The “Curse” of Incubus

Young William Shatner sits in shadowy church looking sad and confused

Incubus (1966) was a commercial failure on a level that sounds made up. An independent movie that doesn’t get any distribution at all isn’t rare or strange, but an American independent movie that got distribution in one single market, France, is pretty special.


It can seem a bit strange that a legendarily cursed horror film couldn’t catch anyone’s attention.





The curse of curses


“Curses” are built on a trick human brains play on us called “confirmation bias,” which is when we remember the events that match our belief and forget the ones that don’t. Everybody does it, and not just people we disagree with, although it seems that way sometimes. It’s what happens when we “tempt fate” by saying that something is going well, thus guaranteeing it will go badly. Nobody actually keeps track of how many times they are late after saying “I think we’ll be on time” to find out if it’s true or not. Curses are the same.


Make lists of everything bad, neutral, and good that happened to the cast and crew of a “cursed film” and you might be able to make an equally good argument that it was actually blessed. Or perfectly normal. How does Incubus (1966) stand up?





True crime


If there is one genre where a reputation as a cursed film can be a marketing tool, it’s independent horror. But a legend is only a legend in retrospect. Incubus (1966) could easily have been nothing more than a pleasant 10-day shoot in California for a movie nobody saw. But then the deaths started, and if there’s one thing Hollywood loves, it’s something to talk about.


The violence involving the small cast of Incubus (1966) is genuinely heartbreaking. Actor Milos Milos (the Incubus), murdered Barbara Ann Thomason Rooney and then killed himself in 1966. A few years later, the daughter of actress Eloise Hardt (Amael) was kidnapped from her driveway and murdered.


To control for the success of pop culture icon William “Captain Kirk” Shatner (Marc), the “curse” is sometimes said to have disproportionately affected the actors who played demonic characters, but that’s simply not true. Model/actress Ann Atmar (Arndis) committed suicide a few weeks after making Incubus in 1965.



Step 3: Profit!


Incubus (1966)’s lack of commercial success could maybe be chalked up to dark forces if it wasn’t a badly written independent film performed in poorly pronounced Esperanto. The collapse of Leslie Stevens’s production company Daystar is only mysterious if gambling big on Incubus (1966) and winning hadn’t been his survival plan. Stevens’ marriage to Allyson Ames (Kia) and divorce is obviously the influence of the cursed film only if A: Hollywood types never marry unwisely, and B: Hollywood marriages never end badly.


It’s more interesting that the movie’s music editor, Dominic Frontiere, went to jail for scalping Super Bowl tickets, but the prisons of the world are full of people who wish their bad decision-making could be blamed on Esperanto hexes.




A curse is born


Its reputation as a cursed film flourished in the years when Incubus (1966) was lost. It’s not known exactly when the movie disappeared, but the film lab where it was being stored had definitely managed to destroy it by the 1990s. That is one of the most infuriating situations I have ever heard of but not quite as infuriating, for example, as the BBC’s bad habit of erasing classic TV shows so that they could re-use the tapes. Humans are bad at long-term planning and good at stealing from posterity. Things gets lost. It’s not unusual.


The remarkable thing about lost, “cursed” Incubus (1966) is that it was found. It survived as a single, unprojectable film copy in an archive in Paris. It has blocky burned-in French subtitles but it was found, and today we can watch it (lots). The British Film Institute maintains a list of lost movies they can’t say the same thing about. Instead of DVD features about the “curse,” we could have box art that crowns Incubus (1966) a pretty darn lucky movie.


The “curse” dominates the Incubus (1966) DVD, though, because like the lady said just up there, independent horror is one genre where a curse can be a marketing tool. I don’t blame them; I’d have done the same thing and been twice as shameless about it. But if after reading all this complaining you’re still worried about the “curse” of Incubus (1966), make sure you poke around in the menus for easter eggs. Find the right screen and you will be protected.❤

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