A socko 1960s vintage horror outing on the anniversary of star Leslie Nielsen’s passing.
By Paul Mavis
A few years ago, TCM Selects and Universal released The Night Walker and Dark Intruder Horror Double Feature, including director William Castle‘s 1964 psychological horror murder mystery The Night Walker, starring Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck, and Dark Intruder, with Leslie Nielsen and Peter Mark Richman, an unsold 1964 television pilot produced by Alfred Hitchcock’s Shamley Productions/Universal which was deemed too violent for TV and was instead released to theaters in 1965. More recently, Kino Lorber’s Studio Classics line released Dark Intruder on Blu-ray (in 2021), so let’s review that movie here.
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It’s San Francisco, 1890. In the foggy back alleyways of the Paris of the West, young women are getting ripped apart by a large, growling man-like creature, and Police Commissioner Harvey Misbach (Gilbert Green) needs help with the investigation. Enter Brett Kingsford (Leslie Nielsen), rich bon vivant, arrogant rake, and dabbler in occult studies. Called secretly to Misbach’s office, Kingsford identifies as Sumerian the tiny statues that have been left with the murder victims, each portraying the image of a demon emerging from a man. Calling on Chinese merchant Chi Zang (Peter Brocco), Kingsford learns that the statues are connected to a mummified Sumerian token that predicts a series of seven killings… with the victims somehow connected in the past.
Meanwhile, Kingsford’s friend, antique dealer Robert Vandenburg (Peter Mark Richman), appears to be quite troubled — and not because he’s marrying the beautiful, vivacious smart-ass Evelyn Lang (Judi Meredith) — with a further sense of urgency gripping Vandenburg after meeting hooded medium Professor Malaki (a never-seen Werner Klemperer, in Bud Westmore’s horror makeup,). Can Kingsford quit making cynical wisecracks with his manservant Nikola (Charles Bolender) long enough to stop the murders?
A remarkable find for lovers of “lost” vintage TV and 1960s occult offerings, Dark Intruder finally makes its debut on DVD. Guided by pro producer Jack Laird (TV’s Night Gallery, Kojak) and written by Britisher “Barre Lyndon” (Alfred Edgar, The Lodger, Hangover Square, The War of the Worlds), Dark Intruder was shot as a TV pilot for Laird’s proposed series, “The Black Cloak,” where rich dilettante/dabbler Leslie Nielsen would investigate supernatural occurrences in Gay 90s San Francisco. Produced through Alfred Hitchcock’s Shamley Productions (which by 1964 had been sold back to Universal in exchange for Hitch taking a large stake in the movie studio), the pilot was screened by first-look network NBC, where execs deemed it too violent for 1965 TV standards.
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Instead of taking a total loss on it, Universal decided to release it to theaters, just as they had done the year before with director Don Siegel’s ultra-violent TV movie adaptation of Hemingway’s The Killers with Lee Marvin and Ronald Reagan. Buried on the bottom of a exploitation double bill with director William Castle’s fun Joan Crawford shocker, I Saw What You Did, Dark Intruder was quickly forgotten in the summer of 1965 (I Saw What You Did was a money loser), with occasional appearances on 1970s late, late TV keeping its cult reputation alive by fans of literate TV ephemera (no doubt due to Castle’s high profile at the time, no less than prickly Howard Thompson of The New York Times reviewed the double bill back in ’65… and promptly championed the anonymous Dark Intruder over Crawford’s big-name vehicle. To no avail).
Directed with tight assurance by Harvey Hart (The Sweet Ride, The Pyx), Dark Intruder runs a lightning fast 59-minutes, distinguishing itself right out of the gate with an opening murder scene that’s heavy on carefully-crafted studio atmosphere (cinematographer John F. Warren) and some distinctly un-1960s network TV-like POV shots of the killer creature pursuing his victim (complimented greatly by composer Lalo Schifrin’s spooky score).
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Cocky, suave Nielsen, perfectly cast as is Richman, has a fun character to work with: a combination Sherlock Holmes (what, exactly, is that “headache powder” Kingsford is taking?) with well-read deduction skills (and a secret lab), mixed with the Scarlet Pimpernel (Nielsen hits just the right note of a dedicated crime fighter masquerading as a cynical, superficial fop).
Lyndon’s script is enjoyably dense in occult detail (mixing in a few Lovecraft references, for good measure), while the just-right insouciant tone of the frequent banter is quite amusing; the bright, funny Meredith is a hoot when “invading” a clearly annoyed Nielsen’s bachelor flat (“You saucy thing! You’d turn any girl’s head with your flattery!”), or commenting on Nielsen’s small manservant Nikola (“I declare every time I see him he’s shrunk another inch!” to which a sardonic Nielsen throws back, “Yes, dear chap — destined for ultimate evaporation, I’m afraid,”). What a shame this literate, amusing antecedent to TV’s The Sixth Sense and Kolchak: The Night Stalker never got off the ground.
PAUL MAVIS IS AN INTERNATIONALLY PUBLISHED MOVIE AND TELEVISION HISTORIAN, A MEMBER OF THE ONLINE FILM CRITICS SOCIETY, AND THE AUTHOR OF THE ESPIONAGE FILMOGRAPHY. Click to order.Read more of Paul’s film reviews here. Read Paul’s TV reviews at our sister website, Drunk TV.