The Film: The Incubus (1982)

The Principals: John Cassavetes, Kerrie Keane, John Ireland, Erin Noble, Duncan McIntosh. Directed by John Hough

The Premise: Dr. Sam Cordell (Cassavetes) is a physician and relative newcomer to the small community of Galen, who finds himself at the center of an investigation looking the series of brutal, almost inhuman rapes of local females. Complicating matters for Cordell, his daughter (Noble) is dating a boy (McIntosh) who is having dreams about the attacks and fears that he may be unwittingly responsible. Helping Cordell in his investigation in the nosy and sexy town reporter (Keane).

Is It Good: No. It’s horrible. But in all the bests ways. The film is spectacular trash, made all the more spectacular and trashy by the fact that it isn’t trying to be trashy. The Incubus wanted to be serious adult horror in the vein of The Excorcist or The Omen, but is completely undone by the fact that its plot centers on rapes. And not just regular rapes. Supernatural rapes.

What is so unintentionally savory here are not the rapes themselves, which fall into fairly standard Unseen Killer horror set-pieces, always cutting away before things get too bad (this isn’t I Spit On Your Grave), but rather the aftermaths, in which Cassavetes is forced to labor through some profoundly miscalculated dialogue. Cassavetes routinely made junk films to acquire money for his independent directorial efforts, but one still has to wonder what thoughts ran through his head when he read The Incubus‘s script. It seems like 25% of Cassavetes’ dialogue is comprised of describing uterine wall damage and semen volume in the same kind of impressed awe that Hooper talks about the shark’s bite radius in Jaws. There is a moment in the film that would make an amazing out of context 5-second youtube clip, in which Cassavetes pumps both his fists for emphasis while marveling at the “tremendous amount of semen” found inside one of the victims. Oh, and it’s not regular semen either. It’s weird red semen.

The other potent misfire here is more Cassavetes’ fault. The man never phones it is, you gotta give him credit for that. But his trademark Cassavetes’ smirk, always kind of a knowing leer, played a lot better when he was young and handsome, and, you know, not talking about semen and ruptured uterine walls so much. All the romantic bits in the film keep running face first into that smirk-leer, and it is simply impossible to believe that Kerrie Keane finds this roguish and attractive instead of off-putting and creepy. Seriously, if I lived in Galen, and there were mysterious rapes happening, my first suspect would be the dude constantly making this face:

Worse yet is the way the relationship between Cassavetes and his daughter is played. In their first scene together the Doctor enters their home to find the girl completely naked, getting out of the shower. He stares. And the two have an uncoolly affectionate demeanor with each other. Lots of mouth kisses and touches that seem to last too long. Or maybe it just felt that way because Cassavetes is always making his Cassavetes face. Hard to say.

The plot is silly and ham-fisted and no one ever really behaves like a real person. It’s also never explained why Cassavetes – the town doctor – seems to be heading the investigation when Galen has a police official (John Ireland).

Is It Worth A Look: Oh, hell yes. If you can track this down it will make a great movie ‘n beer night with friends. It is professionally done enough that it is never boring, and it builds up to a delightfully ridiculous climax.

Random Anecdote: The script is based on a novel by Ray Russell, who was responsible for the scripts of two far more legitimately good horror films, Corman’s X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes and William Castle’s Mr. Sardonicus.