expect a film by Corman to sensationalize the matter - and to be honest, there are a few moments here where he does - Corman's drive to make a film that is both entertaining and important truly needs to be applauded.
The film follows a smooth talking young man in a white suit named Adam Cramer, who is played by none less than a thirty-one year old and relatively unknown (pre-Twilight Zone!) William Shatner.  He rolls into a small southern town in the middle of the civil rights movement, particularly on the eve of desegregation of schools.  Cramer, for reasons that aren't really fleshed out (that's not a bad thing), has his sights set on stopping the placement of 10 African American teenagers in the local school district, and it becomes increasingly evident that he will not stop until he has control over the whole community.
Modern audiences might not find The Intruder's methods to be groundbreaking - racial tension has been a key cog in more dramas than I can count over the last 40 years - but it's the simple approach taken by Corman and company that really wins me over.  Working on a budget that is probably 1/10th of what Paris Hilton spends at the shoe store - like usual - Corman shows once again that he can find inventive ways to tell his story and get the shots he needs.  Interviews with Shatner and Corman discuss some of the guerrilla tactics used to make the film, including the fact that the film's most racially charged shots - involving a parade of Klansters and a church bombing - were the last things filmed.  The reason? Because Corman knew that the crew could drive straight out of town and never look back - just in case.
Plenty of pop culture fanatics may seek out The Intruder because of it's lead performer, and they shouldn't be disappointed by Mr. Shatner.  He takes on the slimy role with a sinister smile, and at this stage in his career he's relatively tame compared to his later overacting.  The character needs to be someone the audience can tel is not trustworthy, and those of us who know Shatner's career should be pleased with his work here.
The Intruder still feels pretty raw due to its budget and Corman's trademark style.  Most of the cast - including the young man who becomes a victim in the final scenes and stands out wonderfully - are members of the real small town who Corman cast to keep the film feeling natural.  Very few of the people involved are trained actors by any means, which makes the production all the more frightening.
And really, that frightening tone to the film - the one that comes from our realization that these are real people and the events we see are real possibilities - is what makes The Intruder so gripping.  The fact that people like Adam Cramer (and people like the easily-manipulated townsfolk who will buy in to fear so easily) are out there should inflict more concern on the viewer than any rubber monster or giant insect Corman could have put on the screen.  This is a movie that dares to go places others wouldn't, a movie that tackles a real issue of the time, and a movie that makes a real point and leaves the viewer with real thoughts about society.  I could not believe what I was seeing when I watched The Intruder the first time, but I knew there was reality behind it.

Maybe the events didn't really happen - there's a Twilight Zone feel to the film, thanks to the adaptation by author Charles Beaumont (who wrote plenty of TZ episodes) - but the history books are full of incidents that did happen based on these same fears.  Corman may be known as a master of escapism, but his work on The Intruder deserves to be applauded alongside the most relevant films of this era.

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