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 again on DVD from Scorpion Releasing.
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. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is clean if a little flat (although the 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), 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) provide more bass than a shotgun blast (but that’s down to the original mix).
In her introduction and post-script, hostess Katarina Leigh Waters points out the notable cast and crew (noting that Cassavetes had previously worked with Hough in THE BRASS TARGET), as well as the presence of Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson with his earlier band Samson in footage excerpted from the short film "Biceps of Steel" in which they perform "Vice Versa". The only extra is the film’s theatrical trailer (1:26) in the same quality as it was on the Elite disc. Also included are trailers for DEATH SHIP, DAY OF THE ANIMALS, ALLEY CAT, MORTUARY, THE HEARSE, HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW, THE RETURN and HUMONGOUS. (Eric Cotenas)
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