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It's tempting to jokingly call this the best William Shatner movie in
Esperanto I've ever seen, but it deserves better than that - it's a
delightfully weird low-budget horror film that might best be described as
"Ingmar Bergman Meets `The Outer Limits.'" The reference to the 60s TV
series is apt, since several of the creative forces from that show were
behind this film: writer-director Leslie Stevens; future Oscar-winning
cinematographer Conrad L. Hall, and composer Dominic Frontiere (although I
suspect they simply borrowed his "Outer Limits" themes to score this film).
In fact, "Incubus" looks, sounds and feels so much like an episode of the
"The Outer Limits," there were times I half-expected it to fade to
commercial; a flash of nudity reminds us this isn't a TV
In "Incubus," a seductive female demon - a succubus - named Kia becomes bored with luring morally corrupt men to their eternal doom and sets her sights on a virtuous soldier named Marc, played by a pre-"Star Trek" Shatner (who guest-starred in an "Outer Limits" episode titled "Cold Hands, Warm Heart"). The bucolic out-of-time setting reminds me of the medieval Sweden of Bergman's "The Seventh Seal," and Hall's black & white cinematography is starkly beautiful. The Esperanto dialogue lends an exotic flavor with its vaguely recognizable European word roots. It also dresses up dialogue that might have been too over-the-top in English (in his DVD commentary, Shatner can't help chuckling when Kia declares, "There are no heroes burning in the fires of Hell!"). I'm reminded of the old joke that a movie seems more "artistic" if it's in a foreign language with subtitles - I guess Esperanto, originally intended to be a universal language, effectively makes "Incubus" a "foreign film" to just about everyone.
Shatner, as the young, handsome, dashing hero, is unmistakably Shatner, even in Esperanto. Allyson Ames is frostily beautiful as the evil Kia, while Ann Atmar is sweetly vulnerable as Marc's sister, Arndis.
I don't mean to over-praise "Incubus." It's a very well done little film, comparable to the original "Carnival of Souls" - if you don't expect too much, you may be pleasantly surprised at how much there is. It's definitely worth a look.
Made by some of the same folks who worked on the great Outer Limits
television series, this little-known gem (shot entirely in Esperanto, a
language conceived to become a universal dialect in the late 19th
Century) is definitely one-of-a-kind and worth checking out. William
Shatner stars as war vet and all-around good and decent guy who lives
with his sister (some Freudian implications are present) in a nameless
and nearly-vacant coastal village. He is briefly led astray by a
seductive, blonde devil-worshipper (Allyson Ames) under false
pretenses...he thinks it's for the mutual attraction and she is
basically plotting to kill him and deliver another soul over to Satan.
The remastering job is a crystal clear b/w print, gorgeously shot by Conrad L. Hall (AMERICAN BEAUTY) around picturesque Big Sur locations. Director Leslie Stevens achieves some amazing shots, throws in some great camera-work and the films has faint echoes of CARNIVAL OF SOULS and many Mario Bava films. The plotting (Shatner falling in love in the course of an afternoon and some heavy-handed religious themes) is often at odds with the is lyrical and poetic tone of the film, but it has many standout sequences (including a winged demon seen only in shadow, a solar eclipse, the human "incubus" rising from the grave, an opening murder of the succubus drowning a drunken man in the ocean...) to recommend it.
Writer/Director Leslie Stevens was previously best-known as the man behind
the TV series "The Outer Limits", and it shows. Everything about this film
is moody, atmospheric and vaguely threatening, while still tinged with
beauty. The real surprise is that "Incubus" is much better than just an
extended Outer Limits.
Shot in Big Sur on the central California coast in just two weeks and under a very small budget, the film more than makes up for those limitations with an imaginative script, fantastic visuals and well-nuanced acting. William Shatner gives what I consider to be the most subtle, unmannered performance of his career as the protagonist -- a weary, wounded soldier. The succubus who aims to cause his downfall is more than ably portrayed by Allyson Ames, who would've been quite at home in any Bergman film.
Bergman is, in fact, a reference point, with a few scenes obviously inspired by "Persona", "The Seventh Seal" and perhaps "Wild Strawberries". Other influences seem to be some of Kurosawa's early work and even Greek tragedies.
Many people consider the fact that every bit of dialogue (and even the credits) were in the Esperanto language, to be merely a gimmick. In fact, it was an inspired decision, and makes the film independent of time and place; perfectly complimenting the otherworldly mood. Most of the actors do quite well with it, and after a few minutes it sounds natural, and a bit like a cross between Swedish and Latin.
There are a few niggling problems: the actress who portrays the older succubus has a terrible declaimatory style, there are occasionally irrational plot turns, and worse -- the obtrusive subtitles that block out a large swath of the screen. This was necessitated by the fact that only one print of the film survived, and it had had French subtitles printed on it. When the print was rediscovered, director Stevens had to restore it for English-speaking audiences by blocking English subtitles over the top of the French!
I must mention the score, by Outer Limits composer Dominic Frontiere, which perfectly compliments the film. Conrad Hall's cinematography is at times breathtaking -- especially in one scene where Shatner wanders through a field by moonlight, the grasses swirling around him.
The film's denouement stays just on the better side of moralizing and manages to avoid heavy-handed Christian references. Indeed, the statues of Jesus, Mary and various saints in the village chapel seem just as threatening as the demons outside.
Although not quite as morally ambiguous as "The Wicker Man" (and probably shot for 1/10 the budget and in 1/10th the time), Incubus nevertheless is one of my favorite "horror" films of the 1960s, and well worth viewing. By the way, I disagree with the other poster suggested that Incubus is best viewed in a large group. I suggest that the intimate scale of this film works best when watched alone on a rainy night. Prepare to be frightened, disturbed and surprised.
A macabre footnote: within a year, both the actress who portrayed Shatner's sister and the actor who played the incubus would commit suicide.
First, I will critique the film as an average viewer and then as an
Esperanto-enthusiast. For Shatner fans this film is a must. For art film
aficionados it is also a must. Those who dislike Shatner or art films will
dislike this film; those who dislike Shatner -and- art films will -despise-
this film. Those who liked the old Twilight Zone and Outer Limits will
probably enjoy this film. It is a well-made film. And as far as concept
films go, Incubus is very coherent. It has a strong, if thin plot line and
does not stray often from it. Many art films are not... tight. What I mean
by this is that often in art films there will be many tangents and/or
moments where one feels that the camera was left running and the actors
weren't given any directions. Or the film just has absolutely no plot (not
necessarily a bad thing) and is merely a serious of events, which are
bizarre, quaint, or whatever. Not so in Incubus. This film actually borders
on the mainstream. Especially if one compares it with something like Un
Chien Andalou or Tetsuo: The Iron Man.
The film looks beautiful. Cinematographer Conrad Hall went on to win 2 Oscars and was nominated for 7 others in films to come. He'll probably be nominated again for this year's Road to Perdition. I wonder if Wim Wenders was inspired by this film. The demons in Incubus stand around like Wender's angels did in Wings of Desire (US remake: City of Angels).
On a less formal level, Incubus is just a neat movie. It's a neat idea with neat actors, neat shots, and neat music. It is set in an allegorical world, which is why writer/director Leslie Stevens chose Esperanto for its language. He didn't feel that a national or ethnic language would seem right for this tale. (Do demons speak Spanish, English, Swahili, or Russian? Do humans in this realm speak Chinese, Yiddish, or French?) So, choosing Esperanto was a bold artistic choice and something to be praised whether one is an Esperanto-enthusiast or not.
Some would consider the film a psychotronic classic, putting it the realm of Attack of the 50ft Woman or Plan 9 from Outer Space, but Incubus is far above that. It is probably one of those sad souls which is not camp enough to be a cult classic and not artsy enough to be an art house classic, and too artsy for mainstream, so Incubus will probably wander in classification limbo indefinitely.
Many have criticized the pronunciation of Esperanto in Incubus. I am not an expert. I have only been studying the language for a couple of years now. But my TV is going out so I didn't have the luxury of subtitles and I was forced to listen to it. I was able to understand it pretty well. From what I've heard and read about the film, I was expecting it to be unintelligible. Esperanto scholars have been way too harsh on these actors. It seems to me what we're dealing with here in Incubus are accents. This is something the vast majority of Esperanto speakers will probably never overcome. Think of those who have learned English that you know. They probably don't pronounce English perfectly. Think of actors like Arnold Schwarzeneger, Jackie Chan, Desi Arnaz, Gerard Depardieu, and Marlene Dietrich. Hell, half the actors in Hollywood do not speak English correctly. Esperanto is a second language to everyone and everyone will not speak it perfectly. But it seemed to me that the majority of Incubus' dialogue was spoken correctly. The thing to note in it should be how naturally the actors speak Esperanto.
This film is an absolute treat for E-o enthusiasts. Aside from Gattaca, this is the only film one will hear it spoken at any length. It is definitely the only film entirely in this language. For those who want to practice E-o comprehension this is a gem. Some will disagree, but it's been my experience that even the most seasoned E-o speaker will make mistakes yet the need for comprehension will remain. Dealing with accents is just a fact of life with any language.
It is correct to compare this independent, low-budget, black-and-white
atmospheric horror film with others of its decade, such as "Carnival of
Souls" and "Night Tide," and it's also correct to compare it with Bergman,
since there is clearly a touch of "Seventh Seal" here and possibly a bit of
"Virgin Spring" and "The Devil's Eye." But I'd like to point this out: the
most obvious comparison people make is with "Persona" because of the
strikingly composed "sister" shots, which evoke the famous profile
compositions of Bergman's movie, yet "Persona" was made a year later, in
1966! ("Hour of the Wolf" was made three years later, in 1968.) Therefore,
while we can say Leslie Stevens and Conrad Hall were influenced by Bergman,
it's also reasonable to suppose that since this film played at the Venice
Film Festival, Bergman might have been influenced by "Incubus"!
The awkward moments--I'm thinking especially of the last scene--create a rare accident that only occurs in low-budget films. The effects are so obvious and ludicrous that you're half-inclined to ridicule the scene with an "Oh, come on!" Yet at the same time, what it's trying to get across is so inherently disturbing that you also feel the frisson of real horror. It's a kind of accidental alienation effect. This state of conflict in the viewer's mind--half pitched out of the spell and rejecting what we see for what we know, and half shocked into ghastly conviction--this frame of mind is where is the uncanny takes effect.
I give this film high marks specifically because of its originality.
Incubus is a truly unique art film. Do not watch it as you would watch
films. Most of the people who dis this film are illogically comparing it
with mainstream films.
If you like Shatner's early work (e.g., Twighlight Zone), you'll like him in Incubus. The rest of the actors do a generally good job, too.
If you know Esperanto, I warn you, the Esperanto in this film is horrible. It is my understanding that the director did not want the dialogue to be understood. Each member of the cast trips over a few lines here and there, sometimes so badly that it should be obvious even to those who don't know Esperanto. The funniest thing is that Shatner pronounces Esperanto with a somewhat French accent and he pauses just like he does in English.
(La ideo, ke Esperanto aperas en la filmo varbas; tamen, la esperantoparolado mem en la filmo ja acxas.)
If you don't know Esperanto, do not watch this film for the Esperanto dialogue. It's not a good sample.
Everbody, watch Incubus if you like creepy, experimental art films.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
May contain spoilers.
This should be a must view, since it is the only film I know of that is in Esperanto. Other than the language, which gives the movie a dreamy quality, the acting is good and it reminds me of older horror films and Bergman, movies where the plot was conveyed through dialog and emotions with less action scenes.
The plot is about a female demon who is cursed by the love of a good man. It is a very interesting idea that evil could be hurt by kindness and it still rings true today and doesn't look dated. It is more watchable than a Bergman film too.
The DVD has a lot of extras like commentary and interviews, which make the film more fun. I love knowing how films were made and this one had to have a second script written so they could show it to the people they were renting the church from! Also, there are creepy stories about murder and suicide post shooting, which make it all the more horrific when you watch it again.
Incubus is one of those rare gems that you have to see for many reasons. I am glad SciFi helped restore it.
People's opinions are really divided on this one it seems. My opinion
is that while its not a cult classic, its certainly a haunting
experience. Its also unique for several reasons, not the least being
its the only feature film filmed in Esperanto, the international
language created to foster peace and understanding. And who personifies
peace and understanding better than Captain Kirk himself you may ask?
The fact this is one of the earliest starring roles of William Shatner,
before "Star Trek", is another attraction. Past all these, this is
still an interesting film. Its not completely successful (the pace is a
bit too slow for many), but it achieves that sense of b-movie
surrealism that "Carnival of Souls" and "Night Tide" had.
All around this is a well-made project. The acting ranges from decent to pretty lousy but its not distracting enough. The direction by Leslie Stevens is fine and subtle and has some truly eerie moments (and one all out shocker when the demons ravage Shatner's sister). The best aspect is by far the cinematography by Conrad Hall. "Incubus" looks wonderful and is seeped in shadows and absolutely perfect lighting. All of the angles are perfectly chosen and often very creative. "Incubus" would be an unique experience even without the Esperanto. (7/10)
A very weird, quietly creepy horror film... I think a big chunk of the
weirdness and creepiness goes down to the fact that the film is
entirely in Esperanto (and also the bit with the goat).
Put together by Outer Limits staffers (who were apparently obsessed with artificial languages), the production values are not dissimilar to 50s/60s TV (the odd camera shadow, out of focus evil beings, etc), but the effects are strangely effective and the use of sound is genuinely creepy in a way that made me think of "Eraserhead".
This film is worth seeing if for no other reason than to see William Shatner overacting in Esperanto. Most of the film he keeps the overacting in check, but about an hour in he clearly can't help himself.
Like an orphaned episode of "The Outer Limits", the film INCUBUS wrestles with issues of morality within the framework of a timeless fable. The use of Esperanto allows for dialogue that might have felt overblown if spoken in English, but here fits neatly into the story's dreamlike context. A strong script from director Leslie Stevens, brilliant cinematography from the great Conrad Hall, an evocative score from Dominic Frontiere (all three from "Outer Limits"), and fine work from a good cast (William Shatner is subtle and believable) all add up to a unique film. If you're tired of cops and serial killers and want to use your imagination, give INCUBUS a try.
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