Sunday, 19 May 2013

Review: The Intruders aka Let Us Play Sex (1974, Dir: Torgny Wickman & David Gilbert)

At first glance you’d be forgiven for mistaking The Intruders as a sexploitation take on Easy Rider, opening as it does with softcore sex intercut with a couple thundering down backwoods roads on their motorbike. The unshaven, longhaired look of the male part of this couple making him instantly identifiable as a product of the hippie era and a man who has endured a lengthy spell living out on the road. However don’t be fooled, we’re in Sweden here, rather than the America of Easy Rider, and biker Richard (Chris Chittell) is a real wolf in hippie’s clothing who doesn’t mind making either love or war!

A series of remarkable –if implausible- incidents play out over a couple of hours that provides Richard with the basis for a crooked, blackmail scheme. Along with his travelling companion and ‘half-sister’ Paula (Gilda Arancio) Richard encounters a drunk at the wheel motorist (Stellan Skarsgard) and helps him out after he drives his car into a ditch, then chances upon a couple, Helen (Jacqueline Laurent) and Philip (Burt Bellman) having sex at a remote farmhouse. The couple’s post-coital chat making it obvious that both are married to others and that Helen would like nothing better than her husband to be dead “if only Simon would die, why must we always be separated?”.

Later in the day Richard and Paula happen to be passing as Nobel Prize winning scientist Simon Delaney (Borje Nyberg) is giving an interview to a Television crew, in the process parading his family for the TV cameras and announcing his discovery of a valuable formula for a petrol substitute. Richard eyeballs a few familiar faces in the Delaney family line-up, Simon’s son Peter being the motorist he’d encountered earlier in the day, and Simon’s wife being the adulterous Helen from the farmhouse. Ignoring Paula’s protests, Richard re-introduces himself to Peter and Helen then swiftly blackmails them into letting him and Paula stay at the Delaney house where he is passed off by them as a ‘friend’ of Peters’ to the Delaney patriarch. Richard might claim to just want a place to crash, but in reality he has his crafty eye on stealing Simon’s formula and with disturbing efficiency is quickly worming his way into the Delaney household. Richard’s unshaven look, bandana, and well worn biker clothes soon disappear, replaced by smart business suits and a posh, well groomed hippie look a la a 1970s Richard Branson or Noel Edmonds, in order to blend into his new, polite society surroundings.


Naturally all this meets with the approval of Simon, especially when Richard starts to feign an interest in Simon’s scientific research and knowingly play up the ‘son you’d wished you’d had’ role. Simon’s embracing of this total stranger further adds to the despair of the son he did have. The sad, sensitive Peter having never shared his father’s obsession for science, preferring instead a career as a poet, only for feelings of inadequacy, and his father’s disapproval, to increasingly turn him towards the bottle. Although the formula is Richard’s primary aim, along the way he delights in being the thorn in the side of Peter and the married into money Helen, the type of privileged people Richard loathes with a vengeance. It amuses Richard no end that his influence within the household grows to the extent that Peter has to ask him, rather than his father, for permission to borrow the family car. Helen’s sexual interest in Richard also affords him the kick of getting to fuck a rich man’s wife and right under his own roof too.

Inevitably Richard’s antics set into motion a very intricate- attention demanding- plot, overcrowded by sexual encounters and numerous characters conspiring against one another. So much of which goes on in The Intruders that you’re surprised characters don’t have to jot down who they are fucking, blackmailing or double-crossing, just to remember where they are up to. The very busy Helen is not only having an affair with Philip, but with Hans, Simon’s chauffer, who is secretly working alongside Richard. Helen is also sleeping with Ulla (Anita Ericssson), the Delaney’s maid, who she sends off to fuck Richard in the hope Ulla will be able to screw an answer out of Richard as to what hold he has over Peter. Ulla though finds herself being sweet-talked by Richard and torn over whether to help him steal the formula or her loyalty to the Delaney family. Whereas Ulla starts to warm to Richard, Paula becomes increasingly sickened by him, and changes her allegiance to Peter. In fact barely a scene goes by in The Intruders without Paula calling Richard a “bastard”, generally answered with an incensed response of “you bitch”, an insult Richard uses so often in the film that it feels like the character’s unofficial catchphrase. Will Paula, Peter or Helen be able to bring about Richard’s downfall? Or has Richard, as he triumphantly proclaims mid-way through the film “got the Delaneys by the short and curlies”.

This 1974 British/Swedish co-production served as an early collaboration between the makers of the following year’s Erotic Inferno, namely producer Bachoo Sen, writer Jon York and lead actor Chris Chittell. Everything that made Erotic Inferno a standout film within its genre- the frequent and explicit sex scenes, the hostility between male and female characters, and a plot that pits the haves against the have not’s- was beginning to fall into place here. Essentially the two films act as companion pieces to each other, Erotic Inferno clearly having been born out of Sen wanting ‘more of the same’ from York and Chittell after seeing their work in action here.

Sen’s productions were at one point in time held in high regard, the magazine Cinema X in particular being one of Sen’s biggest supporters. Their very first issue carried a still from Sen’s film Loving Feeling on its cover, and by the time of his next production 1969’s Love is a Splendid Illusion (another recipient of a Cinema X cover) were placing Sen alongside Russ Meyer and Radley Metzger in terms of innovative figures working in the sexploitation field. It is a comparison that wasn’t to survive the decades that followed, all these years later Meyer and Metzger are still revered as seminal figures, Sen is all but forgotten, save as a bad time character from the early career of horror film director Norman J Warren. Working for Sen proved to be Warren’s trial by fire entrance into feature filmmaking after he signed a contract that resulted in him directing and editing two films for Sen on a pittance of a salary, all the while seeing the critical and financial rewards from these films go to Sen.

Warren’s story doesn’t look to have been unique when it came to dealing with Sen either. Just to give an idea of the ill-feelings that continues to exist towards Bachoo Sen, a couple of years ago there were rumours doing the rounds that Sen’s death in 2002 was the result of murder. A story that eventually turned out to be untrue but couldn’t be quashed before he reached the ears of a former Sen employee. A mellow, nice guy hardly known for wishing violent death on former employers, but in Sen’s case couldn’t resist indulging in a bit of the old schadenfreude and quipping “that couldn’t have happened to a nicer man”.

A Touch of Sen: Bachoo Sen in the 1960s

The horror stories that exist about Bachoo Sen almost turn you against the films themselves. Since, unlike the output of British exploitation’s original badass film producer E.J. Fancey whose relentlessly shoddy productions like 1955’s The Missing Scientists reflected the misery and lack of enthusiasm induced by working under their violent, bullying producer, Sen’s productions were consistently class acts and testament to Sen’s ability to squeeze the maximum out of his talented underlings. Self-consciously sophisticated in tone and concerned with young, fashionable and rich protagonists- no doubt meant as aspirational figures to a late 1960s audience- Sen’s Loving Feeling and Love is a Splendid Illusion come across as British sex film anomalies these days. Their serious approach, European filmmaking influences and decidedly upper middle class characters, strongly going against the predominantly working class sex comedies that lay just around the corner, waiting to become the genre’s norm.

With The Intruders, Sen’s productions developed an aggressive streak to them. The idea to parachute an angry working class antagonist like Richard into the same demographic as the earlier Sen films proving to be a genius touch and lends an almighty dramatic punch to The Intruders that Loving Feeling and Love is a Splendid Illusion sorely lacked.

As vital as class themes are to Jon York’s script there is little here that flatters the polar opposites of the class divide that Richard and the Delaneys represent. York uses the Richard character as a ‘mirror of truth’ figure who shines a light on the multiple failings that hide behind the phony-baloney happy front that this bourgeois family put on for the TV cameras at the film’s outset. At the same time York could hardly stand accused of being in awe of Richard, depicting him as a character too consumed by hatred and envy to ever be considered a working class hero. His barely contained contempt for “stuck up bastards” being undermined by the fact that his every action in the film, blackmail, fucking women he hates, the pursuit of money and power, is an attempt to become everything he professes to despise.

"You Bitch" Chris Chittell in The Intruders

Two scenes in particular are tailor made to alienate the audience from Richard, and succeed in being so verbally and mentally sadistic that they are hard to get out of your head once you’ve witnessed them. In one Richard torments a waitress who is serving him drinks. He is in a foul mood and on the prowl for someone to take his frustrations out on, she is his unfortunate target. The waitress questioning whether he wants to order food is all it takes for Richard to blow his top. “Nobody tells me what I want, and what I don’t want” he rants, violently grapping her arm, a look of genuine madness in his eyes. After he lets go, the waitress darts for the kitchen. Nastier still is a later confrontation between Helen and Richard that finds her desperate to fuck him again. As Richard has no real use for her by this point, he instead gets his jollies by forcing her to beg for it, having her crawl on all fours as he unleashes a torrent of abuse and taunts; “you’ve no pride at all”, “you’re as dry as an old crone”. What follows is one of the most hostile sex scenes in film history, one that sees Richard wearing an expression that suggests he’d rather be garrotting Helen than having sex with her. Predictability Richard’s favourite word gets several airings during this scene “you little bitch”, “beg, like a good little bitch” and finally the kiss off of “get out bitch, you got what you came for”.

York’s script might build a compelling drama on the back of the absolutely worse aspects of people’s behaviour, but there is an authentic disgust at the mercenary side of human nature here too. The love that blossoms between Peter and Paula then offers a nice, hopeful counterbalance to the creeping misanthropy of York’s worldview. Their union strengthens these two damaged by the world souls, as the other characters’ greed and ruthlessness only taints and destroys them. There is a notable –and audience pleasing- transfer of characteristics that takes place between Peter and Richard. As Peter gains confidence and learns to assert himself, thanks to Paula’s love and encouragement, Richard gradually becomes the miserable, alcoholic mess that Peter was at the start of the film. Everyone gets the fate they deserve in the world of The Intruders.


Inadvertently Richard only serves as a catalyst for change in the others. His blackmailing ways forcing the Delaneys to confront the problems –Peter’s alcoholism and Simon and Helen’s unsalvageable marriage- that had been eating away at them. Simon and Helen’s final acknowledgement of the end of their marriage giving Simon the best line of dialogue in the film “to be frank I don’t enjoy being married to a nymphomaniac whose foremost thought is bed”.

For a film whose narrative is dominated by Richard and an abundance of sex scenes, York’s script is unusually rich in fully developed characters that register as very real, tormented human beings rather than sex film stereotypes. Even with a venal, beyond redemption character such as Richard there are revealing moments that make sense of why he behaves the way he does. “I’m not going to work like a slave in some company like my father did” he rages at Paula “at the end of it get a gold watch, a slap on the back and a pension that’s far less than what Peter gets for pocket money.” Estranged- or less than fondly remembered- fathers haunt nearly all the characters in The Intruders, a trait that surfaces again in Erotic Inferno. Peter’s fractured relationship with his cold and distant father is pinpointed as the source of his initial unhappiness. Likewise Paula has a disapproving father in her background, eventually revelling to Peter that she is not in fact Richard’s half-sister but a tycoon’s daughter who Richard has blackmailed into tagging along with him.

Lisa (Evelyne Scott), Simon’s secretary is another product of a bad childhood “I remember how cruel my father was to my mother” she tearfully confesses to Paula “he’d come home drunk and beat her, right there in front of us”. Against stiff completion it is Lisa who earns the prize as Jon York’s most tragic creation. Her secret longing for Simon and sexually repressed personality go unnoticed by everyone except for Richard. True to form he exploits it to his own advantage; throwing the love and attention she craves from Simon her way, then using her as a pawn in his scheme to steal the formula. The newfound confidence Lisa gains from Richard draws parallels with the Peter-Paula situation, but unlike that relationship nothing good comes from this transformation in her character. Lisa only manages to get dragged down with Richard, their fates, and the final scene in the film resurrecting the Easy Rider comparisons from the opening scene.

The writer and producer team behind The Intruders and Erotic Inferno would later have the cameras turned on them by the BBC’s Man Alive programme, when Jon York and Bachoo Sen were profiled in the Man Alive episode about the sex film industry that went out on BBC2 in 1975. A programme that uncovered York to actually be one Jonathan Gershfield, a 21 year old student studying English at York University (hence the ‘Jon York’ pseudonym) and cranking out sex film scripts for Sen in his bedsit and at the university’s study hall.

The small window that the Man Alive programme grants you into York/Gershfield presents him an introverted, well-read man who cites Geoffrey Chaucer as a literary inspiration and therefore appears embarrassed to admit that a filmed version of one of his scripts has recently been released by Sen under the clumsy title ‘Sexier than Sex’. Personality wise he gives the impression of having more in common with the Peter character in The Intruders rather than Richard, thankfully indicating a degree of separation between the author and the misogynistic, alpha males he so vividly brought to life in The Intruders and Erotic Inferno.

Jon York writing sex films in York University

While York is portrayed as an intelligent, if slightly isolated fellow in the Man Alive programme, Bachoo Sen fares less well. The priceless first sight of Sen in the programme, which sees him turning round in his swivel chair as the sound of a gong being stuck plays on the soundtrack, is an entrance worthy of a James Bond villain. Even without such hatchet job moments, Sen –admittedly addled by his second language English- still manages to make himself look a fool and a hypocrite. Disapproving of hardcore pornography (“actual scenes will never be allowed in England, well I hope it won’t be”) and sadism and violence in films (“it’s a very difficult area to try and moralise”) yet struggling to persuade a BBC2 audience that his own films are any more socially redeeming. Sen is seen to be ill at ease with having his productions described as containing sex scenes “I’d call it love scene, because it’s not, well you cannot show sex explicitly in a story” he ineptly explains “sex must stay under the skin”.

Cinema X saw red over the Man Alive programme, with Sen’s shambolic appearance spelling the end to the Cinema X-Bachoo Sen love-in. Not long after the Man Alive broadcast Cinema X took aim at Sen in their September 1975 editorial “one filmmaker said he hoped porno would never be allowed here. Having recently seen plenty in New York I can see his point. It’s a million light years better produced than the trash being perpetrated in the name of sex on British Screens.” The Man Alive programme also contained the shameful disclosure that York was being paid a flat fee of £250 per script by Sen, mere chickenfeed considering these films sold all over the world as well as enjoying hugely profitable domestic releases. Erotic Inferno playing for years in Soho, sometimes double-billed with The Intruders under it’s aka title ‘Let Us Play Sex’, and The Intruders receiving a release stateside in 1977 –in a hardcore insert version- under the title ‘Hungry Young Women’. The revelation of York’s low-fee adds to the growing suspicion that York, like Norman J Warren before him, was another Sen lackey who wasn’t being paid anywhere near his real worth. Should anyone ever write a book about Sen, then ‘Cheaper than Cheap’, or ‘Getting Paid is a Splendid Illusion’ are worthy of consideration as its title.


Not everyone involved in The Intruders was destined to be caught up a low-budget rut though, and for a modern audience the film offers up not one, but two ‘before they were famous’ sex film performances, courtesy of Stellan Skarsgard and Chris Chittell. These days you know Skarsgard from Lars von Trier films not to mention Hollywood blockbusters like Avengers Assemble and The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Rumour has it that he suffers from career amnesia (sometimes diagnosed as ‘the Sue Bond syndrome’) when it comes to his early acting roles in Swedish sex films, which includes appearing in another Torgny Wickman film from 1974, the Christina Lindberg vehicle ‘Anita- Swedish Nymphet’. However the really distinguishing factor to The Intruders is Chris Chittell’s mesmerising performance as Richard, and director Wickman wisely makes him the centre of attention. Chittell is in practically every scene in the film, and on the rare occasions that he isn’t still manages to make his presence felt, Richard’s evil machinations reverberating throughout the film and driving its plot.

Having previously distinguished himself in mainstream fare like To Sir with Love and the TV version of The Best Pair of Legs in the Business, the mid 1970s proved a lean period for Chittell. By the actor’s own admission he’d gotten involved in several financially disastrous ventures that left him in debt to ‘some heavy duty people’. He’d later joke “it was either rob a bank or take what was on offer”. Bank robberies loss was the sex film genre’s gain, as Chittell throws himself into his roles in The Intruders and Erotic Inferno with frightening conviction, exhibiting a fearlessness about getting under the skin of thoroughly loathsome, sexually sadistic characters, regardless of how he’d be judged by the outside world on the basis of these roles. Territory that only a handful of actors –such as David Hess or George Payne- would have dared to tread.

That Chittell may well have been acting to save his life here (if his stories about needing to pay off those ‘heavy duty people’ are to be believed) does cause you to worry that the actor was relating a little too much to the anger and desperation that fuelled his onscreen characters. Wherever he drew his inspiration from Chittell makes for a true force of nature in The Intruders, acting everyone else off-screen, quite literally given that several scenes end with him chasing or throwing his co-stars out of shot and hurling insults after them. With the role taking him far away from home, requiring him to appear in sexually explicit scenes, and with ££££ worries being part of his motivation, The Intruders is to Chittell what Miss Bohrloch was to Mary Millington.

Unlike Millington, there would be life after porn and a happy ending for Chittell, and for over two decades now Chittell has entertained mainstream TV audiences with his long-running role on ITV soap opera Emmerdale. The opportunity to have women grovelling on all fours for him, or for “you bitch” to get an airing may well be few and far between within the confines of a primetime ITV soap, but look closely enough and you might just be able to spot those Erotic Inferno and The Intruders characters of his living on through Chittell’s roguish but popular Emmerdale character. A ‘man they love to hate’ routine Chittell had first perfected all those years ago in Sweden, and in the world of 1970s sexploitation.