dir. Leslie Stevens
"He has defiled you, Kia...befouled you with love."
Having grown up in front of a TV, I have many vague half memories of the bizarre movies and TV shows that I saw as a child. Many times, after exhaustive searches, I have to resign myself to the fact that I, in fact, dreamed some of these things (I'm still convinced, however, that somewhere deep in a vault lies the very special episode of "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C." in which the lovable screw up is shipped off to Vietnam). Every now and then, however, I'll stumble across one of these pieces of pop cultural ephemera and see that I did, in fact, watch the movie or TV show in question. The most blatant example of this phenomenon is the Canadian TV show "Today's Special". For years, I had vague memories of watching a slightly creepy children's show on PBS in which mannequins came to life at night and ran amok. Whenever I mentioned this show to my siblings, they stared at me blankly and told me to lay off the pcp. Surely, someone would remember it. Whenever I asked any of my similarly pop culture savvy (i.e., geeky) friends, they would inevitably respond with, "You mean the classic 80's romp Mannequin, starring Andrew McCarthy, James Spader, and a pre-cougar Kim Cattrall, don't you?"
"That was an unnecessarily detailed response, but no, what I remember was a kid's show. I saw it as a kid."
"Lay off the pcp."
After asking everyone I knew, I was resigned to sticking this one into the "I dreamed it" category. Fortunately, one night while doing a rare non-porn related search on google, I found that, not only did this show exist, but it was also every bit as creepy as I remembered. To prove this show's existence (and its creepiness) to the doubters, here is the intro to "Today's Special":
This dream phenomenon is not limited to the movies and TV shows I saw as a child, however. Some movies are so randomly bizarre that they leave me asking myself, "Did I just dream that?", minutes after watching them. The Leslie Stevens directed film Incubus is one such movie. Spoken entirely in the fake nineteenth century language of Esperanto, this movie about Satanism stars a pre-"Star Trek" William Shatner. Long thought lost, the negative and all known prints of Incubus were accidentally destroyed by a lab soon after the first few theatrical showings of this film. The discovery of a surviving print and the subsequent dvd release of Incubus a few years ago was great news, of course, for the multitude of people salivating for the chance to see William Shatner ham it up in another language (and a fake one at that!). Sweet baby Jesus, I love the dvd age.
Running at a brisk 78 minutes, the simple plot of Incubus concerns the efforts of she-demon Kia (Allyson Ames) to ensnare the righteous war hero Marc (William Shatner). Incubus takes place in a non-specific village that is centered around a mystical well with healing powers. As the film's opening narration tells us, the discovery of the well soon leads to this town becoming a haven for vain and unsavory types. For, you see, in addition to containing healing powers, the well also acts as something of minor fountain of youth, erasing a few years of age off the user's appearance. As is so often the case, the vast group of people in search of youth, but too poor to pay for minor face-lifts and botox, proves to be a fertile pool from which to recruit members for Satan's vast army. A division of Satanco® sets up shop in this town and the damned souls just start rolling in (ka-ching).
When Kia announces her plan to recruit a decent God fearing man, her sister Amael (Eloise Hardt) erupts with rage. This is the path to destruction, she reasons. The demons of hell have no power to compete with the human emotion of love. Thus, whenever a demon becomes ensnared in this web, he or she is powerless to escape the clutches of amor. An impudent Kia pays Amael no heed, however. Seeing Marc as a pillar of virtue, she soon puts her witchay womanly wiles to work on the Starship Enterprise captain. Wouldn't you know it, the irresistible Shatner charm works its way into Kia's demon heart instead.
Hoping to avoid the embarrassment of loosing one of her employees to the competitor, Godco®, Amael releases an incubus (Milos Milos) who will violate Marc's sister Arndis (Ann Atmar). When news of this abomination reaches Marc, he looses his shit and kills the Incubus in a fit of rage. His soul now tainted, Marc is up for grabs in hell's recruitment effort. Kia struggles with her sworn duties as a demon and with her newfound love for the contemptible human. In the film's climax, Kia must decide between Satan and Shatner.
Although the plot of this film sounds like typical 60s B movie fare, Incubus's look and tone are anything but typical. Photographed by the brilliant cinematographer Conrad Hall (Cool Hand Luke, Electra Glide in Blue), Incubus looks and feels more like a Bergman film than a cheapo assembly line drive-in movie (not that there's anything wrong with cheapo assembly line drive-in movies). The stark, stunning black and white photography also anticipates the look of subsequent work by Hall in the film In Cold Blood. [Side note: I was going to include here some very Bergmanesque shots from this movie that I performed image captures of while watching Incubus on PowerDVD. Seeing as I am not the most technologically savvy, I somehow did not save these pictures (a fact that I did not realize until after I returned this movie to netflix). Thus I had to rely on the few pictures I found in a google image search for "Incubus". Incidentally, I had to refine my search to "Incubus Shatner" because a search for "Incubus" will result in a plethora of images such as the one directly below. ]
Just as the film's visuals rise above its exploitation trappings, Incubus's dialogue is similarly atypical (and not just because it is spoken in Esperanto). Also in typical Bergman fashion, this film's characters are more likely to engage in religious/philosophical discussions than to engage in any kinds of action. Although the discussions tend be more of the simplistic "God is good, Satan is evil" variety, this piece of pop-Bergman sure gets an A for effort (It is of a wholly different tone, of course, from the pop-Bergman of Wes Craven's The Virgin Spring update, The Last House on the Left). Given its influences, Incubus is more concerned with mood than with thrills.
Interestingly, Incubus has developed a reputation over the years of being cursed. As mentioned before, the film's negative and prints were destroyed soon after its completion. In addition, the actor Milos Milos would later take part in a murder/suicide involving Mickey Rooney's estranged wife. Actress Ann Atmar eventually committed suicide. And William Shatner was doomed to spend the rest of his days hounded by a vast army of pale friendless virgins.
Considering the fact that Incubus dabbles in Satanism, it is obvious that the tragedies to befall this film and its participants in subsequent years were clearly acts of retribution by a vengeful God. Aside from being concerned with Supreme Court decisions and people's sexual activities, God is also a film buff who watches all the random obscure movies he can find bootlegs of and judges if they contain any offensive material. It just goes to prove my point that you shouldn't make movies that will make the baby Jesus cry.
The fates of those involved involved in this film, however, were not uniformly bleak. As stated earlier, Cinematographer Conrad Hall would go on to have quite an illustrious career. Not that Oscars have any meaning, but Hall would eventually win Academy Awards for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and American Beauty. (American Beauty belongs, incidentally, to that obnoxious genre of films that I have dubbed, "Rich White People Whine". In a career that produced such groundbreaking photography in such legitimately awesome films as Marathon Man, Cool Hand Luke, In Cold Blood, and Electra Glide in Blue, Hall's win for American Beauty is one big cosmic joke. It also further proves the pointlessness of awards.)
It is a shame that movies this insane are so rarely attempted anymore. Nowadays, lacking sufficient means to recoup costs on such bizarre experimentations, producers are less likely to fund the Incubuses of the world. Back in the sixties, however, when drive-ins and art houses proved to be fertile money making dumping grounds for the multitude of lsd/coke fueled visions that art school dropouts decided set to film, damn near anything was possible.
[Side Note: To those concerned about the increasingly long, rambling nature of my reviews, I will no longer take pcp before writing.]
The Incubus trailer: