Impulse Buy Theater - Incubus (1966)
Esperanto: A constructed language that was first introduced to the world back in 1887 for the following purposes:
To render the study of the language so easy as to make its acquisition mere play to the learner.
To enable the learner to make direct use of his knowledge with persons of any nationality, whether the language be universally accepted or not; in other words, the language is to be directly a means of international communication.
To find some means of overcoming the natural indifference of mankind, and disposing them, in the quickest manner possible, and en masse, to learn and use the proposed language as a living one, and not only in last extremities, and with the key at hand.
To allow for a ridiculous movie to be made in the mid-60s displaying that William Shatner can overact in ANY language!
Okay, the first three were from Wikipedia while that last one, while totally legit, was me. As has been the guiding light of Impulse Buy Theater, there are movies that you hear about and your sensible mind says ‘Wow…that has got to be a total cinematic disaster. Our time would be best served doing something else’…and we here at the Cat ignore that. Completely. There is no finer display of that in today’s review, Incubus from 1966.
The story revolves around a well in the village of Nomen Tuum that is said to heal the sick and make people more beautiful. Closely watching the film (because it really doesn’t stick to this point at all), turns out that this really only works for generally good people (who will find the waters “sweet”) while those seeking the waters purely for vanity’s sake will find the waters more “salty”…with little or no effect having been achieved. This, apparently, has made it a fantastic place for succubi to stalk down prey…picking off those that are less than pure. One such succubus however, Kia, vows to do something no succubus has ever done before: claim the soul of someone pure. Her sister, Amael, warns her that this is a dangerous proposition…as she may fall susceptible to love. Ugh…yeah, I know, it’s getting sappy in here…don’t worry, it only gets worse. Ignoring her sister’s warning, Kia sets her eyes on injured war hero Marc, played by the ever nacho cheese flavored William Shatner. [Mind you, this is the Shat before Star Trek. – Ed.] Marc, as you’d expect given the set-up, is there to see if the waters of the well will help his wounds and is aided about by his equally pure sister, Arndis. So…the stage is set for a battle between good and evil on a small, insignificant scale. Can the purity and goodness of one man sway a succubus? Or will the stain of evil fall upon both brother and sister? And as matters escalate, [Not really. – Ed.] can any of them escape the wrath of the Incubus?
“The effect is maximum terror.” That’s what the cover to the DVD says…taken from a review for the film. I didn’t exactly find it to be that. Kind of the opposite, really. Let’s brush past the known quantity that is the overacting of one William Shatner…although it must be said that his overacting in a foreign/constructed language is really kind of impressive. [Makes you want to see his Hamlet in Pig-Latin, doesn’t it? – Ed.] We can mostly look past the Esperanto too…for a couple of reasons (I’ll touch on the one reason we can’t in a bit). First, constructed or not, it’s a language that many don’t know and as such, can be treated as any foreign film…just read the subtitles. Secondly, and far more interesting, is the fact that speakers of the language have found the pronunciations used in the film to be utterly absurd…actually leading said speakers of the language to laugh hysterically during the film’s premiere. [Thanks again Wiki! – Ed.] So, if “native” speakers don’t take the film or its language seriously, why on earth should we? It is the very opening of the film that effectively displays what kind of movie we’re in for as an audience and…ho boy. Okay, so we start with let us simply say an unpleasant fellow drinking from the aforementioned well in the hopes of improving his scarred appearance. He comments that the water is salty and as we can clearly see, it hasn’t helped his ugly mug in the slightest. This is where we first meet Kia…oh my…you know, it’s only now that I’m reminded of the automaker. Huh. Go figure. [Back on task please. – Ed.] Kia is probably the world’s least enticing succubus. Well, actually I’d wager the Amish would find her attire shameful as she’s even so daring as to lift up her dress up to her knee in one scene…SCANDALOUS! To complete the image, put her hair in a style akin to that of the old lady in the American Gothic painting and…ugh. Look, this was made in 1966…although we’re not really given much in the way as to during what time frame the story itself takes place it…but come on! Women of the night and seductresses have been with us since time immemorial…and THIS is the best they could come up with??? Man…seriously, if this so-called succubus ends up giving you a chub, dude you REALLY need to get out more or…you know, use the goddamn internet! Anyway, she manages to “lure” this fellow through a fairly hazardous journey to the sea…where she then drowns him and only superficially buries him in the sand of the beach. And she’s pretty cruel on the drowning…putting her foot on his head and holding him down till he expires…so while she may dress like your grandma Agnes, she isn’t about killing ‘em softly.
Let’s circle back to my only beef with the Esperanto in this film: the subtitles. No, I’m not taking part in the eternal ‘Subs vs. Dubs’ debate, instead I’m complaining about how they were done…that is, in a style similar to that of closed captioning for the hearing impaired with black boxes around the words. And at times, the subtitles end up covering half the screen. This sucks for a couple of reasons, both tied in to cinematography. First, you can’t really see portions of the screen…thanks to the subtitles…and if you’re in a particularly wordy scene (don’t worry, there aren’t too many…thankfully) half of the screen is blacked out. Second, and what really puts some stank on it, is that the cinematographer, Conrad Hall is a 10-time Oscar nominee and three-time winner…so you can bet your ass that there’s going to be images on the screen that you WANT TO SEE! And there are indeed some very great shots in this film…and then someone talks, completely ruining it. Mind you, this isn’t an instance where ‘sure, they might have gone on to win or be nominated for an Oscar, but this is where they were still learning their craft’. Nope. The films he shot just before and just after Incubus were both given Oscar nods…although he wouldn’t win until 1969 for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Surprisingly, though, the film does manage to hit the 3 B’s…beasts, breasts and blood…although none of them in a satisfactory or satisfying way. The best way to address this is to talk about the plot device of this film that basically boils down to ‘a rape for a rape’. The first perceived violation actually comes at the hands of Shatner. We know, we know, no real surprise there. Likely not surprising anyone, there’s not much depth to the supposed ‘love story’ between Marc and Kia [So, it’s like Star Wars Episode 2 then? – Ed.]…they openly state their mutual attraction to one another [It is!!! – Ed.], but Marc won’t act any further on it unless they’re hitched so, as Kia lays sleeping, he hoists her up and lugs her to the local cathedral. [We don’t think any roofies were involved, but can’t be certain. – Ed.] When she awakes to her new surroundings, well, can’t say it’d be the best place to wake up if one were a succubus, eh? Not quite as explosive as if a vampire were to find themselves in such environs, but traumatic nonetheless and as such, Kia claws Marc in the face then runs off screaming. Sensing the violation, Kia’s sister is quick to revenge, summoning their brother, the Incubus in a “you rape my sister, I’ll rape yours” sort of escalation. It’s during the satanic ritualistic rape-ish scene (there’s a lot of shadows man, so you’re hard pressed to see anything…but you do see…) that we fulfill our second B. And again, I’m seriously left scratching my head…in a film where there are succubi…how is it that we don’t see either of their breasts? Don’t get me wrong, the girl playing Amistad or whatever her name is [Arndis. – Ed.] is in my opinion a lot easier on the eyes than either of the succubi but…just…ah, forget it. Rewinding a bit to talk about the Incubus, he does end up being our beast in the film…first as a more traditional depiction of the winged demon (albeit shadowy and lacking any detail…which still looks great due to the cinematography) to the final form of…an angry goat? You know what movie? We’re done here. Yeah, there’s blood in the movie too…not a lot though, let’s just get to the damn wrap-up.
Incubus is certainly a cinematic curiosity. Thought lost for 35 years, a single print was found in France, where apparently the film was popular [Surprising no one. – Ed.], written and directed by Leslie Stevens…who created the classic sci-fi/horror anthology series The Outer Limits, filmed in a**cough** constructed **cough** language and featuring a William Shatner on the cusp of entering into his prime, the film merits having curiosity toward it. [We here at the Cat have a soft spot for “lost” films. – Ed.] But in spite of some beautiful cinematography, this train wreck falls off the rails pretty quickly and never recovers. If this review hasn’t cured you of your curiosity…and personally, I wouldn’t blame you if it didn’t…then I can certainly recommend giving the film a look…either for free or a cheap rental. I certainly can’t recommend paying anything over $1 to see it though…and I’d highly recommend that your viewing fall mainly into riffing territory…so have friends and/or alcohol handy. Okay, the booze is a must…friends would be helpful but not necessary. But you might need them to help talk you down off the ledge once you finish your viewing.