You may remember a post we did a while back on the all-Esperanto art house horror, Incubus, starring the immortal William Shatner. Although the film is beautiful in its ambition, fascinating in its inscrutability and kind of hilarious in its absolute weirdness, it is not my favorite Shatner deep cut. No, that great honor belongs to The Intruder, a weird little anti-racist morality play directed by Roger Corman, the brilliant mind behind the 1960 Little Shop of Horrors, and producer of such classics as Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and Death Race 2000. Oh, and more recently, Sharktopus.
While The Intruder definitely exhibits Corman’s trademark outrageousness, itt does so in an earnest effort to engage the audience’s humanity. Shatner plays a sneaky white supremacist that rolls into a southern town with the covert mission of sowing racial unrest into the recently integrated community. At the time he was a young Canadian theater actor looking to break in to Hollywood, and the role was pretty juicy and subversive—Shatner later said “I’d have paid him to play that role.”
As far as drama and social analysis of bigotry goes, yeah—it’s pretty heavy-handed and ham-fisted to the modern eye (I mean it’s Roger Corman and William Shatner), but Shatner’s performance is uncharacteristically understated. He’s sleazy and sly and generally threatening as all hell. The picture follows him charming the previously peaceful citizens of Caxton into a a paranoid frenzy, even going so far as to seduce a teenage girl before pressuring her to frame a black man for rape.
The mob violence and virulent hatred is tidied up quite neatly by a level-headed salesman who eventually (basically) just gives Shatner’s character bus fare to leave town. It’s a pretty rosy Hollywood resolution to an obviously complicated and dire subject—racism is treated as an “intruder,” not a part of civic and political fabric. The movie fails to really indict the white citizens of Caxton for their own horrific crimes, nor does it really seek restitution for its black victims.
But you’re not watching The Intruder for critical race theory… you’re watching it for an evil Bill Shatner in a convertible with the KKK.