Dean Koontz’s ‘Intensity’ Is a Nerve-Shredding Horror Thriller Lost to Time [Watch]


Welcome to The Overlooked Motel, a place where under-seen and unappreciated films are given their moment in the spotlight. I hope you enjoy your stay here and find the accommodations to be suitable. Now, please take a seat and make yourself comfortable. I have some misbehaving guests to ‘correct.’  

Watch the latest episode:

Dean Koontz is profoundly underrated. Both his literary output and the screen adaptations of his work seem to live in the shadows of more celebrated horror author, Stephen King. Don’t get me wrong, King deserves every bit of acclaim he gets. But I am equally assured in my conviction that Dean Koontz deserves more credit for his output. One shining example of the efficacy of his work is the televised adaptation of his novel, Intensity. The film (technically a two-part miniseries) is a brilliant iteration of the source material that delivers on the ‘intensity’ promised by the title. Molly Parker and John C. McGinley turn in tour de force performances. Plus, the film’s three-hour runtime seemingly flies by in the blink of an eye, thanks to a narrative that unfolds at a breakneck pace. 

Intensity begins with a flashback sequence to the formative years of leading lady, Chyna Shepherd (Molly Parker). We see the young girl living with her unstable mother and her mother’s abusive boyfriend. The volatile scenario quickly turns deadly when Chyna’s mother’s boyfriend murders a neighbor couple that dropped in for a visit. We then cut to the present, where Chyna is recounting the tragedy of her youth to her friend, Laura (Deanna Milligan).

Also Watch: ‘A Simple Plan’: Sam Raimi’s Underrated Crime Thriller [Video]

Knowing the horrors Chyna has endured, Laura invites the young woman to her family home for Thanksgiving. Chyna reluctantly accepts and initially finds the visit to be a pleasant distraction. But the family holiday is quickly interrupted by the arrival of Edgler Foreman Vess (John C. McGinley), a psychotic killer who stages a home invasion and murders Laura and her entire family. Chyna narrowly escapes the ordeal and stows away inside the perpetrator’s R.V. Upon learning that Edgler is holding a young girl named Ariel hostage, Chyna makes it her singular mission to rescue the child from the sadistic killer’s clutches. 

Intensity rises above the trappings of made-for-television fare by delivering a compelling narrative with a surprising amount of depth. The depiction of Chyna’s childhood trauma is handled with surprising nuance. That trauma also serves as a logical motivation for her to continue to pursue Edgler long after most people would have thrown in the towel. One gets the distinct impression that Chyna sees herself in Ariel and perhaps feels that by rescuing her, she is healing the wounds of her own childhood and rectifying the wrongs of her troubled youth. That’s far more depth than one expects from a TV movie. But this is not your typical TV movie.

Also Watch: ‘Kill List’ is Disturbing Folk Horror Perfection [Watch]

Chyna’s dogged determination makes her a sympathetic protagonist. Seeing as we spend three hours with her, it certainly helps that Chyna comes across as so relatable. Her dedication to rescuing Ariel is commendable and makes her easy to invest in. But relatability is far from her only strong suit. Chyna is also an exceptionally resourceful lead. Her problem-solving skills are put to the test in the back half of the picture and she continues to impress as she works to outsmart a criminal mastermind. 

John C. McGinley turns in an equally impressive showing. He is fully committed in his turn as the criminal mastermind. He imbues the character with the distilled essence of evil. The first time I watched Intensity, I felt like I couldn’t breathe in Edgler’s presence. McGinley’s onscreen presentation of the character is cold, calculated, and intense. He is wildly unpredictable and lacks any human characteristics. He comes across as the unadulterated embodiment of a psychopath. The ruthless manner in which McGinley brings the character to life, however, makes Edgler’s ultimate fate all the more satisfying. 

Also Read: ‘Texas Chainsaw 3D’ is a Rip-Roaring Bad Time

In addition to fully committed performances from the lead characters, this made-for-TV movie also accomplishes the nearly impossible: Intensity sustains a palpable level of tension throughout its three-hour runtime. From the moment Edgler arrives on the scene to the final showdown between Chyna and the crazed killer, there’s barely time to catch your breath. There are countless chase sequences peppered throughout that keep the action moving at a breakneck pace. But each new obstacle Chyna finds herself facing presents new challenges that keep the proceedings from going stale. 

If you check the film out and get a sense of déjà vu, you’re not imagining things. Alexandre Aja was heavily inspired by Intensity when he made High Tension. In fact, both properties see a young woman going to a friend’s idyllic domicile for a getaway, surviving a home invasion, and then stowing away inside the killer’s vehicle thereafter. Aja has admitted to having read Koontz’s novel and acknowledges the similarities.

Koontz also weighed in and was less than impressed. The author says he didn’t pursue legal action because he found High Tension to be “disgusting” and “intellectually bankrupt”. He went on to say that he didn’t want the association that would inevitably follow if he filed suit. 

Also Read: This Is The Scariest Horror Film For Atheists

Regardless of how Koontz or anyone else feels about High Tension, it’s safe to say that Intensity is a lost classic that needs to be rediscovered. A tenacious leading lady, a cold-blooded killer, and an ever-present sense of tension make this picture a must-see.  

Given that Intensity has been largely forgotten over time, there aren’t as many options for tracking down this cinematic effort as I’d like. However, you’re not without options. The picture is available on physical media through the Warner Archive Collection. Even if you haven’t seen it, I would suggest buying a copy of this lost treasure. It’s that good. 

That’s all for this installment of The Overlooked Motel. If you’d like to chat more about under-seen and underrated films, feel free to hit me up with your thoughts on TwitterThreads, or Instagram



Sign up for The Harbinger a Dread Central Newsletter