Dean Koontz – Intensity

dean koontz intensity killer

In order to grow as a writer, you must read as much as, if not more, than you write. The minimum two hours I spend per day reading are always some of my most enjoyable hours of the day.

That you are here suggests strongly that you are also a fan of horror fiction. From time to time, as I keep you up to date on my latest stories, I will share with you my thoughts on novels I have recently read which I believe deserve your attention. Today I bring you Intensity by Dean Koontz.

I don’t scare easily.


I have been reading horror fiction since the early 1980s and I have watched all of the movie classics, from The Exorcist and Halloween, to Scream. Rare is it that an author can legitimately frighten a seasoned horror reader with the brilliance of his words. But that is exactly what Dean Koontz accomplishes in Intensity.

I won’t say too much about the plot – there could be no greater shame than to spoil this epic thriller for others. Intensity begins with a bang and never relents. Through its 400-some pages, you will be squirming in your chair as you put your faith in the protagonist, Chyna, to somehow elude or overcome the vicious Edgler Vess.

Koontz paints alluring visuals throughout. You will sink into the rural countryside of The Napa Valley as the story unfolds. His characters are believable and interesting and I found it impossible not to get behind Chyna. And once I did, Koontz had me.

A Thriller-Horror Masterpiece

“Intensity” is a gripping psychological thriller that pushes the limits of suspense and fear. Chyna Shepherd, a young woman, is visiting her friend’s family when she unwittingly becomes the only witness to a horrifying home invasion by a sociopath named Edgler Foreman Vess.

When Vess decides to leave the scene and move onto his next target, Chyna, driven by a mix of survivor’s guilt and primal fear, decides to stow away in his motorhome. As Vess drives off, Chyna finds herself in a chilling cat-and-mouse game. Her goal is not only to survive but also to rescue the innocent teenage girl Vess has targeted next.

As the story unfolds, Chyna must confront her own past traumas and fears. The narrative dives deep into the psyche of both the protagonist and the antagonist, making it a harrowing journey into the heart of darkness.

Edgler Vess Intensity


“Intensity” is a masterclass in suspense writing by Dean Koontz. True to its name, it ratchets up the tension with every page, delivering a claustrophobic, relentless thriller that forces readers to confront their deepest fears.

Koontz’s characterization of Chyna Shepherd is outstanding. Her past, layered with trauma and her will to survive, make her a compelling protagonist, and her evolution throughout the story is satisfying and believable. The dark, twisted psyche of Vess is also deeply explored, resulting in a truly terrifying villain.

The plot is razor-sharp, and Koontz has a knack for drawing readers in and keeping them hooked. However, some readers might find the detailed description of violence and the graphic nature of the story off-putting. The pace is breakneck, and there’s never a moment where the stakes aren’t high.

While the story is incredibly intense, Koontz also manages to infuse the narrative with philosophical elements, often exploring the nature of evil, the human capacity for survival, and the effects of trauma on the human psyche. This adds a layer of depth to the novel, making it more than just a standard thriller.

One of the drawbacks of “Intensity” could be its sometimes overly descriptive nature, which can occasionally slow the pace. However, it’s worth noting that these descriptions often serve to further the plot or deepen the character development.

Overall, “Intensity” is a compelling, nerve-wracking read. It’s a book that lingers with you long after you’ve turned the last page. While it might be too intense for some, fans of psychological thrillers will undoubtedly find it a gripping and satisfying read. Dean Koontz delivers a truly unforgettable tale of terror and survival in “Intensity”.

Edgler Vess Dean Koontz

The Intensity TV Miniseries

“Intensity” was adapted into a two-part TV movie that aired on the Fox network in 1997. The TV movie was directed by Yves Simoneau and featured Molly Parker as Chyna Shepherd and John C. McGinley as Edgler Foreman Vess.

The adaptation generally stayed faithful to the book’s storyline, capturing the relentless suspense and psychological horror that made the novel so successful. However, as with many adaptations, some plot elements and character developments were modified or simplified for the screen.

Since then, there have been no further film or TV adaptations of “Intensity.” However, Dean Koontz’s work continues to be popular material for screen adaptations, with several of his other novels also made into films or TV series.

Is Haute Tension an adaptation of Intensity?

“Haute Tension,” also known as “High Tension” or “Switchblade Romance,” is a French horror film directed by Alexandre Aja, released in 2003. Although it is not an official adaptation of Dean Koontz’s “Intensity,” there are certain similarities between the two that have sparked discussions and comparisons among fans and critics.

haute tension bloody woman

Both “Intensity” and “Haute Tension” start with a similar premise: a female protagonist visits a family home, which is subsequently invaded by a psychopathic killer. Both stories involve the protagonist stowing away in the killer’s vehicle to try to save another victim.

However, the narratives diverge significantly as they progress. “Haute Tension” introduces a plot twist towards the end, which veers the story into psychological horror territory. This twist, which involves an unreliable narrator and the blurring of identities, has been a point of contention among viewers. On the other hand, “Intensity” remains a suspense thriller throughout, focusing on the cat-and-mouse game between the protagonist and the killer.

In terms of tone and style, “Haute Tension” leans heavily into the gruesome and graphic elements of horror, with several explicit and violent scenes that contribute to its reputation as a ‘New French Extremity’ film. “Intensity,” while undoubtedly dark and suspenseful, focuses more on psychological terror, with a significant portion of the narrative dedicated to exploring the inner workings of its characters’ minds.

The protagonists in both stories are also portrayed differently. While Chyna Shepherd in “Intensity” is characterized by her resourcefulness, resilience, and determination, Marie in “Haute Tension” undergoes a more complex, psychological transformation that ties into the film’s twist ending.

While it’s clear that both “Intensity” and “Haute Tension” share a similar premise and certain narrative elements, they offer distinctly different experiences due to their respective narrative choices and tonal focus.

Dean Koontz Intensity artwork

The Dean Koontz Attack

Writers can learn a great deal from Koontz, who prefers to attack the protagonist (and the reader) early in a novel with a dangerous plot development. This technique is great for immediately immersing the reader in a story. The downside is that it is often difficult to maintain this early momentum. In Intensity, this is expertly handled and the roller coaster ride continues nonstop.

Stephen King seems to prefer a slower build to his stories, similar to the pace I preferred to set with Storberry.

The bottom line?

I put Intensity right up there with the most frightening horror novels ever written, including The Shining and IT. Read Intensity with the lights low. I cannot recommend this novel more strongly.

Just a reminder. If you want to be the first to know about my latest writing projects and novel release dates, then you should absolutely sign up for my email newsletter. Be a part of our growing horror community!

2 thoughts on “Dean Koontz – Intensity

  1. Couldn’t agree more, Dan. I’ve since lost my copy because I’ve loaned it out so much that I lost track who had it. Comes about as close to a perfect story as one can get.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *