FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

May 2, 2016

VHS Week Day 1: INCUBUS (1966)

Before I popped Incubus in my VCR, I popped on my Coat of Many Questions.
  • There are plenty of great languages to choose from, including English, French, and Klingon; why in the frig was Incubus filmed in Esperanto? 
  • Incubus is billed as a "long lost cult classic." It was missing in action for about 30 years, but a print was found and restored and should it have remained long lost and is it really a cult classic?
  • William Shatner?
Now that I've popped Incubus back in its cardboard sleeve, allow me to pop on my Coat of Many Answers.
  • Unlike English, French, or Klingon, Esperanto is an artificial/invented language. Incubus is largely an allegorical tale, and Esperanto (supposedly) helps create an "otherworldly" feel.
  • I don't think it's a cult classic–it's more of a footnote "Oh yeah, that Esperanto movie." It doesn't really get the affection afforded cult classics, does it? I don't think the Cool Kids have paid it much mind, with or without irony. I'll say it, though: I'm glad it's long lost no longer.
  • Well. *shrug* 
Kia (Allyson Ames) is a beautiful young succubus who's quite good at her job: leading corrupt men to their dooms so the Lord of Darkness can claim their souls. She's feeling restless, however, and realizes she's stagnated on her career path. Where's the challenge in seducing these men if they're already hellbound? It doesn't really speak to her demonic skills, she's just sort of expediting the process. But to corrupt a man who is pure of heart? To lure him to the dark side? Now that would get her name engraved on the Succubus of the Month plaque in Hell's employee break room. Surely she'd gain the notice of her master and, like, get a promotion or something.

She sets her sights on Marc (Shatner), a pure-of-heart war vet who lives with his sister on a small farm near a healing spring. Kia arranges a meet cute, pretending to be lost, and before five minutes pass she and Marc are making out and Marc declares his love for her. Kia proposes they get naked together ASAP, but Marc insists on marriage first.

And so the battle of the wills commences. Good and evil duke it out, but who will prevail? Will Kia successfully corrupt Marc with evil, or will he corrupt her with love? Along the way to the answer, we're treated to a solar eclipse, the birth of an incubus, some good old fashioned virgin defilement, a star turn by one of Black Phillip's ancestors, and liberal use of a fog machine.

As I said, Incubus is meant to be an allegory, a myth, a fairy tale; characters are archetypes who talk about Big Ideas. Unfortunately, in terms of the script this simply means that characters will repeatedly talk about good and evil and good vs evil and souls and love and evil and good and souls and I'm sure you get it. The seriously honeybaked ham-fisted dialogue that's made all the worse by the Esperanto, which feels as stilted and unnatural as you might imagine, and clunky conversations are rendered...super clunky.

So why I am glad Incubus was saved from history's slush pile of the lost and the damned? Because thanks to the work of Oscar-winning cinematographer Conrad Hall (In Cold Blood, Marathon Man), this film is frequently stunning to behold and nearly achieves the arthouse vibe sought by writer/director Leslie Stevens.

It's a real beaut, and I daresay that if the script and acting had been a smidge better ("Oh, is that all?" - you)–or maybe if Esperanto had truly taken the world by storm–Incubus might truly be a cult classic, lauded alongside films like Carnival of Souls.

What can I say, Incubus has plenty of shortcomings, but sometimes Satanism wrapped in a pretty package is all it takes for me to be well satisfied. This film led me to my doom quite easily, thank you!


Paul Hurh said...

So I watched this yesterday in solidarity, and I KNEW that you were going to highlight that shot through the window. The wind rippling through the tall grass is magnificent.

My wife, who teaches Italian, wandered into the room and was like, this Italian is worse than my students'.

I dug the scene when they go to chat some 'peranto with the lord of darkness and he's basically just an awesome set of backlit bat wings.

Fun pick! Or amuza electo!

Stacie Ponder said...

Oh my goodness, I LOVE the scene where the succubi go talk to the boss. I'd been merrily engaged throughout, really, but at that point I was taken aback because it was actually pretty (and unexpectedly) kick ass.

And geez, Esperanto was just so awful to listen to. I don't know if it was the fault of the actors–who had to learn all of their lines phonetically–or if it was the language itself. It sounded like some awful attic baby borne of an unholy union of Latin, Pig Latin, and Spanish. (Which...okay, it takes place in "Nomen Tuum" which is Latin, so why didn't they just use Latin throughout? Damn you, INCUBUS!)

G.A. Redman said...

It feels like the movie was directed by Ingmar Bergman's less talented younger brother. It might have worked better broken up into surreal bite size segments during USA Network's old Night Flight show.

Stacie Ponder said...

Yes! Bergman's younger sibling or a film nerd who watched THE SEVENTH SEAL and wanted to "pay homage."

NIGHT FLIGHT SHOUT OUT. Apparently they've got their own streaming service for episodes now? Or it's going to launch soon? Man, I was super into that show. And RADIO 1990. And UP ALL NIGHT. Holy crap, USA Network was amazing.

G.A. Redman said...

Yes indeedy. Night Flight Plus is available on Roku. USA Network was probably the greatest cable station ever created. Now it's a dumping ground for NCIS reruns. If Mr Robot wasn't on it I might not know it still existed.