By Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Incubus (1965). Cast: William Shatner, Allyson Ames. Director: Leslie Stevens.
You’d think, with William Shatner speaking Esperanto in a black-and-white 60s film, the result would be utter hilarity. However, the much-maligned Incubus is not that bad. In fact, it’s a pretty decent film for what it is: an allegory and not a horror film.
There are demons here, to be sure, but they don’t engage in the typical demonic activities we’ve become used to. No bloody attacks or possessions. It’s all a very quiet affair with no special effects. The story concerns a beautiful, young demoness who is tired of luring evil souls to Hell: it’s too easy and she’s bored. She wants a challenge. She sets her eyes on a “pure” man, played by William Shatner. An older demoness warns the young woman that trouble may come from this situation. The young demoness sets out to lure Shatner into her arms, but ends up falling in love with him.
The film, due to its striking photography and the use of Esperanto, has the air of a fairy tale or of what in Mexico we’d term a ‘pastorela‘ (traditional play featuring angels and demons and set during Christmastime). The blonde, beautiful demoness does a good job of looking otherwordly. Shatner, although stiff, works in the role mainly because the movie is about archetypes: good, bad, heroic, etc. He smiles and looks handsome, and seems suitably taken with the mysterious girl who has appeared out of nowhere.
The cast of characters is rather small, so there are only three other actors appearing on screen of any importance, which aids the simple, linear plot. There are also few scares, although there is one very effective scene set at night when Shatner’s sister is lured, by the incubus of the title, into an abandoned building where cloak-wearing mysterious figures await her.
Some people may be taken aback by the poetic dialogue, with characters declaiming in almost Shakesperian terms, but it’s part of the whole feeling of fairy tale, of a make-believe world, that accompanies the film.
I liked the conclusion, which has the demoness refusing to destroy Shatner, turning her back on Satan. As a result, she is attacked by a malignant goat. Shatner embraces her and they stand inside a church, while the goat stares at them.
Incubus was an utter box office failure and most of its prints were destroyed. The copy I watched is the restored version taken from a French negative. I can see why it bombed, but it really doesn’t deserve the reputation attached to it. Most of the issues with the film are not the fault of the movie but of the viewer’s expectations. I rather liked this vision of demons, because even though the anti-heroine develops romantic feelings for Shatner, she appears to be much more distant and inhuman than some of the demons that have paraded across our screens.
Incubus makes a good comparison to the next film I will review, another black-and-white film from the 60s, this time from Mexico, titled ‘Simon del Desierto‘.
Incubus can be purchased through Amazon.com.
Angels and Demons Week continues through December 31.
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