Film #150 – Incubus (1965)

Incubus is, in many ways, a typical 1960s era pseudo-Bermanesque horror film. It deals with the story of a beautiful succubus* named Kia who tires of gathering souls of the already damned. She longs to capture the soul of a truly good man. Ignoring the warnings of her fellow demons, she pursues a religious man named Marc, but finds his faith too strong to overcome. Bitter, she tries to take him down by awakening the Incubus, the ultimate realization of Satan’s evil.

Written and directed by Outer Limits veteran Leslie Stevens, Incubus has a stark, bleak look to it that perfectly fits the subject matter. Since it is a 1960s film, there’s not a lot in the way of visual effects or anything, but Stevens is able to make the most of his relatively low budget, using odd camera angles and quick editing to give the film a Bergmanesque feel. In many ways, it stands as a precedent to the occult-based films that became popular in the 1970s. But regardless of comparisons, Incubus is a great little thriller.

Oh, and did I forget to mention that Incubus stars William Shatner and was filmed entirely in Esperanto? The producers figured that since no one had ever done a film in Esperanto before, they’d get a lot of publicity and every one of the 5 Million Esperanto users would want to see the film. The thing is, I’ve seen plenty of foreign language films and you quickly forget that you’re watching Esperanto. It’s just another foreign language, albeir one being spoken by William Shatner.

Shatner is quite good here as the “good man” Marc (most often called “Marco”, following Esperanto naming conventions). It’s a bit obvious that he doesn’t really know what he’s saying (he learned his lines phonetically), but he is able to instill them with the necessary emotion. The rest of the cast run the gamut from a sensitive performance by Ann Atmar as Marc’s sister Arndis, who suffers at the hands of the demons, to extreme scene-chewing by Milos Milos as the Incubus. The only other major character is Eloise Hardt as Amael, an elder succubus who tries to sterr Kia away from her doomed plan.

Despite the demonic overtones, at its heart, Incubus is a faith-enhancing film, supporting the triumph of good over evil. Compared to the aforementioned films like The Omen, it’s refreshing to see a movie that can deal with dark themes, yet ultimately reject them. It shows that real thought was put into Incubus. It wasn’t just an excuse to be “dark”.

The Shatner/Esperanto connection led to this film getting a lot of negative publicity when it was first rediscovered.*** But as time has gone by (and people have actually watched the film), its reputation has grown. While it is certainly odd for its use of Esperanto, that hardly hurts the movie any more than any foreign language film. And while it may not be the height of 1960s cinema, it has an interesting story to tell and tells it with strong visuals and performances. If you’re in the mood for a bit of the occult or something that’s just a bit “different”, Incubus is a great choice.

* A demoness who seduces men and stelas their souls.
** There had actually been one the year before, Angoroj, but it got almost no distribution.
*** You see, Incubus used to be one of the great “lost” films. After its initial (unsuccessful) release, all known copies of the film were lost or destroyed. In fact, its disappearance, coupled with several other incidents suffered by cast and crew, led to a rumor that the film was cursed. But a single print of the film was finally discovered in 2000 in France, where it was used for “Midnight Movie” screening. It was cleaned up and released by the Sci-Fi Channel in 2001.

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