Make it a Double: SPIRAL & DARK INTRUDER

“Everything ends in mystery.”

The Saw franchise is back! Not only is it back, it’s brought along the one and only Chris Rock as a police detective out to solve a series of murders which bear a shocking resemblance to the infamous Jigsaw. Reviews for the franchise revival have been mixed, but time will tell if the audience is ready to welcome back this new version of the revolutionary horror series.

The casting of a comic actor like Rock in a seemingly straight horror movie is novelty, for sure. Yet at the same time, it’s nothing particularly new. Plenty of comedians in the past have attempted to stretch by dipping their toes into a genre they’re not typically associated with. One such instance which has recently resurfaced thanks to Kino Lorber is the 1965 offering Dark Intruder, which saw the one and only Leslie Nielsen attempt to stop a monstrous creature terrorizing the nighttime.

While it won’t surprise everyone, it will no doubt shock many to learn that in the 1960s, the TV landscape almost had an occult detective series starring Nielsen called The Black Cloak, later retitled Dark Intruder. Produced by Alfred Hitchcock’s Shamley Productions, the actor was to star as sleuth Brett Kingsford, a wealthy playboy who embraced the oddness and found himself solving cases rooted in dark, supernatural forces in late 19th century San Francisco. In the pilot, Brett finds himself summoned when a series of murders have left the city in great fear, causing him to investigate and uncover the truth behind the monstrous-looking creature responsible for the slayings.

The show was intended to be a replacement for the departing Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Yet fate (aka NBC) intervened and the pilot was refashioned as a stand-alone theatrical feature and placed as the b-side opposite the Joan Crawford/William Castle collaboration I Saw What You Did! before being mostly forgotten. It’s interesting to view the pilot today and note not just how well-made it is, but also how it completely fit into the TV scene of the mid-60s when shows and audiences were embracing highly unconventional programming which had roots in all kinds of genres. This of course extends to the show’s production values, which seamlessly recreate San Francisco in the 1800s in a manner which came off as lavish for a television budget. Elaborate set pieces, including a bit of fisticuffs between Brett and the creature in an antique store, a creepy seance and a double ending in the dead of a foggy night all ensure that Dark Intruder escapes the label of a stuffy period piece, instead embodying so much of what made 60s television so worthwhile.

Dark Intruder also represents the best of two of television’s foremost masters of small screen suspense, Hitchcock and producer Jack Laird. Both men were of different schools when it came to television terror, but each made his name synonymous with the genre through shows which live on to this day. Both Alfred Hitchcock Presents (later known as The Alfred Hitchcock Hour) and Night Gallery show both artists enjoying the kind of creative freedom which appealed to and defined their sensibilities. The final production for Hitchcock’s Shamley Productions, Dark Intruder enjoys a classic, somewhat grand feel that echoes the kind of superior quality which influenced his eponymous show. Other elements, such as the story’s self-contained mystery, various plot turns and overall cinematic feel are all likewise pure Hitchcock. Laird, meanwhile, inserted plenty of his own touches to the proceedings, including the feisty exotic plant Brett depends on to warn him when danger is approaching. The mysterious creature at the heart of the story’s mystery is right out of the Jack Laird handbook, while the aforementioned seance and fog-heavy finale contain the kind of weird playfulness that shows why he was one of the quintessential TV producers of that time.

Performance-wise, Nielsen plays his character in a way that instantly signals the kind of entertaining TV hero he would have made. As Brett, the actor straddles the line between amusing and fearless, quickly becoming in synch with the project’s specific tone and holding it all the way through. Supporting players Peter Mark Richman, Judi Meredith, Werner Klemperer and the recently-departed Norman Lloyd, all prove game and hint at the kind of quality talent that would have been attracted to the project had it been allowed to go further.

Although it was the era of The Addams Family, The Flying Nun and My Mother the Car, a supernatural detective series set in period time was simply not to be in spite of the era of high concept television. The network unanimously agreed that Dark Intruder was just too scary for TV audiences and sold the pilot to Universal, where it’s b-movie fate was sealed. As time has gone by, the film has developed a cult following and modern critics have since bestowed genuine praise on it. It’s anyone’s guess to think of what Nielsen could have done with this character or the rich array of supernatural storylines the show could have conjured up. Perhaps it indeed would have turned certain audiences off due to its creepy nature. But there’s no denying it could have also been a major game changing player in the world of TV horror.

Dark Intruder is now available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Kino Lorber.

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