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Monday, February 7, 2011

The Incubus (1981) review

THE INCUBUS 1981 (on screen title: INCUBUS)

John Cassavetes (Dr. Sam Cordell), John Ireland (Hank Walden), Kerrie Keane (Laura Kincaid), Duncan McIntosh (Tim Galen), Helen Hughes (Agatha Galen), Erin Flannery (Jenny Cordell)

Directed by John Hough

The Short Version: British director, John Hough helms this oft maligned and underrated, but minor Canadian horror footnote from 1981. Despite the script going in different directions during the last half, INCUBUS is a surprisingly effective, well made and generally unpleasant pseudo-Gothic terror tale about demon rape and a small town with a dark secret.

"Every time this kid has a dream, somebody in this town dies!"

The small New England hamlet of Galen is disrupted by an ever growing string of violent rapes that leave the victims dead, or seriously traumatized from near bodily destruction. All evidence leads to an ancient, unspeakable evil that's tied to a young and frightened young man whose demonic nightmares are linked to the rape-murders.

1981 was a banner year for horror cinema what with the slew of escaped maniacs and mad slashers stalking movie theaters across the nation. John Hough's INCUBUS (1981) starts off like one of those 'stalk and kill' flicks, but it soon becomes apparent there's something else going on altogether. Hough had previously directed two superior horror pictures in the 1970s--TWINS OF EVIL (1971) and THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973). Some of that classiness survives in INCUBUS, but the queasiness and tastelessness of the script overpowers whatever air of respectability the filmmakers may have intended.

I do enjoy this film and feel it's quite well made in spite of its uncomfortable subject matter and cumbersome conclusion. While the numerous rape scenes never become graphic, the depiction of bodily defilement is disturbingly accomplished in direction, editing and musical accompaniment. The dialog regarding the rapes is successful in giving the viewer a morbid picture of the horror that isn't shown. While there's gore on hand, some of these verbal exchanges are pretty explicit detailing the revolting methods by which the title beast attacks its female victims.

The idea of a demonic entity with a powerful penis would later find prominence in an entire genre of Japanese anime dealing with demons and beasts from alternate dimensions raping and ripping apart humans. INCUBUS, like Hough's previous British thrillers, maintains a sliver of that Gothic style that comes with the subject matter of haunted houses and vampires in diaphanous gowns. Here, the set design in this small New England village retains some of that atmosphere such as the cobblestone architecture of the library, the Galen house and nightmares in some kind of medieval torture chamber suffered by a young man who is somehow connected to the murders.

By the last twenty minutes, the movie totally embraces the supernatural elements it had been hinting at earlier in the film, but by doing so, causes some slight ruffles of confusion to take hold. I've not read the novel by Ray Russell, but one of the revelatory shocks at the end wreaks slight havoc with a direction the movie seemed to be going much earlier involving the doctor and the excitable, uptight reporter played by Kerri Keane. A few story ideas are tinkered with, but never explored at any length. With only one writer, it would seem either a lot of scenes, or footage was cut from the film. The deficiencies do hinder Hough's movie which point to a possibly chaotic shoot. This would be par for the course for Film Ventures International, the US distributor owned and operated by notorious producer, Edward L. Montoro.

With a couple red herrings thrown into the mix, it's later surmised that similar rape-murders occurred in Galen some 30 years before. The main red herring is a young, yet troubled boy named Tim Galen, the one mentioned above. Unfortunately, less time is spent with him than Cassavetes's character, Dr. Cordell. As the movie draws close to the hour mark, the focus does shift to the Galen character. However, if you're paying attention, the movie basically hands over the identity of the creature to the audience midway through the movie.

John Cassavetes as the depressed, brooding doctor is an enigma himself. There's a hint that he may harbor incestuous desires for his teenage daughter, but early in the film, we learn that his wife died and that two years later, he began a relationship with a young 18 year old girl, abandoning his daughter in favor of this new relationship with a much younger woman. It seems that when he sees his daughter, it reminds him of the younger woman that ruined him. His performance is creepy and downplayed at times, but in reference to the pain he carries with him, it's understandable. Still, the oft mentioned incest angle is never fully explored, it merely remains a question mark and he does gain a love interest closer to his age in the reporter, Laura Kincaid.

John Ireland (middle)

Genre stalwart, John Ireland plays the town sheriff who hides a secret and a pre Iron Maiden Bruce Dickinson appears during a theater sequence in footage from a 1980 music video short film he appeared in with his band at the time, Samson. While it's not a complete home run, INCUBUS is a sadly underrated, if flawed 80s horror film that contains some choice suspense, mild gore and some creative use of the camera. It will likely never garner much fan appreciation due to its slow pace during the first hour and its drearily unpleasant atmosphere.

This review is representative of the Elite Entertainment DVD


The Vicar of VHS said...

I saw this once back in the 80s and it must have traumatized me a bit to stick in my pubescent brain, remaining there until now despite never having rewatched it. I remember vividly the "bleeding from the nethers" scene in one of your screengrabs, and also the wiry, scaly beast mounting the witch (?) in what I recall as a flashback sequence. It didn't become a favorite movie, but I've never forgotten it, and I guess that counts for something. Great review!

The Film Connoisseur said...

Cool, this one comes to us from the director of TWISN OF EVIL, one of my favorite hammer films! I love how sacriligious that one is! I also enjoyed LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE.

Ive been dying to check out THE INCUBUS, but netflix doesnt seem to have it available...which sucks!

venoms5 said...

@ Vicar: I remember being barred from watching it on both the big screen and on HBO. I wanted to see it in the theater after catching the trailer. The guy that did horror trailers back then had a hell of a spooky voice. Yes, that shot of the creature mounting the woman was in a flashback. You see brief seconds of it throughout, then the whole thing at the end.

@ Fran: That's odd that they wouldn't have it. Had the storyline maintained its course through the end, this might have ended up a minor classic. I do think it's better than people make out, though.

Carl Manes said...

I was taken back by the implied and filmed violence when I watched this the first time. It was much better than I ever anticipated, but I won't be grabbing it until it comes back into print at the crazy prices it has been hitting lately

venoms5 said...

Yeah, I didn't realize it was OOP till later and I had recently found it in a Borders store in an Elite set with MUTANT and I believe HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW for $15. I'm sure it's gone by now.

Don Bierman said...

truYou can watch it on YouTube now, pretty good quality.

Surprising good movie (I never heard from it before) but its truly frigthening.

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