In the Antarctic, the Zortron 101 oil rig is drilling at extreme depths to find new oil reserves. The company, desiring to keep their operation secret, fabricates records to show the oil rig is in Valparaiso for repairs and restricts the platform’s communications with the outside world. In a breach of standard operating procedures, a geologist, Scott, is in charge of the operation, much to the displeasure of the work crew. Jake Nevins, the workforce supervisor, which is usually in charge of operations, is concerned about the depths they are drilling at and the strain placed on the workers. His fears are soon validated when a blowout occurs, injuring two men, and forcing the company to send in two replacements, Collette Beaudroux and Harry Coleman.
Once operations resume, Scott requests a geological sample be brought up from the depths for study. While a worker retrieves the samples from the bin, a small eel-like creature attacks him, latching onto his hand. Although the wound is not severe, the man quickly dies from the toxicity of the bite despite the best efforts of the crew’s medic, Wilma. The animal, killed with a flare pistol and knocked overboard, is unidentified and Scott suggests it is a form of poisonous sea lamprey.
In his lab, Scott places the samples from the bin, which resemble small round spiked rocks, under heat lamps to dry. When the power shorts out, he has the electrician, Sam, tend to the issue. While repairing the short, Sam accidentally knocks over the sample tray and cuts his finger on one of the spikes. Sam soon begins to act strange and attacks Jake before climbing to the top of the rig’s crane and jumping to his death in the sea.
Returning to his lab, Scott finds that the rocks are a type of egg which hatched tiny creatures similar to the one that attacked the worker. Scott discovers the creatures dead in the tray from the intense heat of the lamps. When he learns of Sam’s death, Scott records in his log that the spikes on the carapaces emit toxins as a self-defense mechanism that causes the victim to hallucinate. Determined to study the creatures further, Scott attempts to hatch more eggs by controlling the temperature of the lamps. He is successful in his efforts, hatching three more creatures that attack Harry when he cleans the lab. Jake manages to beat the aggressive animals to death with a fire extinguisher while Scott and Collette help Harry to the infirmary. Wilma stabilizes Harry’s condition and sedates him.
Jake and Collette return to the lab with Scott and demand answers from him, believing he is hiding information. Scott reveals the company knows of the creature’s existence and thinks it was a threat and rival to early humans that apparently perished in a natural catastrophe and is now lying dormant under the water.
Harry, who was infected by the creatures during the attack, leaves the infirmary and rapes a co-worker, Robyn. Trying to escape from Harry, Robyn stumbles out onto the rig’s deck. Harry follows Robyn outside and seeing Wilma on deck as well, attacks her. Wilma manages to stab Harry twice with a screwdriver before he throws her over the side of the rig to die in the icy waters below.
When Wilma doesn’t return, Mark, Jake, and Collette look for her on deck and find the injured Robyn and learn about Wilma’s death. As they tend to the injured woman, Harry attacks, beating both Mark and Jake down to get to Collette. Before Harry can harm her, he collapses and succumbs to his wounds. They take a traumatized Robyn to the infirmary, and she tells Jake that Harry raped her. Afraid she will change as Sam and Harry did, Robyn begs Jake to kill her, but he refuses.
Later that night, a man-sized hybrid creature bursts from Robyn’s stomach and begins to kill the crew. Jake spots the aggressive animal as it kills Scott in his lab and it pursues him onto the deck. Jake attempts to stop the rampaging creature with a flare gun, but they bounce harmlessly off its chest. With Mark and Collette’s help, Jake hatches a plan to destroy the creature with explosives. Jake climbs the rig’s tower with the hybrid following him. Reaching the top, Jake unloads the explosives Mark raised up with the crane and arms them. As the creature reaches the top of the tower, Mark lowers Jake to safety in the crane’s basket as Collette detonates the explosives and destroy’s the creature. In the morning, the surviving crew evacuates on the supply ship, leaving the rig abandoned as another eel-like creature surfaces in the sample bin.
The Intruder Within is a made-for-tv horror film for ABC that premiered on February 20, 1981. The basic plot is very similar to Alien (1979) but substituting a prehistoric creature instead of an alien lifeform. In both movies, isolated workers discover strange eggs that soon hatch and unleash a deadly organism that begins to decimate the cast.
Unlike its theatrical inspiration, the script for this telefilm has many unresolved plot points and thinly drawn characters that ultimately leaves the viewer confused as to motivations. Throughout the film, the oil company that owns the rig is portrayed in a less than flattering light, hiding the actual location of the oil rig and blocking radio transmissions to the outside world. The script suggests the company is aware of the existence of the prehistoric creature and are actively looking for it for unknown reasons. Unfortunately, these plot points go nowhere, and the script quickly drops them without any resolution. The same problems exist for the character of Scott, the company’s geologist, who is not surprised by the discovery of the creature and is determined to bring it to its adult form, regardless of how many deaths it causes. While these unresolved plot points do not detract from the enjoyment of the feature, they do lower the quality of the telefilm.
The greatest asset of the movie is the mature veteran cast, which lends lots of believability to the proceedings. The actors do an excellent job within the limitations of the script and dialogue in conveying believable terror and suspense. Due to the limitations inherent in television of the early 1980s, bloody effects were not permissible. As such, the director shows the attack sequences occurring with very little blood. When the adult creature bursts from Robyn’s stomach, the director opts to show the shadow of the adult creature rising from Robyn on the wall. This treatment of the scene is very tame and also suffers from the impossibility of the occurrence. As the viewer watches, they cannot help but think how unrealistic it is for a woman’s womb to contain a full-grown creature, which is taller than its host. The makeup for the adult creature is quite good and bears some resemblance to Giger’s design for Alien.
Despite all these scripting issues and bloodless special effects, the film does generate a generous amount of terror and suspense and is worth viewing. I have a soft spot for this feature and remember watching it when it originally aired in my youth, which may cloud my judgment a bit, but the nostalgia value alone is reason enough to search out this entertaining gem.
Running Time: 91 minutes
Chad Everett, Joseph Bottoms, Jennifer Warren, Rockne Tarkington, Lynda Mason Green, Paul Larson, James Hayden, Michael Hogan, Mary Ann McDonald, Matt Craven, Ed LaPlante, Mickey Gilbert, Joe Finnegan
Executive Producer – John Furia, Barry Oringer; Producer – Neil T. Maffeo; Associate Producer – John Ryan; Director – Peter Carter; Written by – Ed Waters; Music – Gil Melle; Creature Designer – James Cummins, Henry Golas; Special Effects – Don Powers