in Shocktober

Incubus (1966)

Falling behind on Shocktober this year was a blessing in disguise. Originally, I’d planned to analyze the classy Japanese ghost film Kuroneko. Though I don’t actually know if Kuroneko is classy, it does have a Criterion and we all know how classy most of those films are—I’m talking to you Robocop. But with a film like Kuroneko, I would have needed the time to watch it, swirl it around in my mouth like a fine wine, and let it permeate before writing about it. Whereas my backup film is like violent diarrhea. All it takes is one sitting for me to let it pass through. But man, is it some memorable diarrhea.

The film in question is Incubus, named after the greatest band of all time. Though technically an American film, Incubus is unique because it was filmed entirely in the language of Esperanto. If you don’t know what Esperanto is, this is going to blow your mind. In 1887, Russian linguist L.L. Zamenhof published a book, Unua Libro. In this book, Zamenhof presented an easy-to-learn, politically neutral language, he hoped could be learned by everyone. It’s a nice thought, an easy, universal language for all the world to use. Too bad it never caught on. Sure, some people have learned it over the years, but some people have also learned Klingon. Of course people who do speak Esperanto are spread out all over the globe, so it literally makes zero sense to ever make a movie in such an obscure language. Yet it’s happened, multiple times. Incubus isn’t even the first. Though it is the first with William “F#@king” Shatner.

First of all, I feel I should address the idea to use Esperanto was solely an artistic decision from the film’s writer/director Leslie Stevens. Stevens wasn’t trying to find some untapped market. All he wanted was to “create an eerie, otherworldly feeling.” Mission accomplished. I don’t think there’s anything more eerie than making zero money. And if the name Leslie Stevens sounds familiar, it’s because he was the creator of The Outer Limits, meaning there’s some genuine talent here. Perhaps most impressive is the film’s cinematography by Conrad Hall, who would go on to win three Academy Awards for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, American Beauty and Road to Perdition.

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The film begins with narration, of course it does, in the fictional, slightly-European village of Nomen Tuum, Latin for “your name.” If this seems weird keep in mind Leslie Stevens went on to write New Age books. A narrator tells the audience about the power of the succubus, who entice tainted souls and then take said souls to Hell. I find it odd we are given this backstory when immediately after we see a succubus named Kia (Allyson Ames) lure some dude out into the water where she drowns him. Had the film opened with this sequence and no narration, we would have gotten the same idea. “Oh, these creepy people in robes are killing lonely dudes.” You would get the same effect without all the cornball exposition.

Kia complains to her sister succubus… succubi? Amael (Eloise Hardt) about the sinister nature of their job, but Amael’s like, “Shut up.” So they get back to work. Kia stumbles upon a young soldier, Marc (William Shatner) and his sister Arndis (Ann Atmar) who live in the woods of Nomen Tuum and she pretends to be lost. Marc takes her in and quickly becomes warm for her form. The two become close, but Marc says he will not have “closer relations” with Kia unless they are married. Oh, he’s one of those people. Marc takes Kia to the cathedral where she is so disgusted by the sight of Godly images and Marc’s love, she gets violently ill. So much for being tolerant of other people’s beliefs.

Kia reaches out to Amael and asks for vengeance against Marc for “defiling her.” So the next time you see a Kirk Cameron movie, don’t say you were offended by it, say you were “defiled by it.” In response, Amael summons an Incubus (Milos Milos) to kill Marc. The Incubus, who is just some ripped dude, murders Arndis and then pursues Marc. Do you know what this means? William Shatner has a fist fight with a demon. Would you have it any other way? At this time, Kia realizes she does love Marc. I guess all it takes is for a man to fight a demon to make your feelings clear. Going to Marc’s side, the two embrace as the Incubus turns into Goat Satan. The two stare at the boundary of a cathedral and Goat Satan stares back at them. Then it just kind of ends.

When you get down to it, Incubus is a fairly dry romance film. The whole experience plays out like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone minus the twist. The cinematography is good, like if Ingmar Bergman decided he really wanted to make a movie about Goat Satan, but there’s little else to like. If you enjoy the work of William Shatner you will not be disappointed. Shatner handles the dialogue, which sounds like a mix of Italian and Spanish, with so much eloquence and style, you’d think he was reading Shakespeare. Plus, he fights Goat Satan.

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The film really isn’t terrible, it’s just weird. Why Esperanto? Why Goat Satan? It turns out the language wasn’t even performed correctly, as it was laughed out by the fiftysomething Esperanto enthusiasts who attended the film’s premiere. The film also attracted controversy after actor Milos Milos shot Mickey Rooney’s wife around the same time, whom he was having an affair with, before turning the gun on himself. Though some people believe they were both murdered for having an affair. Jesus.

It’s no surprise Incubus was lost for thirty years. Naturally, the film has become a cult favorite for die hard Trekkies and b-movie fans. I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend it, but if you think it sounds funny you’d probably enjoy it in bits and pieces. I mean, Goat Satan? What’s not to like?