The Incubus [DVD]
Director : John Hough
Screenplay : George Franklin (based on the novel by Ray Russell)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1981
Stars : John Cassavetes (Dr. Sam Cordell), John Ireland (Hank Walden), Kerrie Keane (Laura Kincaid), Helen Hughes (Agatha Galen), Erin Flannery (Jenny Cordell), Duncan McIntosh (Tim Galen), Harvey Atkin (Joe Prescott), Harry Ditson (Lt. Drivas), Mitch Martin (Mandy Pullman)
Horror films, by their very nature, are disreputable. Some would argue, in fact, that the power of horror derives from its taboo busting, its willingness to "speak the unspeakable" and "show the unshowable," which is why they are so often criticized, condemned, and even outright banned. And, within the horror genre, disreputable as it is, it is those films that revolve around the violent act of rape that have been among the most controversial and vilified—one need only think about the voracious attacks that were inflicted (and continue to be inflicted) on movies such as I Spit On Your Grave (1978) and Ms. 45 (1981).
Thus, it should be of little surprise that John Hough's low-budget Canadian shocker The Incubus took the critical lashing it did when it was released back in 1981. It tells the story of a small New England town that is rocked by a sudden and inexplicable series of grisly rape-murders in which the female victims are so horribly violated that all but one of them die from the injuries inflicted by penetration. Not a pretty subject, and Hough's take on the material is grim and straight-forward, allowing almost no respite except a few unintentionally funny moments, the humor of which has mostly to do with the datedness of the material (I'm think here particularly of a bizarre sequence that takes place at a heavy-metal rock concert that looks like it's taking place in a movie theater).
John Cassavetes, best known as the godfather of independent filmmakers, stars as Dr. Sam Cordell, a chief pathologist at the hospital in the sleepy town of Galen. He is the one who has to examine each of the women, and he eventually becomes the chief investigator of the mystery. Thus, Dr. Cordell is the protagonist, the character with whom we primarily identify throughout the movie, so it raises myriad questions that he is depicted as having incestuous desires toward his apple-cheeked, 18-year-old daughter, Jenny (Erin Flannery), whose current boyfriend, Tim (Duncan McIntosh), is having horrible nightmares that precede each rape-murder.
We are introduced to Dr. Cordell when he comes home and, upon reaching the top of the stairs, catches a lingering glimpse in a mirror of Jenny stepping out of the shower. It's a strange, unexpected moment of voyeurism that upsets any sense of a normal father-daughter relationship for the rest of the film. Dr. Cordell's response to seeing his budding daughter naked is ambiguous; he appears to look too long in an inappropriate manner, but the head shake he gives at the end might indicate that he is simply sad that she has grown up and is beginning to live life on her own. Whether intentional or not, this incest subtheme permeates the rest of the film, and every time Dr. Cordell kisses his daughter, tells her he loves her, or calls to check in on her turns into an ambiguously creepy and uncomfortable moment.
Of course, it doesn't help that John Cassevetes doesn't make for a particularly sympathetic protagonist. Beyond his character's suggested incestuous urges, he plays Dr. Cordell in a strangely muted fashion, giving the character gravity, but no soul. Cassevetes has a natural smirk to his mouth that made him perfect for playing bad guys (particularly the egoistic husband in Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby and the evil government agent in Brian De Palma's The Fury), but does him a disservice here except to complicate the film's narrative by constantly implicating him in the violence, even though he is intended tol be the audience surrogate. Thus, it is impossible to get fully situated within the film's diegesis, as we are always uncomfortable with our primary character of identification.
Again, this could all be purposeful and willingly subversive. The film's director, John Hough, has had an uneven career at best, but he is primarily known for having helmed 1973's The Legend of Hell House, a gruesomely effective horror flick that is widely considered to be the last great British horror movie of the 1970s. He is certainly a stylish, innovative director, and even though The Incubus was clearly made on a low budget, he makes it consistently interesting to watch with unexpected angles and strange camera placement that ensures a sense of foreboding and uncertainty.
Unfortunately, the script with which he was working, written by George Franklin from a novel by Ray Russell, is awkward and inept at times, particularly when it comes to character relationships and interpersonal drama. There is a crucial relationship in the film between Dr. Cordell and a headstrong investigative reporter named Laura Kincaid (Kerrie Keane). Yet, their exchanges sometimes border on the nonsensical, and in one strange scene he takes her out ostensibly to discuss the rape cases and instead tells her about how obsessed he is with her because she resembles his dead wife (the circumstances involving said wife's death, by the way, are left maddeningly vague, with only brief glimpses of a dead body in the rain to give us any notion of what happened).
Nevertheless, The Incubus is an interesting horror film, even though what makes it interesting is how it forces you to constantly wonder whether it's so disturbing because it was meant to be (especially with its hysterical focus on the violence of rape) or because of ineptitude on the filmmaker's part. The lurking specter of incest, the dislikable protagonist, the strange interactions among characters, and the voyeuristic-sadistic rape scenes that draw out the pain and horror by rendering the female victims' contorted faces of agony in slow motion all make The Incubus a profoundly uncomfortable—some might even say nasty—film. The only question is, how much of it was intentional?
|The Incubus DVD|
|Audio||English Dolby 1.0 Monaural|
|Release Date||August 27, 2002|
| 1.85:1 (Anamorphic) |
Presented for the first time on home video in its original matted widescreen aspect ratio (1.85:1), the new anamorphic transfer of The Incubus is quite good, much better than I had been expecting for a low-budget film of its age. The image is very clear, as the print used was obviously clean of most age artifacts and dirt. Colors look good, and the detail is solid throughout, with only slight traces of grain (some of the darker sequences seem a tad murky and grainy, but this is inherent to the source materials).
|English Dolby 1.0 Monaural|
The one-channel monaural soundtrack is adequate, but not much more. The range is extremely limited even though the soundtrack constantly pushes at the boundaries, particularly during the attack sequences that will sound distorted if the volume is turned up too loud.
| Original theatrical trailer|
Presented in full-frame, the trailer looks pretty bad—washed out, grainy, and generally scuzzy.
Copyright ©2002 James Kendrick