Sunday, December 22, 2013

Dark Intruder (1965)

I recall watching episodes of Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974) on TV when I was a kid, but I didn't truly become a fan of the series until my adult years. This became the first in a long line of supernatural detective-type series that I've since enjoyed, which includes the likes of The X Files, Blood Ties and Supernatural. Prior to Kolchak, there were a number of one-off productions in the same vein, most of which were failed pilots. These included The Norliss Tapes (1973) and Dead of Night: A Darkness at Blaisedon (1969). I can now add another to this list!

Dark Intruder (1965) was the pilot for a failed television series to be called The Black Cloak, produced by Alfred Hitchcock's Shamley Productions for NBC. For some reason, the pilot was not shown on television, and instead was sold to Universal Pictures and shown theatrically (albeit in a limited release).

I was surprised by the quality of the story, and of its star, Canadian actor Leslie Nielson. He plays a supernatural detective in 1890s San Francisco, who investigates a string of murders that hint of the occult, which he learns are part of a larger scheme to bring forth a Sumerian demon.

Nielson's character, Brett Kingsford, is a bit of a playboy; he's an avid whistler with a whimsical attitude that hints of Darren McGavin's portrayal of Carl Kolchak a decade later (he even has a love/hate relationship with the local police captain). Kingsford is clearly influenced by the Master Detective himself, Sherlock Holmes; he has highly-deductive reasoning, and occasionally wears disguises. His home is a treasure-trove of occult paraphernalia, with an extensive library that includes such books as The Cabala of Demonic Possession--complete with a secret room hidden behind one of the shelves!

The story has many Lovecraftian themes, and also features demonic possession, a deformed twin, and other occult influences--a mix that definitely would have been quite new for television at the time (perhaps this is why it was shown theatrically instead). As the body count rises, creepy-looking idols are left with the victims, each of which are carved slightly differently, which gives Kingsford a hint to the true nature of the crimes.

There's a lot of story packed into the 57-minute running time, and I won't give away any more of it (but let's just say it doesn't exactly end well for one of the main characters). The acting across the board is top-notch, and kudos to Peter Mark Richman in his role as Robert Vandenburg, a man who's seemingly perfect life is beginning to crumble around him. The story, which deftly mixes humour and horror, was penned by Barré Lyndon (who also wrote for the TV series The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and Thriller). The director was Harvey Hart, another Canadian who also helmed the underrated horror film The Pyx (1973).

As of this writing, Dark Intruder hasn't been officially released into the home video market, but is available for viewing on the Internet, and can even be purchased on DVD. For fans of supernatural detective stories, this is one to look out for, and demands an official, restored release from Universal!

Here's the official trailer, followed by a few more screen grabs:


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