Breaking In: Midnight Intruders (1973)

Dave argues that this dizzying blend of softcore thriller and home invasion horror may have seen Gary Graver achieve a creative high. 

You have to tip your hat in awe at the brass-necked caddishness in which Gary Graver’s MIDNIGHT INTRUDERS (1973) was rebranded on VHS in the ‘80s to capitalise on the slasher boom. With its vivid artwork, ‘You Could Be Next’ tagline, and a warning sticker citing its unsuitability for anyone of a nervous disposition, it was obviously a cash cow for the legions of Mom n’ Pop video stores across America. Quite what your gore-hungry horror renter would think is anyone’s guess, because of all the things that Graver’s flick is, a genre-defining proto-slasher it most certainly is not.

Running at just under an hour, a leisurely introduction welcomes the Wife (Francoise Darc) and the Husband (Alain Mayniel) who are occupied in some prolonged on-screen intimacy which is intercut with airport footage – pre-empting the impending business trip of the latter to San Diego. While he’s away the missus will play, and she wastes no time in phoning her lover (Alexander Chapuies) to beckon him round to the house for a variety of vigorous carnal acts and foot fetishism that take us well over halfway into the picture.

It’s a sedate opening few reels, choc-full of artistically shot sex (including a gorgeously lensed sauna sequence with light penetrating through a slatted floor) which could justifiably deter a portion of the audience. I urge you to sit tight though, for the husband is about to return early from his jaunt as a pair of twisted crooks (Lyllah Torena and Tom Hart) stalk the exterior of the property, and wild and unhinged finale is upon us.

Sex, drugs and infidelity mark the overriding themes of Midnight Intruders, but while the home invasion angle is more appropriately a footnote, it’s undoubtedly typed in bold Comic Sans. Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (1972) is clearly an influence on Graver due to the deranged nature of the drug-addled intruders and the raucous way in which they terrorise those inside the property, but the rest of the film gives a knowing wink in the direction of avant-garde cinema and the French New Wave.

Graver sets up shot after shot in bold and inventive ways. Unconventional angles, striking lighting and ambitious camera techniques (he’s ably assisted by frequent collaborator R. Michael Stringer) become more prevalent as the film goes on, climaxing in a sumptuous and thrilling chase through a dimly lit tunnel.

Marking the end of the first phase of Graver’s career (’67 – ’73) before he ventured into porn for a seven year stretch, Midnight Intruders (re-released as ‘The Wife’ in 1976) is a perfect crescendo to a wild run of features that included Sandra: The Making of a Woman (1973) and The Hard Road (1970) as well as And When She Was Bad… (1973). He’d direct some impressive non-adult movies from here on in, but you do wonder if, in terms of experimentation and enterprise, whether Midnight Intruders was his creative peak.

USA ● 1973 ● Crime, Thriller ● 59mins

Francoise Darc, Alain Mayniel, Alexander Chapuiles ● Dir. Gary Graver ● Wri. Gary Graver

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