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Incubus
(1965)
 

Director:Leslie Stevens                        
Cast:
William Shatner, Milos Milos, Allyson Ames


The art/horror movie Incubus was the first of its kind - in fact, it's (to date) the only one of its kind. Incubus was made entirely in the artificial language Esperanto, even in the opening credits. Yes, Esperanto. Why was it made in Esperanto? Apparently, the filmmakers felt that a movie dealing with the supernatural would sound silly if demons and spirits were shown speaking English, and in its various accents. They felt the same, more or less, with European languages. So the conclusion was to have all the dialogue in the movie spoken in a tongue that audiences would not be familiar with, and it didn't take long to settle with Esperanto. Incubus met with significant success on the art house circuit, but shortly afterwards, the negative and seemingly all existing prints were accidentally destroyed. For years, it was considered a lost movie. But The Unknown Movies, after a long search, managed to track down a copy of the movie and watch it! And no, I'm not telling you where I got it(*) - as they say in Esperanto, "Nyah nyah na-nyah nyah!"

Before watching this movie, I'd been curious about it for years. The idea of an art movie with William Shatner struck me as being very off the wall, not to mention the fact that all his dialogue would all be in Esperanto. So I couldn't help but assume that Incubus would be along the lines of one of those so-bad-its-good movies, like Shatner's later movie, Impulse. Yes, there are a lot of things in Incubus to smile and even laugh out loud about - select parts of the movie are dated, or were never much good even in 1965 - but the movie overall is pretty competent. Strange, bizarre, and other similar adjectives, yes. However, the least you can say about Incubus is that it's never boring; there's always something happening in the movie that makes you watch it, making it a weirdly compelling movie.

For starters, it's a visual feast. Though the original negative may be long gone, but the print that I watched looked great. Shot almost entirely outdoors, the daytime scenes are drenched with the light from the sun above, and you see every detail. The night sequences are dark enough, yet you can still see what is going on. Several points in the movie, there are stunning images, one of them being when we see the wind make patterns in a large field of tall grass. Other locations (this movie was filmed in California) are quite striking, with twisted trees, streams running through a heavenly-looking meadow, volcanic rock encrusted beaches where waves crash upon the shore, and other almost unworldly locations. The only location that didn't work was a brief sequence when we see a village in a forest, which actually looks like cabins built for tourists. Especially since the world in this movie seems to be at a medieval technology level.

This medieval world takes place around a village called "Nomen Tuum", which is famous throughout the land for its Deer Well, containing waters that have healing powers. The waters can also make people more beautiful, which attracts evil: Succubi (demons) disguised as young, beautiful women stalk the land around the well to seduce and kill people wishing for beauty, in order to capture souls.

One demon, "Kia", isn't satisfied. "Surely the God of Darkness would welcome the capture of a noble soul, clean and good - free of taint, without a shadow of corruption," she states in the subtitles. Ignoring the warnings of the demon leader, she sets off on a journey to find such a person, and finds it in William Shatner - or, to be precise, the character he plays in the movie ("Marc"), a soldier who has come home from a distant war, and now resides with his sister. Marc quickly falls in love with Kia, but Kia herself finds she is falling in love with Marc, much to her worry.

Along this quest for love, we are treated to flowery lines of dialogue like, "Our bodies mean very little unless we also give our souls to love", "I feel an aching like the tides, the sun and moon moving closer together, becoming one." Some other parts of the production bring unintended chuckles, like the Devil (seen in silhouette) looking like Batman with his arms pointed out from his side, Kia asking Marc to take off his clothes, a hilarious fight with the title figure once he's uncovered from the earth, and a shot from Kia's eyes of Marc's head zooming quickly towards her to kiss.

Since the subject has now returned to Shatner, let's discuss his role here. Most people will think that Shatner must give a campy performance in this movie, considering what else I've discussed about the movie. Strange as it may seem, Shatner isn't that bad in this movie. Sure, he isn't terribly expressive, and he sometimes does his famous talk-pause-talk acting technique here. Considering, however, that he had to learn a new language for this movie in what must have been only a short time, he does a better job than most people would have done, even managing sometimes to put some emotion in his lines at key areas. Other acting in the movie is generally competent as well.

The atmosphere of the movie is attractive as well. It's a little strange at times - almost like it was a Swedish movie made in California - but it's an original atmosphere. Even the church sequences manage to be a little spooky. I know this review may be a little short, but it's really difficult to properly explain why I enjoyed seeing Incubus, because much of what I liked about this movie came from its mood and feel. (Plus, describing what else happens in the ultra-bizarre second half of the movie would be extremely difficult.) Forget the silly scenes, the weird story, and an ending that doesn't seem quite finished. Soak up the fog creeping around the fields and the abandoned house; the creepy score by Dominic Frontiere; the clothing that looks a cross between medieval and modern dress. As I said earlier, there is always something going on in this movie that makes you sit up and take notice. Now, I realize there's a chance that some people may find this movie - in fact, this whole concept - laughable, but hey, then there's still a reason to watch this movie (though not what the producers intended.)


* However, if you want to trade for it, you just might find me talking.

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See also: Impulse, Didn't You Hear, Highway To Hell

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