Director: Harvey Hart
Starring: Leslie Nielson, Peter Mark Richman, Judi Meredith
* * *
Leslie Nielson; playboy/occultist. Not only did this bizarre sounding scenario actually happen, but it nearly happened on a weekly basis. Originally shot as a pilot for a proposed T.V. series called Black Cloak, it was (sadly) rejected for being too scary and macabre for the Networks. Instead, it was released as 58 minute second-bill feature and managed to cast it's supernatural spell on all who saw it back then.
The story takes place in San Francisco, circa 1890. Nielson portrays Brett Kingsford, a wealthy playboy socialite type who secretly assissts the police department in otherwise unsolveable, supernatural cases. With a secret lab, a library dedicated to occult themes and an ever present dwarf assisstant, Kingsford (using a variety of disguises) proves to be an invaluable police aid. The situation at hand here is a series of particularly gruesome murders being commited by an unseen killer who claws his victims to death. Kingsford's friend, Robert (who is to be wed) has been plagued with "blackouts" that last for hours at a time. He fears he may be the murderer while being unaware of his actions. The truth however, is revealed to be something far more sinsiter and surreal. Through his sleuthing (which includes visiting a Chinese mystic), our hero makes a horrific discovery; Robert unknowingly has a deformed siamese twin that was seperated at birth. This demonic creature (who has studied and mastered the occult throughout Asia) has been systematically murdering everyone his twin knows in preparation for taking over Robert's body and disposing of the original.
It's easy to understand why this was rejected for Television back in 1965. Even among it's would be peers (Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Thriller, etc.), this story would have been too much for family viewers to handle. That's really a shame on two levels. First in that we were deprived of what looks like may have been one of the great horror/fantasy programs of the 60s. If this were merely to be the pilot, who knows what outre storylines may have been cooked up? Second is the production values. Because this was ultimately released in theaters, you can't help but notice it's cheap T.V. appearance. With such a strong story and intriguing central character, this film deserved the full cinematic treatment. Instead, we are left with the expected stagey, rushed look that does the picture a disservice. Not that I want to make too big a deal about it (it is afterall, still a good, creepy, entertaining watch), but it does feel a little like a lost opportunity.
Leslie Nielson's thesping abilities in his early dramatic roles are often criticized, a bit unfairly as far as I'm concerned. He obviously was never an Oscar worthy candidate (not even close), but for what it was, I think he pulls off the lead role of Kingsford pretty well. It is a believeable perf and one I would have liked to have seen on a weekly basis. Arguably, the only point in the film where his acting was maybe a little shakey was where he poses as an Englishman (also revealing a flaw in the script as this wasn't much of a disguise). Fortunately, this scene was a brief one.
Complete with lots of nifty little touches (It's suggested that the murderous twin may be the embodiment of an acient Sumerian Demon, the Chinese mystic has a statuette that's apparently made of mummified flesh), Dark Intruder is one of those strange little gems that's definately worth seeking out. It's a fun hour's worth of entertainment that teasingly hints at what might have been under different circumstances.