Some movies stick in a person’s brain like a spiny egg. One such movie aired on network television in the early 1980s and distracted kids from Pac-Man for at least two hours…with commercial breaks, of course. This movie was an Alien knock-off titled The Intruder Within.

The golden age of made-for-TV horror movies occurred in the seventies. These movies achieved competence that defied expectations, despite working within the limitations of network television,. They made the viewer feel like rules were being broken. In a world of sitcoms, sports, game shows, commercials and A-list theater films squeezed and cut for the small screen, made-for-TV horror movies stood gloriously out-of-place.

The Intruder Within rode this wave. Unfortunately, it is no Annette Funicello in a white bikini. It is more like Snake Plissken in Escape From LA.


The Intruder

The Intruder Within has an, admittedly, killer concept. Workers on an oil rig drill too deep and pull up spiny eggs. This culminates in a full-body creature making an appearance in the final five minutes that is fairly ambitious and scary for network TV.

The monster is a cross between the Alien (or xenomorph, if you prefer) and Pumpkinhead. It was designed by James Cummins. Cummins has a brief but impressive credit list. He worked with Stan Winston and Rob Bottin on movies like The Beast Within, The Thing, Cat People, Jaws 3-D, Enemy Mine, that Star Trek movie with whales, Deepstar Six and more. Cummins’s career was cut short when he died at the relatively young age of 51.

According to an interview in Famous Monsters of Filmland, Cumming designed the creature for The Intruder Within on spec. The production company had not yet sold the movie to ABC because a strike was happening at the time. Once the sale was made, Cummins planned to be on location and operate the creature effects, but he did not qualify for such work due to not being a union member.

An article in Starlog reveals this was not the only challenge Cummins faced. Producers demanded a redesign to make the creature more closely resemble the Alien three days before filming. Cummins was able to deliver despite the time crunch. The final suit was built up from a mannequin left over from Prophecy.


The Intruder With Cheese

Peter Carter directed The Intruder Within. Carter is perhaps best known for the Canadian hillbilly suspense movie Rituals, starring Hal Holbrook. The Intruder Within probably wasn’t an easy shoot. Carter filmed on a real oil rig in Lake Erie. The weather looked bad. Plus, the oil rig is not a pristine, modern construction. It’s a rust pile with sharp edges and cramped spaces everywhere.

Furthermore, it is tricky to bring flair to a storyline so familiar to viewers. A group of people in an isolated location facing the unknown has been done to death. Yet, one has to remember it was 1981 and network television. Viewers, especially kids, didn’t have access to a lot of thrilling material.

I didn’t catch The Intruder Within when it first aired, but ABC must have shown it more than once. I viewed it on a random summer night that happened to be my birthday. Bam…all of a sudden a spooky story about monsters on an oil rig appeared on the screen. I had no knowledge of Alien or The Thing or other films of that ilk, so it made enough of an impression on me to stick with me all these years.


The Intruder With People

Chad Everett gets top billing. Everett was basically built to play doctors on TV, but he also co-hosted the Jerry Lewis Telethon and showed up in movies like Airplane II, Mulholland Drive, and the guilty-pleasure comedy, Frank McKlusky, C.I.

Jennifer Warren plays Everett’s love interest. Warren worked mainly in network television, but she does have one classic to her credit list: Slap Shot.

Joseph Bottoms, brother of Timothy and Sam, plays a typical scientist character in The Intruder Within. He is reminiscent of Richard Crenna in Leviathan. He recognizes the danger of such an organism, but it fascinates him, as well. Movie fans will probably recognize Bottoms from The Black Hole.

Beyond that, not a lot of recognizable faces appear in The Intruder Within. Matt Craven from Meatballs and Jacob’s Ladder is one. Michael Hogan from The Battlestar Galactica reboot is another.

Most of the character work in The Intruder Within consists of pensive expressions and occasional yelling. The main motivation of each performer seems to be paying for groceries.


The Intruder Within

A full version of The Intruder Within exists on YouTube. Does it live up to the memories?

Mostly, no. It is pretty slow, even at ninety minutes. Characters talk in between brief puppet attacks, slime oozes and a couple of workers get infected and go crazy. We also get numerous shots of the oil rig to remind us we are on an oil rig after commercial breaks.

One surprise is how rape-y The Intruder Within got for a network TV production. The life cycle of the creature is unclear. It appears that puppets and eggs have a venom that infects a person. That person then goes looking for a mate. Said mate gets pregnant and gives birth to the final manifestation of the monster a short time later.

Carter and company even tried to get away with a “chest-bursting” scene. The birth of the creature is shown by shadows on a wall. The monster essentially “sits up” out of the victim like a vampire sitting up in a coffin. Cheesy, but effective within the limitations. One’s imagination has no problem filling in the details at the end of the day.

The Intruder Without

The Intruder Within is best viewed as an artifact of time. It’s not a $300 million Hollywood production with bottomless reserves of talent to throw at it. It’s a made-for-TV movie designed to sell commercials for Charmin, Puppy Chow, and fabric softener.

Things could have been done better. The oil rig has an excess of characters with nothing to do. Some showed up for a meal and were not seen again. Where were they when the monster did its limited rampage? Did they sleep through it?

Some of the talky scenes could have been removed and more suspense inserted in their place. Maybe some of the excess characters could have had monster encounters during those times. Maybe more characters could have gone crazy and made the non-crazy characters have to avoid them. A more logical ending could have helped, too. Who knew Warren was the world’s greatest flare gun marksman?

Regardless, the story stuck with me for more than 30 years. That kind of staying power transcends notions of good and bad. So, happy trails, The Intruder Within. It was nice to see you again, but you don’t need to send me a birthday card every year or anything…