Never thought you'd see a horror movie with a solar eclipse as a plot device, a mincing stuntman portraying the titular demon, and a horrible ending with a frantic goat as the final shot? "Incubus" is the movie for you. Though probably not.
The story concerns a young woman named Kia who is a "Succubus", sent from Hell to lead evil men to their doom with her sexuality. She grows tired of leading bad guys who are going to end up in Hell eventually anyway. She wants to tempt someone pure of heart and soul. Enter Marc, in the manly form of William Shatner...yep, THAT William Shatner, the year before he became Capt. Kirk. Things don't go as planned and she ends up falling in love with him.
I was interested in this film because it sounded so campy and bad. But this odd film ended up holding my attention more than I expected it to. Shatner is of course Shatner, even in Esperanto. But the film has a Bergmanesque quality to it, from the lighting, pacing and camerawork, to the religious themes, to even most of the females leads being blonde. I think if Roger Corman had grown up in Sweden, this is the type of film he may have come up with.
1. William Shatner lied and said he never made it, that's how embarrassed he was to have starred in Incubus.
2. It's spoken entirely in Esperanto, a synthetic language that is an ungainly mash of English, French, German, and Spanish. The language enjoyed a brief fad before fading into obscurity.
3. The actors do not know how to speak Esperanto. This is obvious by their bizarre intonation and...card reading covered up by the worst camera shots ever.
4. Story revolves around the activities of succubi (women who seduce men to gain life force) trying to corrupt a heroic war hero (Shatner).
5. Cult theory dooms the movie as cursed, because of the castmembers who died/killed people/got into legal trouble soon after production.
6. Greased up Milos Milos as an incubus (male succubus) crawling out of the ground. AHH... scary?
7. Budget constraints = one set. This makes the extended chase/lost wandering scenes more than a little unbelievable.
8. Random bits put in just for kicks (someone's brother had huge wings, random underwater shot because they had use of an underwater camera for a day, huge stuffed goat head, and more)
9. Assault and wrestling of helpless woman by said goat head (possibly an incubus, it was never very clear)
If this movie was any better, people would lampoon it as the worst movie ever made. But because its so outlandishly bad, it becomes fascinating.
...If you have the attention span, see Incubus. There's nothing like it.
When I was in college, this had just been rediscovered. Jen, the managing editor of the Evergreen newspaper, the [i]Cooper Point Journal[/i], saw it, just for the sheer delight of seeing a movie in Esperanto. That starred William Shatner. There really didn't seem to be any other reason, or indeed a need for another reason. The trailer seems to recognize that as well. It encourages us to be bewildered as William Shatner speaks in tongues, and hey, I'm there. Bewilder away. Not only that, but Esperanto as a concept always makes me think of [i]Red Dwarf[/i], because Rimmer is trying and failing to learn it, and that's a happy memory too. Even on top of that, the movie was filmed in and around the Mision de San Antonio de Padua in Middle of Nowhere, California--and I'm pretty sure, looking at it and reading about it, that it's the mission we used to visit when I was a kid. At bare minimum, I've visited it at least once, because I'm sure I visited all of them at least once. But I probably have pictures taken by my dad from one of our trips there.
Hang on. This isn't going to make any sense. So there's this succubus, see. Actually, a pair of them. Sisters. And they've been hanging around, doing their succubus thing. Warping men's souls through their demonic feminine wiles and all that. Just another day in the life of the damned. Only Kia (Allyson Ames) is dissatisfied with the usual pick of sinners. It seems there's no challenge in them, and they taste funny. She wants a saint. A real, genuinely good person of clean and unsullied soul. In short, William Shatner. (Who is playing a guy called Marc, but who is, was, and ever shall be William Shatner.) She takes her leave of her sister, Amael (Eloise Hardt), who warns her that this isn't going to end well. And things go wrong, because Shatner struggles to keep his soul turned toward God. To get her revenge, Kia summons their brother, the titular incubus (Milos Milos), who among other things is to ravage Shatner's sister, Amdis (Ann Atmar), to destroy everything Shatner holds dear. And stuff.
So let us speak, briefly, of Esperanto. Every once in a while, someone gets the idea that, if we all just spoke the same language, the world's problems would totally go away and we'd all live in a world of happiness, sweetness, and light. These people are, of course, deluded. However, one of them--a Jewish ophthalmologist from Bialystok named Dr. Ludovic Lazarus Zamenhof--came up with a new language in the tail end of the nineteenth century, based on various European languages, which he felt could be a universal second language. Needless to say, this has not worked. However, he did acquire enough attention to it that there are now maybe as many as two million speakers, including a thousand people considered native speakers. Oh, and Hitler declared in [i]Mein Kampf[/i] that the Jewish secret cabal planned to get us all to speak Esperanto as . . . um . . . something. It wasn't clear. Stalin was in favour of it and then not. It's had a weird relationship with world leaders. Also, I am given to understand that Shatner's accent, along with everyone else's in the movie, is dreadful.
Not that the movie itself is any great shakes. I mean, I was expecting it to be terrible, and it really isn't. It's by no means good, but it's not terrible. Okay, yes. Everybody seemed to be concentrating more on getting the words out in something approaching coherency than on actually acting, though if Shatner's any judge, it's not as though there's a lot of talent there anyway. I find it bewildering that the cinematographer, Conrad L. Hall, would actually get an Oscar nomination the next year, considering what a mess this one is. The music isn't great. The dialogue seems to have been collected, at least in part, out of a phrase book. That which is not, well, might well come out of the phrase book from that one [i]Monty Python[/i] sketch. And apparently the subtitles don't always match up with what the people onscreen are actually saying, which is actually probably not the reason a lot of it doesn't make sense.
There is a belief, true or not, that the production was cursed, and whether you believe in curses or not, the notion is certainly tempting. The reason, for example, that the subtitles appear on big, thick, black bars a third of the way up the screen is that this is from the only extant print, which had French subtitles that could not be removed. The reason it is the only extant print is that all of the others, negative and all, were destroyed shortly after the film's release. The director's production company went bankrupt--though if this film is representative of his works, I see why. Ann Atmar committed suicide--I have no further information on how or why, but on further thought, it's none of my business anyway. Eloise Hardt's daughter was kidnapped a couple of years after filming, with her body found in the Hollywood Hills a few weeks after that. As for Shatner . . . well, I guess the rest of us are cursed, too.
- Conrad Hall
Conrad Hall, who shot this film (cinematographer, not director), was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won three before his death in 2003. He won Oscars for his work on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, American Beauty, and Road to Perdition and is one of the masters of the art (obviously). I've seen many of the films he lensed but to me, nothing - absolutely nothing, compares to his stunning black and white work in the long lost low-budget horror film, Incubus, from the mid-60's.
Hall got his start in the classic original Outer Limits TV series in the early 60's. After the show was canceled, Hall, along with many others from the talented crew from The Outer Limits followed its creator, Leslie Stevens, to his next project, Incubus, a low-budget horror film he scripted with dialog entirely in Esperanto. Esperanto was intended as a "universal second language" developed in the 1800's. Accentuating the beauty of the poetic script, and astounding imagery, is the eerie and perfectly-fitting score by. Dominic Frontiere.
The script itself is spartan and beautifully written. This is not a "talky" film and the dialog sounds more like poetry. The story has a mythological nature to it, like some Greek fable about star crossed lovers. As Shatner points out in his commentary - despite its poetic qualities, it really is a take on the common "boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back" structure and is a "dark" (like "pitch-black" dark) love story. The beautiful succubus, Kia, is unfulfilled in her "job" luring men with her beauty, only to kill them and sacrifice their souls to the Lord of Darkness. Such men will "find their way to the sewers of Hell without her". She wants to sacrifice a virtuous man. She is warned by her elder, Amae, not to do this as virtuous men posses a power greater than their own. Not heeding this warning, Kia meets Marc (Shatner) in the woods where he lives alone in a cabin with his sister, Arndis. Marc falls under Kia's spell, and after Marc and Kia "fade to black" Kia remains unconscious. Marc carries her to a church, and when Kia awakens there is traumatized by the religious items and that she's (gasp)a succubus in a church. She fights like an animal to be released from Marc's grasp, and succeeds by scratching his face, then flees into the woods. The traumatized Kia is met by her elder, Amae, where they agree to resurrect the Incubus - a demon, to exact their vengence on Marc for defiling her by having the Incubus rape his sister and feed her soul to "The Lord of Darkness".
Nothing - no scene, in this film lapses into campiness. The scenes of Satanic ritual are not hokey and corny as we come to expect in these types of films. They are executed with a powerful authenticity. Once of the best sequences in the film is the "transformation" sequence at the end of the film where the Incubus goes from his human form to his demonic form. This is done with a simple and effective "jump-cut", sound, flash cuts, and clever editing. No unconvincing and cliched "disolves". It is elegantly, brilliantly, executed and very, very realistic and effective. I would defy any modern digital "morphing" effect to match the effectiveness of this scene executed with a simple "jarring" jump-cut.
Incubus is not a "curio", not a dated hack horror flick, forget about "William Shatner" jokes (he's perfectly cast in this), and it's certainly not one of those "so bad it's good" camp-fests. Incubus is an eerie and effective horror that's unforgettable. It grabs you by the lapels from its brilliant title sequence, and doesn't let go for a second until its poignant conclusion. It's truly a forgotten film treasure. I'll go out on a limb and - to me- declare it a masterpiece created by the inspired labor of love by some of the very best filmmakers of its era.
Poor script, though.
Esperanto was selected to create a surrealistic atmosphere and this goal is actually achieved.