Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Mysterious Killer Stalks Turn-of-the-Century San Francisco in "Dark Intruder"

I first read about Dark Intruder in Leonard Maltin’s TV Movies when I was around 12. Leonard described it as a “one-of-a-kind” supernatural thriller, which intrigued me to no end. Little did I know that it would take 33 years for me to finally catch up with Dark Intruder. After all that time, I was frankly prepared for a letdown. But, to my delight, I found this offbeat mystery to be quite entertaining, though not fully deserving of Leonard’s lavish praise.

Set in 1890, Dark Intruder opens with a woman being slain on the foggy streets of San Francisco. Her murder turns out to be one in a series of killings that have baffled the police. The case has also caught the eye of Brett Kingsford (Leslie Nielsen), a “chronic dabbler” who had aided the authorities in previous cases. Brett, a rich dapper gentleman with an eye for the ladies, has developed an interest in the occult. His family’s crest reads: “Omnia Exeunt in Mysterium”…or “Everything ends in mystery.”

As Brett delves into the case, he learns that the killings are ritualistic ones tied to a Sumerian god representing the essence of evil. To give away any more of the surprisingly complex (and, at times Lovecraftian) plot would be to spoil the fun.

Dark Intruder was originally made for television and intended as the pilot for a prospective TV series called Dark Cloak. However, it was released to theaters instead and a television series never materialized. One suspects that the tale was a little too gruesome for network television in the 1960s. It may also be that Nielsen, though he tries hard, was a little lightweight to to take on the role on a weekly basis.

The supporting cast, with the exception of Judi Meredith (irritating as the female lead), delivers sharp performances. Charles Bolender stands out as Nikola, Brett’s reliable dwarf assistant. Mark Richman (sometimes billed as Peter Mark Richman), who had a long successful career in television, co-starred with Nielsen again in 1991's The Naked Gun 2 ½: The Smell of Fear.

I suspect that Dark Intruder would have faded quickly a TV series. Its formula could have grown stale on a weekly basis, as it did for The Night Stalker in the 1970s. But, as a limited film series, it could have been most diverting as evidenced by this closing exchange:

BRETT: Ah, Nicola, if only the rest of the world knew what we know.

NICOLA: If they did, sir, nobody would get a decent night’s sleep.


  1. Rick, an excellent write-up of a little known film. I hate admitting this, but I've heard about this movie before, but I can't actually recall if I've seen it or not. I'd definitely like to see it (possibly for the first time). It's always interesting to watch Leslie Nielsen in a genre other than comedy. Thanks for an intriguing and enjoyable review, Rick.

  2. Rick, Awesome review of a film that I have never heard of!

  3. Interesting review, Rick. Never saw it either, but I bet I'd like it. Per Sark's remark about seeing Leslie Nielsen in a genre other than comedy, I'm old enough to remember what a shock it was to see him in Airplane as a buffoon type. He had always been a perfect straight man through his career, leading man handsome, never comic. Then Airplane came along, and I laughed til my stomach hurt to see him like that. Same with Robert Stack in Airplane. The handsome, stoic actor who had played Eliot Ness like a statue, suddenly pulling off his sunglasses and having others beneath them. That movie was so much fun for those guys.

  4. Rick, I was very pleasantly surprised to see your post on this little gem. If I recall, its running time is only about an hour. I thought Leslie Nielson was excellent and was fascinated to see him take on a serious role so capably. This is a great post on a film that I doubt many will have heard of, much less seen.

  5. Rick, this is one I am not familiar with. I suspect it wouldn't have lasted very long on TV, too. Liked the closing lines of the film, though.