Movies: Incubus

I can’t get this movie out of my mind: Incubus.

We taped this at – get this – Halloween. We waited until last night, January, when bored out our minds, we decided to watch a whole bunch of horror movies we’d taped but hadn’t yet watched. And there was Incubus, a little sleeper of a film. A 1966 black and white horror movie starring of all people, William Shatner. I expected schlock and silliness and instead got a distinctly mesmerizing film that I can’t get out of my head.

It’s not a foreign film, but it is. It’s not a moral tale, but it is. It’s not a horror movie, but it is.  It is…well, a confusing jumble of stuff.

First, let’s get the basics out of the way. The plot. Incubus is about a man named Marco. He’s injured in an unnamed war and seeks healing from a well that gives beauty and healing. He limps off with his sister, Ardniss, to their rustic cabin.

Nearby lurks Kia, a succubus (type of demon) who, with a partner demon, lures souls to their death from the well. Kia and the other succubi may only prey on already damaged souls; they may not touch the pure. “Why not?” Kia fumes to her companion. “I want the really big prize; I want to lure a good man to his doom, to damage his soul forever!”

“Ah,” the other demons says to her, “beware, for that is not our task. Besides, these mortals have a weapon called “love” which can destroy us forever.” Her fellow demon warns her not to tempt Marco, for he is a pure soul. He saved other men during the war at his own peril.

But Kia doesn’t listen. She visits Marco at his home and pretends to be a lost peasant girl. Marco and Kia wander off but not before there’s a solar eclipse; while he’s off following Kia down the coast to the beach, ostensibly so she can find work picking wheat, Ardnis loses her sight. I’m not sure whether Kia curses her or whether she looks at the solar eclipse, but either way, she’s blinded.

Ardnis tries to seduce Marco, played by Shatner. He refuses to sleep with her unless they are married. They frolic by the beach for a while, then Kia falls asleep. Marco carries Kia to the church to find a priest to marry them (nothing like a hasty courtship) but she awakens and sees the statues of Mary, Joseph, and the saints; she freaks out at the crucifix, as a demon should, and runs shrieking form the church that she has been “violated.”

Meanwhile, Ardniss stumbles to the church, where her sight is restored once she crosses the threshold. She and a sorrowful Marco return home. Marco isn’t sure what the heck happened with Kia, but he loves her and grieves for her.

Meanwhile, Kia’s friends, the other demons, swear vengeance for her “defilement” by Marco’s love and being brought into the church before the sacrament. They raise the incubus, a male demon, and that night, he rapes Ardniss and she dies from the rape.

Marco sort of kills the incubus, at the urging of the other demons, who want a mortal sin on his soul so that Kia can drag him into hell. (Here is where I had a problem with this – yeah, okay, just this one bit – but if the incubus is demon, killing him isn’t really a mortal sin. So it doesn’t count. But suspend disbelief here as the plot carries on).  Now Marco is wounded and he stumbles to the church to cleanse his soul before death.  Kia also has a change of heart, defies the Dark Lord, claims herself for Jesus and fights off an attempted rape by a goat. Marco dies clutching Kia’s hands on the threshold of the church. Is she saved? Is he saved? Not sure. The movie just ends.

Compounding the weirdness of the movie…it is filmed in Esperanto. What is Esperanto? A made-up language. Here’s the Wikipedia entry for it. I kid you not; Shatner passionately overacts in Espereanto as well as in English.

So we have a movie filmed in eerie black and white, in a language no one speaks but that has haunting overtones of a multitude of languages, resplendent with Milton-esque imagery of demons battling for a mortal soul.

Is it any wonder I fell in love with it? It did my English major’s heart good, it did.

I’m totally haunted by this movie. Apparently, it was a flop in 1966 when it came out.  First of all, the actors spoke esperanto so badly that the folks who are actually into the language giggled at it.  Then, the guy who played the incubus was in some sort of murder-suicide, which in those days was box office poison.  The movie flopped everywhere except in France, where it had some modest runs, and then was forgotten. I wonder if Shatner ever remembered it? He went on that year to start filming Star Trek, and his mortgage was paid forever even if he was type cast, so I guess he didn’t care too much.

The film was then lost until 1996, when a copy with French subtitles was found in a vault somewhere in France. The SyFy channel paid to have it restored frame by fame as it was apparently in really bad shape. Then, it was translated into English with subtitles, and thus it came to TCM…which is how I stumbled over it.

I loved it.  I am intrigued by it. I don’t care if Esperanto is a totally made up language, or if you could see the rope around the neck of the goat ravaging Kia…the whole thing worked in an eerie, dreamlike way.

If this comes on TV, watch it.  If you love myth and symbolism, watch it. If you speak esperanto…God bless. You probably will be sorry at the lousy pronunciation, but since there are only two movies ever made in esperatno, count your blessings.


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