Alien, with its R rating, could have alien parasites busting out of stomachs and cyborgs going haywire and needing to be destroyed. With its theatrical budget it could afford to design a sinister atmosphere with its creepy sets and inspired creature designs.
The TV movie market of the early 1980s being what it was, The Intruder Within could only afford a junior varsity version of the alien, could almost give you a glimpse of a little blood, and had to imply the possessed crew member raped another just as the film went dark for a commercial break. Its blue collar origins were perfectly illustrated with its oil rig setting. That and they traded in Sigourney Weaver for Jennifer Warren.
I vaguely recall being excited when I saw this advertised on TV when it first came out in 1981. Less vague, but much more fanciful, was my recollection that when I watched it as a little kid, that The Intruder Within was a nasty little monster movie that succeeded quite well in moving the plot of Alien from a spaceship to an equally isolated oil rig.
The reality was that the movie delivered very little in the monster mayhem department, suffered from a sluggish middle part where people traded boo-hoo stories about their haunted pasts, and was afflicted with a script that every time someone tried to explain what was happening, everything made less sense.
Chad Everett plays Jake Nevins, the guy in charge of the oil rig and the Medical Center vet’s unpretentious performance as a guy concerned for the safety of his crew is likable enough that you want to see him overcome this monster infestation.
Jake’s plainspoken, but heartfelt eulogy for a guy who was killed on the rig is probably the only thing I’ll remember from the movie more than a hour after it ended. I certainly wont remember how the janitor pricked his finger on a spiny prehistoric meatball which caused him to go crazy and jump into the ocean.
Even after watching the scene a couple of times where the slightly villainous punk geologist is putting forth his theory of what the creatures are, I not only won’t remember it, I won’t ever understand just what the hell he was talking about!
He’s going on about how in ancient times some ape ancestor of ours disappeared and was probably killed by some super evil life form and then the landmass sank to the bottom of the sea where the life form has lain dormant until they drilled and brought up some of its eggs. The eggs are now hatching and the monsters are ready to finish what they started millions of years ago.
This idiot even has a chart showing the evolution of people from apes! It’s like he brought it aboard the oil rig just in case he had to give a lecture on the super secret reason they were drilling in this mysterious location!
I never could grasp just what the oil company’s involvement in all this was. The geologist was dispatched by them to the rig and put in charge along with Nevins so it was apparently known that these creatures were down there. The oil rig was operating “off the books” and the radio wasn’t working which further implicates the oil company’s complicity.
But how did they know those things were down there in the first place? And more importantly, what the hell did an oil company want with a gang of surly undersea mutants? Were they going to give them hard hats and have them man the drills?
Not to be outdone in the “makes no sense” department, the creatures themselves are a jumble of monster clichés that don’t add up. There’s an eel-sized one that’s accidentally brought up from the ocean floor and kills a guy. That sort of blows the whole “lying dormant just waiting to eat us” theory.
Then there’s the eggs whose mere scratch can cause madness. Then there’s one that hatches and attacks a guy and apparently assumes his identity because the guy goes crazy and impregnates a crew member who then gives birth to full grown mutant about ten minutes after the attack!
Sure, there’s nothing short of magic that would allow a regular old crappy prehistoric monster to actually change into a man from its snake-like stage on its way to its full grown biped stage, but the characters just breezily hypothesize something about how it’s changing forms. Telling me what I have already seen is not the same as explaining to me how what I’ve seen is even slightly plausible.
The monsters don’t exactly distinguish themselves as being all that bad ass. They have no problem killing people when they take them by surprise, but you or I could do that.
Once the humans get their crap together and use an embarrassingly primitive bait and switch technique to lure the creature to a location where they can blow it up, it’s all over. As little intelligence as these things possessed, we should all be glad they wiped out the even more dimwitted ape branch of our evolutionary tree all those millennia ago.
If you’re in the market for similar subject matter with a little more “oomph” (more gore and/or sleaze and/or Jack Scalia/Doug McClure) you might try something like Endless Descent or the original Humanoids from the Deep.
Still, if you’ve got a five year old kid who still needs to be introduced to the concept that the universe is full of slimy mutants just looking to screw our chicks in half and sow their foul seed in them, The Intruder Within is a good starter movie.
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