INCUBUS is a most unusual, and unique “odd duck”; a gothic fairy tale screenplay filmed as an abstract horror movie, in the style of the European symbolists.
Filming the script in an unknown language (“Esperanto”) assures that the film must communicate completely on an allegorical level; INCUBUS is peopled by primal archetypes seemingly drawn from both a Grimms’ fairy tale and a Bergman psycho-pastoral meditation. Characters are either full of wisdom and self-insight, or terror and loathing. They bleat to the heavens as if voicing Shakespeare.
Heavy-handed and pretentious to a fault, INCUBUS is also gorgeous, enchanting and wholly engaging, with sequences of pure brilliance. Haunting and overwrought, INCUBUS appeals to us as grand theatre, and gripping melodrama.
Unfortunately, the story is extremely simplistic, even sophomoric in spots. Although the grand design of the piece is eye-catching and engaging, INCUBUS appears not so much as a movie from another planet as it is a movie from a curiously familiar, yet distant, parallel universe, one with energy and talent and good intentions, but perhaps slightly naive cerebral abilities. There is something missing from the scenario, something subtle but profound.
Yet, where else can one find literal depiction of demons from Hell having theological arguments and fighting over the souls of the living? Supernatural figures come to literal life, something Hollywood doesn’t tackle too often, except with great fanfare (THE EXORCIST, THE OMEN).
The voluptuous, manipulative music of Dominic Frontiere, and the crisp charicascuro b/w fotog of Conrad Hall, create an art film of unusual depth and beauty. Although distinctly an “ancient” period piece, bizarre little anachronisms abound, like cylcone fences in the foreground of certain shots.
INCUBUS is, like the best of ’60’s film art, pure cinema; a swirling, kinetic carousel of theatre brought to life. It’s seductive face and overwhelming mythos make it an experience one is not likely to forget, or confuse with another.
How one interprets INCUBUS is another story. It tackles too much and struggles valiantly under its own weight, creating a most unusual piece of film art along the way. The film becomes a bit long-winded and belabored by the end, and one wonders who might have had the mental focus necessary to follow this difficult but rewarding film to its conclusion during its assuredly brief theatrical run.
Imagine an American doing an homage/hybrid of a Bergman film, not the smarmy cheap punches of THE DOVE, but for real, a sincere attempt to appropriate Bergman’s specific filmic language for use by a newer, less bright culture. While not successful, the results are extraordinary. INCUBUS will be thoroughly disappointing for anyone looking for a cheap fix of ’60s horror. Awash in elementary metaphysical pontification, INCUBUS works least as an illustrated theological discussion, yet that is where it derives a great deal of its energy. Visually, one might call it CARNIVAL OF SOULS done as a Shakespeare play.
William Shatner is surprisingly effective as a simple man who trips headlong into a devastating battle for his life and very essence. A great scene late in the film shows William enacting the suffering implicit at the precise moment he envisions his own eternal damnation; he is a man literally fleeing the devil to save his soul. Not since the Greek tragedies of yore have primal life issues taken such unabashed center stage, and to such powerful effect.
From a dramatic and intellectual point of view, INCUBUS is an unqualified failure. Yet it is one of the most extraordinary and significant failures in all cinema history, a bold and unique document of film on the very cutting edge of its time.