Sunday 29 August 2021

It’s film Jim, just not as we know it… Incubus (1966)

OK, William Shatner in a film shot entirely using Esperanto, the “international language” invented in 1887 by Polish ophthalmologist L. L. Zamenhof? Why wasn’t I told earlier??

Incubus was shot just before Bill started on Star Trek and is about as cult and curious as films get having been thought lost until rediscovery in Paris in the nineties. It was shot in this arcane language supposedly to generate additional overseas opportunities but the language is rarely spoken and certainly far less so than English. I’m guessing that the main reason was to create a strange atmosphere and, given that director, and The Outer Limits producer, Leslie Stevens forbade any dubbing, this eccentric but effective decision makes more sense.

Stevens scripted and enlisted the aid of two former Outer Limits colleagues, composer Dominic Frontiere and cinematographer Conrad Hall, later to win three Oscars for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, American Beauty, and Road to Perdition. It’s Hall’s skill that stands out the most here with some lovely compositions that really sustain the disconnected atmosphere Stevens was seeking.


Allyson Ames

The story is a fable about good versus evil with witches setting out to steal the souls of men for their master, Old Nick (or a close relative). The action centres around the mystical healing waters of the village well at Nomen Tuum where many come to heal but others are more concerned with cosmetic improvements (wait until the next century guys, plastic faces are everywhere).

Witches or rather succubi, prey on the more sinful visitors and we see the beautiful Kia (Allyson Ames) luring one such individual to his drowning at the start. She is tired of such easy meat though and wants to turn a truly good man to the darkness. Her older “sister” Amael (Eloise Hardt) warns against this because if the risks of love…


Waiting at the well for the inpure of heart

Meanwhile, a noble soldier called Marc (Shatner) is recuperating with his sister Arndis (Ann Atmar) by means of the well’s healing powers. He is selfless and almost gave his life to protect those of others, his faith is true and well, surely the perfect challenge for the restless succubus.

So it is that Kia works her wiles on Marc and as the two head off to walk in dreamy embrace the battles between their souls begins even though the soldier knows nothing. Despite their rapid bonding Marc won’t step over the line, he wants to marry Kia before any carnal expression of the love and quite right too, what’s the world coming to etc.

Kia needs to work some magic if she’s going to break his resolve and as Arndis is left blinded after a demonic eclipse, she tries to lure him away to her love and his damnation. When that doesn’t work, she and Amael conspire to summon the Incubus (a truly manic Milos, so bad they named him twice…) who proceeds to rape Marc’s sister in an attempt to goad him into violent retaliation. This is, chiefly, what incubi do, much as a male version of the demonic succubi… all as allegorical as they are mythological.

Eloise Hardt: did someone say Ingmar Bergman?

The devilish deed is done and cue Shatner fight scene with the demonic force… will he be damned by his actions or has he violated Kia with his love?

Dusty verdict: Incubus is a curious and enjoyable film without worrying the horses in terms of grand ambition and seriousness. As other shave said, it feels like an episode of The Outer Limits and inhabits a strange world all of its own, one created by direction, cinematography and music as well as the dislocation of a drama played out like a foreign film as we read the faces as much as the titles.

It is a worthy watch with some interesting performances especially Shatner – always an acquired taste but magnetic on screen – and the striking Allyson Ames creating a believable tension. Ames portrayal of the role-reversed evildoer lured by the horrors of love is especially interesting and her reactions when she enters the cathedral only to be assailed by distorted images of Christian iconography are genuinely disturbing.

Despite the performers’ best efforts apparently their pronunciation of Esperanto learned by wrote, did not impress “native” speakers but as previously noted, that’s a pretty small audience! The ones who’ll want to watch this are more interested in the strange ambition and surreal skill of Stevens.

This is a film that should be on Blu-ray with Shatner commentary, as it is it’s hard to find but available on Daily Motion here. Worth an hour or so of your time on a darkening Sunday afternoon… Don’t worry, it’s subtitled.




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