Incubus (1965) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

This is certainly one of the strangest horror movies ever filmed. On the surface it seems like nothing special. A coven of witches takes on, as a special challenge, the corruption of a truly good man, an incorruptible soul. Instead of seducing him, the witch assigned to his case is touched by the purity of his soul, and falls in love with him. The story takes place in an indeterminate time and place. An earlier century, a foreign country. The mood seems vaguely Bergmanesque - a moody B&W film in some foreign language.

But who is that acting in this vaguely foreign movie? My God, it's Captain Kirk himself, pre Star Trek, speaking some strange language in what is obviously his own voice. But wait a minute, what language are they speaking? That isn't Swedish. That's a Romance language, but which one? None of the above. It's Esperanto- an artificial language made up in the late 19th century by an idealistic scholar in the hope that it would catch on someday as an international lingua franca. It is based closely on the romance languages, but with a simplified grammar and no irritating "exceptions". Every verb is regular, every rule is consistent for every word in every instance.

Astoundingly, this wasn't the only movie made entirely in Esperanto, nor even the first. Here is a long multi-part article about Esperanto and Cinema. The most famous film ever to make use of the language was Chaplin's talkie, The Great Dictator, which was located in a mythical dictatorship, Toimania, where the native language, as evidenced by the street signs and some dialogue, is Esperanto. Shatner's Incubus was the second full-length film made entirely in Esperanto, the first being Angoroj - "Agonies", which was made a year earlier.

To make the whole experience even stranger, the film is not at all incompetent. They loved it in the foreign film festivals, and it could easily pass for a European art film from the mid 60's. The cinematographer was the same guy who did American Beauty and Butch Cassidy. The director did the original Outer Limits on TV. The music is genuinely creepy.

Well, there are some continuity problems and pretentiousness, to be honest, but the hokey stuff seems to fit the mood of the film.


see the main commentary

I just don't know how to describe this. It seems to me that it plays out just like one of those SCTV parodies of Bergman's films, except it isn't funny, nor is it meant to be. It's just "in the manner of".

There's plenty more to write about. Despite a great reception in Europe, the producers found no distribution route. They shelved the film. They even redid portions of it in 1968, losing the Esperanto, adding plentiful nudity, layering in a Shatner narration, even refilming portions in technicolor. But that all seemed like a dumb idea when they thought about it, so they abandoned that phase of the project.  Then the original negs and all prints of the film disappeared, for thirty years, until a print was discovered in France, hard-coded with French sub-titles.

The film also has some kind of "curse" which has been attached to it by the urban legends of the intervening years. A suicide here. a mysterious tragedy there. The sister of Shatner's character, who provided the film's only nudity when stripped (briefly) topless for a Black Mass, was played by Ann Atmar, a centerfold. This beautiful woman committed suicide a few weeks after the filming was complete.  Salon Magazine wrote an excellent article on this film and its curse, or lack of one.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Full-screen format

  • two audio commentary tracks

  • interview with the producers, and some minor features

The DVD has the French print, cleaned up, with an alternate version available with English subtitles. They simply had to write over the French words in the same space. There are two separate commentary tracks, one of which was done by Bill Shatner as a solo flight. He is surprisingly subdued and humorless. He talks a little bit about the curse, and how he got involved with the project, and the other things he did before this assignment. As you might expect, he talks too much about Bill Shatner and too little about the project, but the whole thing happened forty years ago and he seems hazy on the details, so I guess he had to fill up the dead air somehow.

The Critics Vote

The People Vote ...


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C-, rated as a novelty film. Some seriously strange stuff, often hokey but, as Shatner's colleague would say, "fascinating".

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