Mon 28 Jun 2010
DARK INTRUDER. Universal Pictures, 1965. Leslie Neilsen, Mark Richman, Judi Meredith, Werner Klemperer, Charles Bolender, Vaughn Taylor, Gilbert Green. Screenplay: Barré Lyndon. Director: Harvey Hart.
It’s foggy turn of the century (1890) San Francisco and the city is being stalked by a murderer, but no ordinary killer — he’s killing in the name of Lovecraftian demons from the ancient past. Only a handful of victims stand between him and eternal life, leaving behind a mystical ivory demon with a parasite on its back that grows smaller with each murder as the time grows shorter between the date each new victim dies.
Who is the disfigured monster stalking the foggy streets and what is his true face, and what is the demonic killer after? There’s even the mummified body of a demon in the possession of a mysterious Chinese who aides our hero.
Chinese: How bad? This is a Sumerian god, ancient before Babylon, before Egypt. It is the essence of blind evil, demons and acolytes so cruel, so merciless, all were banished from the earth and they are forever struggling to return. In the old days people were possessed by demons. These demons.
Leslie Neilson is amateur supernatural sleuth Brett Kingsford (“The seventh son of a seventh son has a reputation to uphold”) — replete with secret crime lab, a Latin motto “Omina Exeunt in Mysterium” (Everything is a Mystery), a library of occult tomes, and a dwarf assistant named Nikola (Charles Bolender):
Kingsford: Yes poor chap, destined for ultimate evaporation I’m afraid. The penalty for telling a Dyak witch doctor to go jump in the lake.
Kingsford is called in by the Police Commissioner (Gilbert Green) to help find the killer (“You seem to specialize in obscure acquaintances.”), which he does while maintaining the pose of a playboy a la Lamont Cranston or the Scarlet Pimpernel (“For me to be any value to you at all the company of a narcotics addict is preferable to a police commissioner.”), though he is less than happy when Kingsford suggests they are hunting a ritual murderer in the thrall of ancient Sumerian gods who must be locked away “… where all such unearthly things belong.”
Nielson has some fun as the Sherlockian Kingsford, who is a master of disguise and fully as high handed as Holmes at his best. Judi Meredith is Evelyn, whose psychic trances aide Kingsford in his hunt for the demonic killer, fiancee of wealthy importer and a friend of Kingsford, Robert Vandenberg (Mark Richman).
This was originally shot as a pilot for a series, The Black Cloak, that never developed and released theatrically by Universal as a feature as sometimes happened then.
Night Gallery producer Jack Laird produced it and the teleplay was by Barré Lyndon (screenplays for The Lodger, Hangover Square, War of the Worlds, Night Has 1000 Eyes — with Jonathan Latimer — The Man Who Could Cheat Death, and his play The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse), so the mix of horror, mystery, and detective elements were natural. The eerie score is by Lalo Shifrin.
Enjoying himself playing Kingsford, Leslie Nielsen gets to indulge in disguises and flights of Holmesian reasoning, and the scenes with Mark Richman as wealthy Robert Vandenberg have a nice bite to them.
Kingsford: No, he had claws.
You’ll have to look closely for Werner Klemperer, Colonel Klink from Hogan’s Heroes, in a key role with a distinctly Lovecraftian twist if you recall the plot of “The Dunwich Horror.”
Handsome Robert Vandenberg has a demonic twin, Professor Malachi, born at the same time on an archeological dig, and brought up by a nurse who was midwife to Robert’s mother, who won’t be happy until he has traded bodies with his half brother and ushered in his demonic father.
A set piece when Malachi confronts Vandenberg in a foggy church is nicely done with one last twist when the misshapen Malachi plunges to his supposed death…
And he’s right as he races to save Evelyn from a fate much worse than death:
Nicola: If they did sir, nobody would get a decent night’s sleep.
This is an entertaining little exercise in the mix of detective and horror elements with an attractive cast and Leslie Neilsen in a lead role long before he revealed his comic flair in the Airplane! movies.
At a mere 59 minutes it is tightly written and directed and moves along nicely never pausing long enough for any pesky doubts to cloud the viewers enjoyment of the precedings.
This was on everyone’s wish list for years, and when it showed up a few years ago on the gray market it was a bonus to discover it was every bit as good as the memories it evoked. It’s an attractive little black and white entry in the mystery/horror genre that manages some genuine chills and solid fun.
More than a few more expensive productions fail to deliver as much atmosphere, action, and fun as this one does. It may remind you of the similar Chamber of Horrors with Patrick O’Neal and Cesare Danova, another pilot turned feature, though this one, thankfully, does without the “Horror Horn.”
Dark Intruder is a fine example of a period when the pilots that failed were sometimes more interesting than the ones that succeeded.