When the oil brings death, the rig is doomed.
The crew members of a secluded oil rig near Antarctica face extinction when a deep sea parasite infests the platform, lays its eggs and spawns its offspring.
Being a genre film fan nowadays and taking a dive into cinema history – a fairly easy feat in this digital age with easy online access – one can quickly learn that during the ’70s and early ’80s made-for-TV movies were often really pushing the envelope. Some great gems can be re-discovered in this medium, sometimes cranking gruesomely creepy housebound matters up a notch (‘Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark’, 1973), sometimes providing effective psychological scares (‘Don’t Go To Sleep’, 1982), sometimes entering fields of terror (‘Dark Night Of The Scarecrow’, 1981), sometimes dabbling in witchcraft (‘Midnight Offerings’, 1981), sometimes being in league with Satan himself (‘Satan’s School For Girls’, 1973), sometimes taking a trip on a cursed boat (‘Cruise Into Terror’, 1978), sometimes raising the drama to disturbing heights (‘The Burning Bed’, 1984), sometimes venturing into sheer exploitation territory (‘Nightmare In Badham County’, 1976) or sometimes simply amping up horrific entertainment from hell to ridiculous levels (‘Devil Dog: The Hound Of Hell’, 1978). Now that we have these random recommendations out of the way, here’s another curiosity to add to the list: ‘The Intruder Within’ (1981).
Where ghosts, vampires, werewolves, witches, haunted mansions, rabid animals and demented killers made their regular appearances in made-for-TV films, a creature feature like ‘The Intruder Within’ was not so common for those days. Especially not one that seems to riff on Ridley Scott‘s ‘Alien’ (1979) and John Carpenter‘s yet-to-be-released ‘The Thing’ (1982) remake (so let’s just throw in John W. Campbell Jr.‘s original short story ‘Who Goes There?’ instead). In addition to this peculiar mix, there’s also the film’s – for that time uniquely original – setting of an oil rig. That’s right, the whole film takes place on an open sea location, and the ominous opening credits make sure we get that already from the start of things. As to be expected, virtually everything that’s about to unfold is pretty much predictable from A to Z, but still, in its own way, ‘The Intruder Within’ will deliver what you came for.
However, does all this result in a good film? While clearly working on a limited budget and with restricted means, director Peter Carter – and his whole cast and crew for that matter – really did try hard to make things work. And to a certain extent, they succeeded. The script doesn’t exactly pack a lot of thrills and excitement, but the down-tempo pace does bring a bit of slow brooding atmosphere along with it. The music score is adequate while the editing does reveal standard TV-trademarks. The good thing is that we are presented characters that feel real, since we’re dealing with blue collar working class persons here that just want to get the job done, collect their pay checks and make it back home (maybe the filmmakers might want to thank Dan O’Bannon for inspiration on this one). But strangely enough, for a monster movie – which, in the end, that is what ‘The Intruder Within’ sets out to be – it’s also a drawback, since after a while you may start to giggle when yet another character talks about how his wife was cheating on him while he was out working or when you’re presented with the anticipated regarding two single characters (male & female) that are getting romantically interested in each other (granted, there’s a twist to this latter aspect, because after all: this is a creature feature).
Whether all their heartfelt chitchat makes us actually care more about the characters or might make you yawn a couple times during the movie, we’ll just leave in the middle. Because there still are other things to enjoy. If the name of the Zortron company that employs the rig workers doesn’t already sound dubious enough, than the inclusion of Scott (Joseph Bottoms) amongst the crew members as a scientist/biologist/geologist (whatever; he’s working for the same sleazy company and has a hidden agenda, that’s what matters) should surely evoke suspicion. Chad Everett, as chief crew member Jake Nevins, is a capable leading man, does his best with the written material at hand and along with co-star Jennifer Warren as – you guessed it – newly arrived crew member and potential love interest Colette Beaudroux (luckily the plot doesn’t get carried away with this angle too much) he is the one guy who eventually figures out things are about to get slimy and disturbing on his oil rig.
It all starts early on with a strange eel-like, thooted critter finding its way onto the upper working level of the rig and biting a crew member in the arm. While they all at first dismiss the slithering thing as a harmless part of the local sea life, of course there’s a little more to it. Whether it’s prehistoric or alien of nature remains a bit vague throughout the film. The thing looks a like a simple parasite at first, somehow needing a host to incubate. But not only that. It also takes possession of your being and control over your body and mind, has the ability to breed by impregnating a female crew member which on her turn will spawn a fully grown creature later on. This all sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it? But at least ‘The Intruder Within’ was one of the earlier films that did all this (albeit not the first, of course, and Norman J. Warren was doing something very similar with his ‘Inseminoid’ that very same year). Those alienesque scenes, where the creature’s influence is felt, do provide a fair amount of tension and creepy moments, while in general the film also has a rather bleak atmosphere to it, thanks to the isolated setting with no escape from the oil rig. It all helps sitting through this one without too many problems.
With the freshly spawned creature running amok now, in the end we’re looking at nothing more than an actor in a rubber monster suit, but let’s face it: if you take the animatronic mouthpiece of HR Giger‘s Xenomorph design out of the equation, the fully grown creature in Ridley Scott‘s ‘Alien’ was just a rubber-suited guy as well. Of course, director Peter Carter is no Ridley Scott and he’s making a TV movie here, not a big budgeted epic sci-fi/horror feature to be released worldwide in theaters. That being said, the creature suit for ‘The Intruder Within’ is a bit more man-shaped, though it looks well-sculpted (especially the head) and fairly shiny and slimy on film. Carter and cinematographer James Pergola decided wisely to keep it in the shadows most of the time, so all things considered, the final scenes that feature the creature work pretty well. Except for the fact that, aside from displaying ferocious strength, the thing is darn slow and seems to be just stumbling around most of the time. But it looks nice. And the thing can rip steel doors apart like a m**herf**ker.
Unfortunately, most VHS-sourced (digital) versions circulating out there (and online) are of rather murky quality, with the images being a bit too dark to get a good, clear look at the monster. A clean and fully restored transfer from the original 16mm or 35mm prints – or however this was shot, framed and formatted, because it was intended for TV screens after all – would do the film more justice. And ‘The Intruder Within’ does deserve it, since most fans of creature features would probably want to add this more obscure outing to their collection. Viewers with less affinity towards this particular subgenre, need not bother tracking down a copy as they’re not likely to find much of interest here. To each his own, as they say.
Trailer on YouTube.