Saturday, March 05, 2011

Incubus (1982)

The director of Disney’s WITCH MOUNTAIN movies also made this sleazy Canadian horror movie based on a 1976 novel by Ray Russell, the screenwriter of X: THE MAN WITH X-RAY EYES. About a rapist demon with a phallus the size of a man’s arm that splits apart its victims and bathes them in semen, the film is, somehow, still less graphic and much less involving than Russell’s book.

Set in the small town of Galen, INCUBUS stars John Cassavetes (an Oscar nominee for THE DIRTY DOZEN), who must have needed the bread to bankroll another independent feature, as Sam Cordell, the local physician and coroner who is initially mystified by the brutal rapes and murders. So much discharge is left in and on the bodies that police chief Hank Walden (John Ireland, an Oscar nominee for ALL THE KING’S MEN) initially suspects a gang of rapists, although he can’t explain why the semen is colored red (nor can the movie).

Also curious is local teen Tim (Duncan McIntosh), the boyfriend of Sam’s daughter Jenny (Erin Flannery). Tim has been experiencing grotesque nightmares and claiming after each one that another rape has taken place. How do Tim’s dreams connect to the incubus—the monstrous supernatural creature that exists to impregnate human women while they sleep? Helping Sam get to the bottom of the mystery is Laura Kincaid (Kerrie Keane), the editor of the town newspaper. She’s also the spitting image of Cordell’s dead girlfriend, one of many story tangents inexplicably left undeveloped.

Most of the story is also present in Russell’s novel. Cassavetes’ character is an amalgamation of two men from the book, but original to the movie is his interest in very young women. Sam, a widower, is reeling from the death of an 18-year-old girlfriend, and his first scene finds him peeking at his daughter stepping out of the shower. Cassavetes’ quirky performance is not an asset to this film. Though I presume he and director John Hough (the two men previously worked together on BRASS TARGET) believed it would fit nicely into the skeezy atmosphere, his pervy personality makes Cordell a bit hard to take as the film’s hero.

INCUBUS is a somewhat entertaining if not completely fulfilling shocker. Hough, a horror vet (THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE), skillfully films the attacks as graphically as he can without going “too far” (attacks in a movie theater and a museum library are terrifically intense), and he wisely keeps the creature off camera until the end. Hough and Cassevetes basically threw out Sandor Stern’s screenplay during shooting (Stern is credited under a pen name) and just winged it on the set, which seems an unwise decision. Too many plot threads are left unresolved, as if they were forgotten during production, and the story is confusing. Likewise, Cassavetes’ improvisational acting choices are at odds with the competent and heroic character he’s supposed to be playing.

The monster suit by Les Edwards and Maureen Sweeney is pretty good and not used enough. Hough found some neat old locations in Toronto and Guelph, Ontario in which to shoot, but another of INCUBUS’ weaknesses is that we don’t get to see much of the town or its people, and thus it feels a bit claustrophobic.

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