Drive-In Dust Offs: INCUBUS

2015/07/18 19:10:57 +00:00 | Scott Drebit


Disgusting, or shocking, are words often used to inform the audience what awaits them in a horror film. When a film is about demon rape, lurid immediately comes to mind. However, if you have a restrained (and respected) British horror director at the helm, will the results be different? Incubus (1982) is a fascinating shocker that attempts to walk the line between classy whodunit and lascivious bloodlust.

Released in September by Artists Releasing Corporation, Incubus (or, The Incubus according to the poster) had a large budget for a horror title at the time (5.1 million CAD) and was not a draw at the box office. Reviews were mostly dismal as well, and considering the subject matter, this is not surprising. ‘Demon rape’ does not scream fun night out at the movies. However, Incubus provides many moments of terror designed with the discerning horror fiend in mind. It’s an underappreciated gem.

Story time: Dr. Sam Cordell (John Cassavetes – Rosemary’s Baby) and his daughter Jenny (Erin Noble – Class of 1984) have recently moved to the New England town of Galen. Jenny is dating Tim Galen (Duncan McIntosh) , whose family founded the town. Murders are starting to occur in Galen, with the women being raped and left for dead by an unseen figure. As each murder occurs, Tim has visions of a woman being tortured by a monstrous being. Meanwhile, Dr. Cordell, along with Sheriff Walden (John  Ireland – Satan’s Cheerleaders) are trying to figure out who is responsible, but keep being interrupted by nosy reporter Laura Kincaid (Kerrie Keane – Spasms). Tim’s guilt grows as he thinks he is responsible for the atrocities, Dr. Cordell uncovers town secrets that will affect them all, which all leads to the inevitable reckoning with the Incubus.

One of the reasons Incubus stands apart from many of its early 80’s brethren is a willingness to walk the ledge of good taste. It is very clearly shown in Dr. Cordell’s behavior towards Jenny that he has non-Hallmark feelings towards her, exhibiting signs of jealousy and lust that are not hidden, but serve to further the theme of repressed sexuality pulsing through the film. It’s an unusual case of our hero also being one of our red herrings, in a film swimming with them. The film has a morose tone that suits the material – no bumbling cops or goofy sidekicks – and is filmed in muted colors to emphasize the repressed state of all the characters. Everyone seems pained in this film, from those in authority to the troubled teens. Remembering that this is a horror film though, and not an afterschool special, the clenched mood is shattered with each successive killing, acting as a release for the viewer. It should be noted that there is no graphic rape in the film, but great discourse on quantity of semen (seriously – a lot of semen talk), and horrible physical damage done to the victims. But have no fear, you came to see people die, and you will – suddenly and brutally (I have a soft spot for shovels). This is to say that the material is handled in an almost tasteful manner, while still retaining a pulpy, B movie feel.

A lot of what this film gets right can be attributed to director John Hough. His The Legend of Hell House (1973) is one of the finest haunted house thrillers of the era, combining suspense with ghastly chills. He brings some of that cold hearted cacophony to Incubus, keeping the tension under wraps before springing it unexpectedly on the audience. His sense of restraint is possibly why Disney hired him to make the kiddie supernatural flicks, Escape to Witch Mountain (1975), Return from Witch Mountain (1978) , and the undervalued The Watcher in the Woods (1980). The Incubus itself is kept under wraps until the final moments of the film, and when finally seen does not disappoint. Less is definitely more here, and Hough has set out not to make a monster movie flesh, but to show that the monster is within, coiled and ready to strike. A terrific job by Hough, who had one more great horror turn in him, the odd and twisted American Gothic (1988).

The cast brings as much dignity to the sordid festivities as they can. Cassevetes was known to take on roles like this so he could fund his more personal projects as director (see chat fests Love Streams or Minnie & Moskowitz – quite dissimilar to the film we’re discussing). Whatever his reasons, he’s always good at projecting a wounded vulnerability, which here makes his obsession with his daughter slightly more palatable. Slightly. Mcintosh, Noble, et al, provide the humanity necessary to sell a story as outlandish as this.

Incubus is not a film for everyone. However, if you can deal with the subject matter, you will find that even the darkest subjects can shine in the light from time to time.

Incubus is available on DVD from Scorpion Releasing.

Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: THE CAR
  • Scott Drebit
    About the Author - Scott Drebit

    Scott Drebit lives and works in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He is happily married (back off ladies) with 2 grown kids. He has had a life-long, torrid, love affair with Horror films. He grew up watching Horror on VHS, and still tries to rewind his Blu-rays. Some of his favourite horror films include Phantasm, Alien, Burnt Offerings, Phantasm, Zombie, Halloween, and Black Christmas. Oh, and Phantasm.