Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Census Bloodbath: Sex And The Single Monster

Year: 1982
Director: John Hough
Cast: John Cassavetes, John Ireland, Kerrie Keane 
Run Time: 1 hour 33 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

I've been so deep into this slasher movie marathon for so long that I've started to recognize names that wouldn't be uttered in anybody's household from here to Timbuktu. Regardless, John Hough is the reason I was excited to pop in The Incubus, because he directed the low budget 1988 gem American Gothic, a film I've been happy to wave the banner for on many an occasion. Pair that with some cool, eerie poster artwork and you've got me on the hook.

Unfortunately, the lesson I consistently fail to learn during this project is that a poster is not a movie. Even though every single poster, alternates and all, for The Incubus is a drop dead gorgeous specimen (to the point that I could populate this entire review just with different posters - and I will), none of that visual firepower is enough to make a movie worth sitting through for 93 minutes. But more on that in a sec.

First, we must witness this poster that makes the movie look like some sort of heavy metal album cover was adapted into a paperback novel.

Observe the small town of Galen, which is being beset by a terrible tragedy. Local women are being raped so violently that their uteruses are exploding (oh, the 80's, a time when somebody thought this would be a super cool plot hook). Town doctor/autopsist/creepy old man Sam Cordell (John Cassavetes) has been working with the cops to solve the murders, but waiting for the only survivor Mandy (Mitch Martin) to regain the ability to speak is taking too long. Also he needs time to himself to reminisce about his 18-year-old second wife who died under mysterious circumstances.

Sam's daughter Jenny (Erin Flannery) keeps ignoring his orders to stay inside to visit her loser boyfriend Tim (Duncan McIntosh of the same year's Murder by Phone - stay tuned) who keeps having terrible dreams about a woman tied up in a dungeon every time there's a new attack. also on the case is intrepid reporter Laura Kincaid (Kerrie Keane), who strikes up a gross flirtation with Sam despite their age difference appearing to be a flat fifty years. Anyway, it's pretty clear these attacks are supernatural. 

Even though the word "incubus" isn't spoken for about 75 minutes, we the audience know the title of the fucking movie we came to see, so it's not entirely shocking that there's a penis demon wandering around town. But who is the one channeling his presence? Tim? His creepy grandmother Agatha (Helen Hughes of Visiting Hours)? Or someone else from this small town with a population huge enough to host midday concerts in packed movie houses?

Or perhaps it's this sexy demon haunting some heroine from an 18th century gothic novel...

Full disclosure: the effects which bring the titular Incubus to life are really really good. Fuller disclosure: You get to see them for a full ten seconds in this 93 minute movie. Hope you brought your camera! I'd say a picture would last longer, but then again almost anything would. 

So what are we left with for those remaining 5,570 seconds? A pretty miserable slog, to be honest. The Incubus has all the gritty, grotesque flavor of a mid-70's grindhouse exploitation epic, but it's too demure to fully commit to its hog wild concept. Not that I want the endless rapes to be onscreen. In fact, I am tremendously glad all I had to suffer through was a little slow motion screaming, and not a relentless slew of sex crimes like Don't Answer the Phone. But the fact remains that this movie is by design a story about sex, violence, and a monster, and it features almost none of those things.

To be fair, the rest of the things it's about aren't achieved particularly well either. As a mystery with a mounting body count, The Incubus is extraordinarily messy, forgetting to show us scenes about suspects, non-Cassavetes characters, and especially victims until they suddenly are jolted awake and thrown into play way too late in the game. One victim, a docent at the town museum, we meet in the very scene where she dies with about two lines of dialogue. About twenty minutes later Cassavetes randomly drops a line about this woman being his wife's cousin. About fifteen minutes after that, we learn her name. Tell me, how am I supposed to care about following a mystery that can't even follow itself? All this builds up into a tedious double parlor room sequence that spends fifteen minutes in two locations to establish that yes, there's an incubus, and then cuts to credits before anything actually happens.

And don't even get me started on the bizarre subplot about Laura Kincaid being a doppelgänger for Sam's dead second wife, which immediately leaps out the window and is never heard from again.

This beautiful poster is just mocking me at this point.

At the very least, The Incubus makes some swings toward atmosphere that occasionally connect. The score is a creepy atmospheric blanket over the whole thing, and the decision to run the opening credits over a shot that slowly zooms out to reveal a human eye is pretty stylish. And the decision to mount a camera under a character's wheelchair as she zooms around is... odd, but at least creative. Unfortunately, the editing takes a bit of a beating, presenting events in a bizarre kaleidoscope of smash cuts. 

But with a script that's this much of a shambles, even if it was perfectly cut together it would still seem completely random and aggrieved, as if individual parts of each scene want nothing to do with one another. So the redeeming qualities available to us here are limited. I didn't hate the experience of sitting through this movie, but I could have been staring at a blank screen for an hour and a half and edified myself to the exact same degree.

Killer: The Incubus [as embodied by Laura Kincaid (Kerrie Keane)]
Final Girl: Sam Cordell (John Cassavetes)
Sign of the Times: Every time a character turns on a radio, out screeches hair metal so terrible that I don't even want to put it on my slasher movie music playlist, which includes some real dreadful shit.
Best Kill: In one of the only sequences that betrays its slasher roots, the shotgun-toting patriarch of a farming family follows the demon into a barn, where he is stabbed in the neck with a shovel, then blows his own foot off in shock.
Scariest Moment: John Cassavetes tells his 18-year-old daughter Jenny, "you are my queen, my morning..."
Weirdest Moment: A scene opens with a cat chilling on a porch, then the paper boy hits it square in the face with the daily news.
Champion Dialogue: "Will you get out of here? I don't have time for idiots."
Body Count: 8
  1. Roy is hit in the face with a board with a nail in it.
  2. Caroline is Incubus'd.
  3. Chip the Dog is impaled with a pitchfork.
  4. Ernie is stabbed in the neck with a shovel.
  5. Jane is Incubus'd.
  6. Jane's Sister in a Wheelchair is killed offscreen.
  7. Concert Girl is Incubus'd.
  8. [Jenny is Incubus'd.]
TL;DR: The Incubus is at least uncompromising, but is both icky and a little bit dull.
Rating: 3/10
Word Count: 1236


  1. John Cassavetes? Huh. I mean... huh.

    Anyway, Posters 2 and 4 are indeed radical. Poster 1 has so many definite articles I got a little bored with it, though.

    In fairness to one of my favorite musical genres, metal within the budgetary grasp of a slasher film was never likely to be the top-level stuff.

    1. (Hair metal, that is. Metal-metal I can definitely take or leave.)

    2. I think it's the early year that's really hitting the metal hard. It wasn't quite at the peak point of say, "April (You're No Fool)" by White Sister from Killer Party.