THE INCUBUS (1982) Blu-ray/DVD Combo
Director: John Hough
Vinegar Syndrome

DEADLY BLESSING fans: the Incubus is on the loose again, this time LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE director John Hough’s Canadian-produced THE INCUBUS, out on Blu-ray/DVD combo from Vinegar Syndrome.

The stillness of the small town of Galen is shattered by the brutal rape of Mandy (Mitch Martin, THE GUNRUNNER) and the murder of her boyfriend Roy (Matt Birman, QUEST FOR FIRE). Dr. Samuel Cordell (John Cassavetes, ROSEMARY’S BABY) examines the girl and discovers that the assault has ruptured her uterus, but there is no trace of sperm. The next attack is on the town librarian (Denise Fergusson, SKULLDUGGERY), and this attack leave so much sperm that Cordell at first assumes that it must have been the work of more than one man; however, analysis reveals the fluid to be unusual in its red color and its motility. Unable to convince Sheriff Walden (John Ireland, HOUSE OF THE SEVEN CORPSES) to talk to her, new newspaper editor Laura Kincaid (Kerrie Keane, SPASMS) tells Cordell about a similar string of unsolved murders that occurred in the town thirty years before. As more victims are claimed (and killed), Cordell is convinced that it is the work of one man while the district attorney (Harry Ditson, THE SENDER) leans on Walden to focus the investigation on the theory of a violent gang. Meanwhile, Cordell’s daughter Jenny’s (Erin Noble, CLASS OF 1984) boyfriend Tim Galen (Duncan McIntosh, MURDER BY PHONE) – whose family, of which he and his mother (Helen Hughes, VISITING HOURS) are the last of the line – founded the town – believes that he is responsible for the deaths and rapes because the crimes coincide with instances of a recurring nightmare involving a woman in a torture chamber and the presence of something unknown and evil trying to gain entrance to the room.

Excessively streamlined from the 1976 novel by Ray Russell, THE INCUBUS – or simply INCUBUS as the title card reads – may play better for people who have read the novel; even though the adaptation is not only shorn of the more graphic sexual (and sexualized violence) passes and some of its budget-prohibiting scope, but also an entire character who provides the necessary exposition about the occult elements and how to combat the creature. The problem is that THE INCUBUS is not a thriller (although it is a whodunit). We know right away that the killer is not human, but the only character remaining in the adaptation who could provide some exposition about the occult elements has a motive not to do so; as such, the film waffles about in its third act with a “return to the scene of the crime” visit to the museum that only provides an occult encyclopedia definition of the creature before moving back to the Cordell residence for its rushed conclusion (which actually might have been better without the expected twist). The rape scenes are grisly without being overly graphic, relying more on shock cuts and a focus on the superhuman elements over the depiction of actual violation in all but two of the scenes. Cassavetes performance is more than a bit odd – there's something disturbing about the way he say the word "discharge" in several scenes – but his character seems to drift through the first half before suddenly turning detective (and then there's the vaguely incestuous relationship with his daughter, who is the same age as the lover he took after his wife's death). The supporting performances are generally good, although Keane's performance seems to suffer from the scripting of her character which is not so much ambiguous as under-written.

Cinematographer Albert J. Dunk (HIGHPOINT) emulates Hough’s predilections for wide-angle lenses, handheld traveling shots, and low angles – as seen in TWINS OF EVIL, THE WATCHER IN THE WOODS, and THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE – to make the most out of the few gothic and Victorian-looking locations (the museum, the Galen house, and the Cordell cottage) and desolate, overcast exteriors – although Galen never coalesces into a convincing portrait of a town setting rather than a series of locations – however, the film’s most striking shot is a floor-level tracking shot that culminates in a revealing peak underneath a bathroom door. Cordell's nightmare about his lover's death is also rendered in a more visually striking manner than Tim's more important to the plot nightmares. On view in the museum is a reproduction of Fuseli’s painting “The Nightmare”, and Hough and Dunk stage a creative visual reference to it later in the film in a mirror frame. The reveal of the Incubus raises some chills, but subsequent shots are laughable (the Elite DVD back cover didn’t even bother to hide it). The score by Stanley Myers is merely serviceable; which is surprising considering his classy work for Pete Walker’s thrillers before and his later accomplished orchestral/synthesizer collaborations with Hans Zimmer on films like THE WIND and PAPERHOUSE. The creature design was the work of Maureen Sweeny, who also designed the titular entity of HUMONGOUS. Sweeny’s work also included a particularly grisly bit involving a shovel and a shotgun late in the film.

A Film Ventures pickup, THE INCUBUS was previously released on tape by Vestron Video in 1983, and then in 2002 on DVD by Elite Entertainment. When Scorpion announced their release date for the film, they also were forthcoming about the transfer. They had licensed the film from the same company that licensed it to Elite, but they were told that the company no longer held the very film elements that were used for the earlier disc’s transfer. Unable to secure other elements, Scorpion was forced to use the same anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) SD digital master; that said, the newer dual-layer encoding not only reveals slight peripheral information matted out (rather than cropped away) on the Elite disc (which was framed at 1.80:1), the Scorpion image also retains the grain that was smoothed away on the earlier encoding. When having worked miracles in the past, Vinegar Syndrome was able to track down the original 35mm internegative (the negative remains lost) which was missing its fourth reel and has been augmented with a 35mm print. The 4K-mastered 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer trims a sliver off the top and bottom of the frame while adding slivers of picture to the sides. Grain is finer while the color timing manages to be simultaneously warmer – making skintones seem healthier and some red gels a bit more hellish – while the day and night exteriors seem chillier than before without the blues looking unnatural. The aforementioned fourth reel has some vertical scratches, rare spots, slight jitter and flicker, slightly faded highlights, and harsher shadows but the digital work to conform it to the look of the rest of the transfer is admirable. The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono track is detailed enough to reveal cricket chirping in the opening quarry scene (suggesting the scene is taking place later in the day than the bright sun suggests) and some unnerving touches in the sound design and scoring, with the score and punk rock music (a couple tracks by the Toronto progressive rock band FM from their “City of Fear” album and Samson’s “Vice Versa” during the theater scene) providing more bass than a shotgun blast (but that’s down to the original mix). Optional English SDH subtitles are also included.

The Elite and Scorpion releases were largely barebone apart from trailers while Vinegar Syndrome has included some welcome supplements. First up is an audio commentary by podcasters The Hysteria Continues who had recorded a podcast on the film back in 2011 that included an interview with Incubus suit actor Dirk McLean. While none of them have read the novel since then, they do note its reputed explicitness while also suggesting that the film remains sleazy in spite of attempt to tone it down. They also reveal that while Cassavettes may have did the film because he needed money after directing GLORIA with wife Gena Rowlands, that he was professional enough as a performer and invested enough to rewrite roughly eighty-percent of the script. They discuss how the structure of the film is diverting in that it the audience does not realize that it is actually a whodunit until late in the film, but also note that the scripting leads to a lot of conjecture about elements that remain frustratingly vague. They discuss how its status as a pseudo-slasher is indicative of how the genre was undergoing changes in attempts to remain fresh as early as 1981, placing it in the company of SUPERSTITION and the sci-fi film THE RETURN as body count films with supernatural assailants. Their discussion of the film's cast – they note the crediting of Helene Udy (MY BLOODY VALENTINE) but have a hard time pointing her out – extends to pointing out other credits in their filmographies; however, it not only reminds viewers of that little boom of Canadian horror in the early eighties but also of how small the Canadian film industry was at the time that the same faces showed up in several of our favorite films.

"From the Horror Through the Television" (26:39) interview with director Hough who recalls starting in television and how his union afforded him and three other future directors the opportunity to learn by working in all film departments on a number of large films as well as being loaned out to other studios. He had worked with Cassavetes on the earlier BRASS TARGET and it was the actor who recommended him for THE INCUBUS. Hough reveals that he had nothing to do with the rewriting of the film, having had experience with Cassavetes and his inability to stick to scripted dialogue and the frustration it lead to opposite Sophia Loren. He also discusses how his directing style evolved to satisfy his own vision of a scene and the instincts of the actors. "Becoming the Incubus" (21:02) is an interview with Keane who recalls that the initial script was quite formulaic and feared that the project would fall through when her agent told her that Hough and Cassavetes were reworking the script. On the set, she found that the rewriting gave her and the other actors more freedom while also still feeling that they did not always know the intent behind the changes or Hough's and Cassavetes’ direction of certain line readings. She most fondly remembers that Cassavetes would hold script readings of his other works, inviting Rowlands and Ben Gazzara up on his days off, and inviting her and the other actors to read parts.

"Capturing the Incubus" (27:07) is an interview with cinematographer Dunk who recalls falling in love with film, studying in New York where he started getting assistant camera jobs, and returning to Canada where his first project was FRANKENSTEIN ON CAMPUS, followed by the homoerotic men-in-prison film I'M GOING TO GET YOU, ELLIOT BOY, and as operator on BLACK CHRISTMAS (on which director Bob Clark initially wanted DON'T LOOK NOW's Anthony Richmond as DP before settling on Reg Morris). He served as operator and then director of photography on the series POLICE SURGEON which was the springboard for several notable Canadian technicians, and it was that show's assistant director John Eckert who went on to produce THE INCUBUS and recommend Dunk as cinematographer. Of the film, he recalls Hough's favoring wide angle lenses and distorted close ups and some of the mishaps on the film. The interview is shot in front of the archive that served as the library in the film where a cherry picker used for a crane shot in the film rolled off an incline and crashed into a fence, letting cows loose. The disc also includes the film's theatrical trailer (1:41), four TV spots (1:48), and some trims and alternate shots (1:38). The cover is reversible and the first 1,500 copies ordered directly from Vinegar Syndrome include a slipcover with artwork by Earl Kessler Jr. (Eric Cotenas)