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

Mystery On Monster Island (1980) review


Ian Sera (Jeff Morgan), Terence Stamp (Taskinar/Skinner), Peter Cushing (William T. Kolderup), David Hatton (Thomas Artelect), Gasphar Ipua (Carefinatu), Blanca Estrada (Dominique Blanchard), Ana Obregon (Meg), Frank Brana (Birling), Paul Naschy (Flynt), Gerard Tichy (Captain Turkott)

Directed by Juan Piquer Simon

The Short Version: The late director of PIECES helmed this Spain-USA co-production. It's an ambitiously overstuffed and juvenile 1940s styled serial hokum that got frequent TV airplay in the early 80s. For most, there's limited to no appeal. Still, the rambunctious musical score, a few striking island location shots, opening and book-ending scenes by Peter Cushing and Terence Stamp and an opening five minute segment with pirate Paul Naschy--whose role sets the story in motion--may be enough to entertain curious, exploratory viewers for 90 minutes.

Before settling down to marry, Jeff Morgan wishes to sail around the world. With the consent of his wealthy uncle, Kolderup, Morgan and his teacher, professor Artelect, set off on an oceanic voyage around the globe. Entering a thick fog, the ship is attacked by reptilian creatures who destroy the vessel leaving Morgan and the professor stranded on a mysterious island populated by cannibals and giant monsters. Later encountering rifle bearing gold hunters, castaways and company soon learn the secrets of Monster Island.

J.P. Simon, the Spanish director of such impressively juicy gore drenched schlock as PIECES (1982), SLUGS (1988) and ENDLESS DESCENT (1990) also dabbled in childish fantasy schlock such as SUPERSONIC MAN (1979), the more serious FABULOUS JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1976) and 1980's MYSTERY ON MONSTER ISLAND, adapted from Jules Verne's 'Godfrey Morgan' novel. Simon's movie is somewhat faithful to the source material in terms of some of the characters and situations, although the addition of monsters is exclusive to the film.

With such an amazing cast of performers, you'd expect this to be Euro fantasy gold. In some ways the film is a mildly worthwhile excursion and in other ways, it's a bit painful to witness for a few reasons. While the character of Taskinar is the films antagonist, the performance of David Hatton is the true villain of the piece with his shrill, ear piercingly exaggerated delivery that would be better served in a silent feature where the sound of his voice would not be heard. He appears to be channeling Cushing's similar 'professor' role from Amicus' AT THE EARTH'S CORE (1976), but in a far more outlandish, disastrously over the top fashion. Hatton acts as comic relief--the butt of jokes to an endless string of pratfalls, repeated mispronunciations of his last name and playing stooge to both a chimpanzee with ADD and a parrot. While a few sparse moments with Hatton bring a smile to the face, four times as many moments make you cringe in accordance to someone raking their fingers down a chalkboard.

Racial stereotypes are in heavy abundance here in the form of a Chinese stowaway and a black islander named Carefinatu. While it seems this picture was shot with live sound, the oriental inflection is a bit insulting especially in this day and age and the native "Man Friday" spiel comes close to borderline offensiveness. Still, it becomes quickly apparent that the script doesn't take itself seriously in light of in-jokes to Jules Verne himself. It doesn't take long for the viewer to realize just what audience this infantile production caters to. In addition to Hatton's overactive silliness, the cartoon sound effects, the fake monsters and the juvenile atmosphere, additional comic relief is provided by an overly enthusiastic chimpanzee who makes a monkey out of the rest of the main cast by giving one of the best, most controlled performances of the whole thing. Trash fans will recognize lead, Ian Sera from Simon's phenomenally bad PIECES from 1982.

The movie itself possesses a nice sense of adventure even if it frequently resembles a bigger budgeted Banana Splits 'Danger Island' segment. The boisterous, grandiose score by Alfonso Agullo, Carlos Villa and Alejandro Monroy is pleasing to the ear, if a bit repetitive at times. The soundtrack definitely stands out just as the participation of both Peter Cushing and Terence Stamp act as the expository glue that holds the film together; the viewer patiently awaits their return as both disappear after the 15 minute mark and don't reappear till towards the end. It's really something else to see General Zod playing a bad guy in a film such as this the same year SUPERMAN 2 (1981) would hit theaters. Cushing of course is his usual reliable self even if his screen time amounts to a little over fifteen minutes total.

Both of Simon's fantasy adventures were likely inspired by the Kevin Conner/John Dark monster-fantasy productions that began with THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT (1975) and ended with WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS (1978). For MONSTER ISLAND, the creatures are less than stellar creations, but the Scooby Doo styled finale serves up an explanation by Kolderup (a man with seemingly the deepest pockets the world has ever seen) that clarifies the veritable fakery involved. Furthermore, Simon puts more than enough gusto in the action scenes and generously fills the film with more than enough adventure elements.

The miniatures and explosions are quite good and robust even if the intentionally wonky monsters are not. Among the otherworldy creations: Gill Men brandishing flares(!), a giant dinosaur creature, giant steam blowing worms, another big lizard in a cave and moss monsters that recall SIGMUND & THE SEA MONSTER.

Adding to the curiosity factor is a five minute opening segment featuring Paul Naschy as Flynt, a pirate being pursued and shot at by gold robbers. Fearing they will make off with his gold, the injured Flynt sets off a massive explosion burying his treasure with him. It is this treasure that Taskinar is after and when he's outbid on the sale of Spencer Island to Kolderup, he provides the film with its one "real" threat.

With its barrage of monsters, high adventure, tropical locales, frequent, if heavy handed comedy, rousing music, pretty girls and determined villains, J.P. Simon's moderately expensive creature feature is a former Saturday afternoon television mainstay. Beautifully remastered looking better than it probably has any right to, MYSTERY ON MONSTER ISLAND will likely be appreciated the most by those ages 2 to 8, fans of the director interested in checking out his non sleazy output and monster kids who remember catching it on a Saturday afternoon or as a late night creature feature.

This review is representative of the MGM/Sony/Fox Midnite Movies double feature paired with GORILLA AT LARGE (1954).

Related Posts with Thumbnails


copyright 2013. All text is the property of and should not be reproduced in whole, or in part, without permission from the author. All images, unless otherwise noted, are the property of their respective copyright owners.