Elite Entertainment // 1981 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // September 20th, 2002
THe ultimate power of evil.
Dr. Sam Cordell and his daughter Jenny are new to the small town of Galen. When a string of brutal rape/murders devastates the community, the good doctor finds himself and his family embroiled in the mystery. His work at the hospital has him investigating the savagery and physical damage of the attacks. He discovers that there are unusually large, inhuman quantities of red semen found in the victims. Daughter Jenny has a close friend named Tim, whose vivid nightmares seem to correspond with the killings. He even believes that he is responsible, indirectly, for the crimes. Newspaper editor Laura Kincaid's investigation of the case and the small town uncovers a history of witchcraft and demonology. Suddenly the clues seem to indicate that whoever...or WHATever is responsible for these crimes may have a more sinister, evil motivation. Galen may be home to an Incubus, a wraithlike demon with a murderous need to reproduce. Or maybe it is one of the townsfolk, who all seem to have something to hide.
The Incubus is a film that, for a while, has several things going for it. There is a strong atmosphere of dread, a fascinating set-up, and eerie locations. John Cassavetes gives a typical intense, brooding performance that plays perfectly against the backdrop of otherworldly mayhem. And director John Hough has the camera turn up in interesting and innovative places (like the bottom of a wheelchair), employing techniques ranging from shaky handheld shots to obtuse, artistic angles. But about 55 minutes in, the entire movie breaks down. Up until this point, it has strung the audience along, using suspense and random bloodshed to make us believe that anyone (or any...thing) could be responsible for these brutal acts. But when the time comes for the pieces of the puzzle to fall into place, the narrative hemorrhages red herrings. The story begins to spiral out of control and the movie collapses and implodes into itself. Part of the responsibility goes to the source material. The Incubus is based on a novel, and by its very nature, a film has to excise important foundation material in order to compensate for a short running time. But a successful horror film cannot rely on mood and gore alone. There must be a pay-off and an explanation why. Neither is given here, with nothing resolved. Character actions become discordantly arcane and meaningless and the big deal surprise twist at the end is glazed over in a split second dissolve. For a movie that tried so hard, and succeeded for the most part, to create something ominous and disturbing, this hasty exit leaves the viewer confused and angry. Even a last minute appearance by the title beast in question cannot salvage it.
Frankly, there are also other things wrong with The Incubus, things that have more to do with the film's production and less with its unsatisfactory resolution. Let's begin with Erin Flannery as John Cassavette's daughter, Jenny. Quite frankly, she is one incredibly unattractive actress, with a body like an underdeveloped corncob and eyebrows that only a member of the old East German Women's Olympic Team could love (or imitate). Her decidedly odd looks are a major distraction whenever she is on screen. True, her acting should be what's important, not whether her image stops the Navy's atomic clock, but it's hard to overcome a face that launches a thousand lunches. Her freakish look may be, upon reflection, one of those aforementioned McGuffins. Since the film's about an unholy demon, why not cast a female who looks like Hell. Seriously, Ms. Flannery appears to be a victim of stunt stereotyping, hoping her queer mug would enhance the fiendish tone of the film. But it's just incredibly distracting (as its emphasis in this review indicates) However, it's not as off-putting as the editing. The movie feels incomplete and half-finished. Major subplots and scenes appear torn out. Motivation and characterization shift wildly between jump cuts. We do not fully understand why Dr. Cordell is in the small town, why he and his daughter share a creepy, near incestual relationship, why that sick twisted bit of parent/child perversity is important to the film, and who or what the Galen family are to the story. There are scenes set in a medieval torture chamber museum (doesn't every small town have one?) and autopsies where nude female bodies are unceremoniously exposed while others stay covered. Some or all of this may hope to add an unnerving unreality to the film, but it just reeks of sloppy filmmaking. At two hours, The Incubus may have been a wonderful, intense thriller. At ninety minutes, it's slapdash.
Elite gets only partial credit for its DVD presentation of The Incubus. The anamorphic widescreen picture, at 1.85:1, enhances director Hough's imaginative compositions and framing. There is a disclaimer on the back of the keep case that warns of grain in the transfer (chalking it up the original film element, not the DVD mastering). Consider it an unnecessary notice, since any defect is hardly noticeable. But then, we get nothing else except a trailer. Hough is still alive (he most recently made the vile Hell's Gate) and a commentary track could have been instrumental in resolving some of the lingering issues with the film and its problems. With nothing but the film to recommend the disc, The Incubus becomes a missed opportunity. With other marginal titles, additional content and extras can polish and lift it from a might-rent to a must-have. Here, one is stuck with a decent film that looses its narrative focus 2/3rds of the way through and can't regain its power or clarity. And there is nothing else of quality on the DVD to help support it. The incubus of legend may have been a wicked sprite driven by uncontrolled lust, but the only thing you'll covet after watching its movie namesake is a pair of cosmetic tweezers and a copy of Demons for Dummies.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Elite Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Rated R