Incubus (1966) was very nearly a lost movie. If it had been lost, it would be hard to believe that an American movie filmed entirely in Esperanto existed at all.
But it squeaked through the closing doors of history and it’s possible for doubters to see it with their own eyes and be amazed. Incubus (1966) exists, and it is the stuff obsessions are made of.
Incubus (1966) is set on the eerily uninhabited island of Nomen Tuum, where the sick come to a magic well to be healed and the vain come to be made more beautiful. The well is the perfect bait for corrupted souls, and demons do a brisk trade in luring bad’uns down to sea to drown.
But succubus Kia (Allyson Ames) is ambitious. She’s a young demon on the rise and she knows she can do more than the daily roundup of blackened souls for the Prince of Darkness. Kia has untapped potential. She wants to harvest the soul of a good man, somebody whose damnation will be a challenge for her.
Her sister Amael (Eloise Hardt), a soft middle-management lifer if ever I’ve seen one, advises caution. Why take the risk of being wounded by that fiendish weapon of the virtuous, love? Why do anything ever, Amael?
Kia ignores her, and I’d be the first to defend her. You be you, sweetie. Go get that noble soul. Read the complete synopsis of Incubus (1966).
Better than it should be
“When wheat ripens, someone has to harvest it… A soul cannot be forced to join the Legions of Hell. Each one is given a choice… and when they choose to come to meet us, we then greet them.”
Incubus (1966) is unexpectedly gorgeous, a style that might be called Accidental Bergman. The cinematographer on Incubus was Conrad Hall, who was only a couple years away from winning the first of three Academy Awards.
There is plenty to look at if the script isn’t holding your attention: the play of light and shadow across faces; the luminous glow of the succubi’s blonde hair in the gloom; the drift of smoke across gnarled trees; the rustle of wind through grass. Yes, Incubus (1966), you shall go to the ball.
Why are they…? Fine, whatever
The performances, on the other hand, are on a spectrum from competent to ridiculous. William Shatner, as wounded hero Marc, seems quite relaxed on his fortnight visiting the outer limits, but he isn’t as much better than the unknowns as you might expect.
Ames and Hardt are doing their best in an impossible situation and only sometimes sound like they learned their dialogue one syllable at a time. Ann Atmar has little to do as Marc’s virginal sister Arndis but be sweet and devoted until her climactic fridging, but she can be trusted to do that.
Milos Milos as the titular Incubus, whose arrival takes the movie from interesting-weird to weird-weird, is an unfortunate distraction with bug-eyed expressions and silly walks.
William Shatner gets top billing, but Incubus isn’t his movie just because he’s the only actor we’ve heard of. Men in Incubus (1966) aren’t characters so much as ideas in trousers: ultimate good vs ultimate evil. Marc has two modes, Jesus and penis, and is an incorruptible paragon only because the script says so; the Incubus is an unappealing mass of compulsion and violence obediently doing whatever the succubi tell him to do, and is a world-defeating force of destruction only because the script says so.
Maybe they won’t notice the script
And what a script it is. Director Leslie Stevens wrote Incubus himself, and the result is occasionally fascinating, frequently silly, and always flowery. Producer Anthony Taylor is very frank in his DVD commentary that the translation helps the movie by disguising the overcooked dialogue: “In English, this would sound pretty dumb.” It’s a pretty dumb read too, actually.
Incubus commits the cardinal sin of breaking the rules it sets for itself, a sacred law that even the dumbest popcorn movie has to obey. For Incubus (1966), the rule is a pretty big one: every person gets a choice. Arndis wasn’t given a choice, so her soul couldn’t have gone to hell. Bad Incubus! No cookie for you.
(Amael would have been better off going after “little sister” herself, since she was easily able to influence Arndis earlier in the movie. I take back my earlier criticism of Amael. She’s the most reliable+competent servant of the Prince of Darkness we meet in Incubus (1966).)
Marc is hardly going to hell for not quite killing the Incubus. And Kia makes her choice clear to Amael when she chases after Marc; the Incubus tries to destroy her, but what’s the point? She doesn’t have a one-way ticket to hell either. The only person in Incubus (1966) going to hell is the Incubus, because he lives there and it’ll be lunchtime soon. Good plan, demons.
A couple hours to watch, a lifetime to speculate
I like Incubus (1966) very much, even though it’s frustrating and especially when it’s inexplicable.
- Why does everyone behave like it’s cool for Marc to carry an unconscious woman into a church? I don’t know!
- Are Marc and Arndis living on the island keeping chickens, or visiting to drink at the magic well? I don’t know!
- Why does the Incubus hold his arms out in front of him like a cartoon mummy? Has anybody ever known?
Not knowing is more fun than knowing would have been. There’s more to talk about.
The makers of Incubus (1966) accidentally delivered into the world a movie that is made a little bit better by every thing that is wrong with it. And that’s kind of magical.❤