Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Incubus (1966)

Incubus (Leslie Stevens, 1966) A quick view of Incubus brings up two oddities: 1) it's famously filmed in Esperanto (to give it a more cultured air—it was filmed near Big Sur in California—and it also obfuscated any questions about the script when getting permission to film at a local mission, as nobody could read it; and 2) it looks like it's an episode of "The Outer Limits," albeit with satanic leanings and some implied sexuality about it.  Facts are, it is very much in the "Limits" area, directed by the show's creator Stevens, and employing cinematographer Conrad Hall and composer Dominick Frontiere from the series.  

It also follows a typical "Limits" template, with a voice-over telling us we're in the village of Nomen Tuum (where the mayor is "Lorem Ipsum," I think) where, legend has it, there's a well that's a fountain of youth, curing all ills, and restoring beauty.  The rich and vain are attracted to Nomen Tuum to "test the waters," as it were, and thus are easy prey for a coven of satanic succubi who do that voodoo they do nearby.  The movie demonstrates with a drunken victim, lured by one of its members, Kia* (the alluring Allyson Ames, who was to become the third Mrs. Stevens) to the ocean, where she drowns him and is quite proud of it.  She tells the coven's leader Amael (Eloise Hardt) that just dragging lustful men to their deaths isn't very challenging so her next target must be a man of faith and strong will.  
Incubus came out the same year as Bergman's Persona.
I'd say "great directors think alike," but...
They choose war veteran Marc (William Shatner), who lives with his sister, Armdis (Ann Atmar), who lives down the road apiece on a farm that doesn't appear to grow anything, but where there's plenty of wood to chop. Kia wanders by, saying she's lost and Marc, nice guy that he is, offers to take her back, but not before the three discuss the fact that there's going to be an eclipse ...why, in mere moments!  Despite being warned by Marc that you could burn your eyes by looking directly at one, sister Arndis does it anyway just as Marc and Kia go wandering back to wherever Kia thinks she came from. This affords some shots of Arndis flailing around the farm, calling for Marc, while Kia attempts to seduce him and drag him down to the ocean.  Marc is all too willing to be seduced, but insists that they be married in the eyes of God before any further hanky-panky occurs ("hanky-panky" doesn't translate well in esperanto).

A visit to the nearby mission doesn't go so well, as Kia panics seeing crucifixes, religious statues, pews, and holy water, leaving Marc to wonder if she might be Unitarian, or something.  Then Arndis stumbles in, saying the darkened church makes her eyes feel better, and that sub-plot goes away.

But Kia decides that she wants revenge on Marc and so she and Amael call up an incubus (Milos Milos), who arrives writhing and muddy from out of the ground, and then things just go horribly, horribly wrong, both for Marc, Armdis and for the movie: Marc gets attacked, their farm is burned down, Armdis gets incubussed, and the movie gets padded with people roving around in the dark from the house to the mission to wherever the succubi go beddie-bye.  Stevens could make the slimmest of ideas stretch for 50 minutes on television, but here, there's a bit of padding that has more to do with atmospherics than it does with showing off the locations.  Done at a minimal budget, with just enough artiness to sell to Europe, and just enough suggested sex and horror to try and sell to the drive-in crowd seeing the horror films of Corman and Hammer, Incubus never lived up to its creators' expectations, receiving next to no exposure in the States, and was considered lost until a sub-titled copy was found in Paris—it's why the subtitles are burned in with a black background, obscuring the picture, but also the French sub-titles.   The film's at its best when "suggesting" (in the first half) and at its worst having to pay off the conceits (in the second half).  

And it's always fun to watch Shatner, here mere weeks before starting work on the original "Star Trek" television series.  One moment that makes me laugh is his speaking esperanto (which he does competently—Shatner is Shatner in any language) and feeling the need to gesture like an Italian.  It has its moments, though: flashes where you see something and then hit the remote to see if that was what you thought it was—for moments both perverse and absurd.

"Could we put a key-light right across the eyes?  Ya know, make it more dramatic?"

* pronounced Kye'-a, not Kee'-a (like the car).

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