Pavlov and his dog are quite famous for their efforts in condition and response research in psychology. Ring a bell, and the dog starts to salivate. The principles of Pavlov extend to film reviewers as well. We take a casual gander at IMDB and see a 3.9 rating for 129 votes and the salivation response doesn't quite fire. A 9.5 would put many of us in quite a frothy state, but not a 3.9. Therefore, I have learned to not look at Rotten Tomatoes or IMDB before reviewing a film. I don't want any influence on whether or not I like a film. Many of the titles that I come across are obscure horror films or low budget releases. There is a certain appreciation required for many of these efforts. 1981's John Hough horror film "The Incubus" is one such picture. Before the DVD arrived on my doorstep, I had never heard of the film.
From reading the rear facing of the DVD packaging, I had two early expectations for the film. The first was a high degree of sexuality. After all, the Incubus is supposed to be a horny little devil. Secondly, I expected a gory and unexpected finale to the film. "In the film's shocking and terrifying climax" stood out as I read the package and I expected to hold the film up to its promise. However, there was a little blurb stating "He also learns that Incubus and Succubus, a demon that appears to men, can be sexually interchangeable" set my mind into a state where I could start to hear Boy George belting out "The Crying Game." Needless to say, I was interested in the film's advertised premise, but a bit leery of what horrendous sights may unfold in the closing moments.
The storyline of "The Incubus" follows Dr. Sam Cordell (John Cassavetes). He is the widowed father of a young girl, Jenny (Erin Flannery). He is overprotective of his daughter and does not like her choice in boyfriend Tim Galen (Duncan McIntosh). Tim is having nightmares of horrendous events that are soon to occur in the town of Galen. Soon, Tim's images become reality and a series of violent rapes occur and the medical results of the victim's autopsies show disturbing results. One survivor, Mandy Pullman (Mitch Martin) is left in a state of complete shock after the attack and is unable to assist in discovering the identity of the responsible party. Cordell is joined in his pursuit by reporter Laura Kincaid (Kerrie Keane) and Sergeant Hank Walden (John Ireland). The rapes and murders continue and with every attack it becomes harder to believe human hands are responsible.
My personal feelings towards "The Incubus" were those of indifference. I did not hate the film and I did not like the film. This is one of those films where my opinion could have been swayed to the negative had I seen the drubbing the picture has received. There were moments when I felt director John Hough and Cinematographer Albert J. Dunk had risen above the look and feel of the average genre film "The Incubus" competes with and created a well-crafted film. Other times I felt a scene was rushed or done half-assed. The story was interesting and I respect the directorial decisions made in regards to violence and sex. The ending, however, was a disappointment and the character of Dr. Sam Cordell simply was too omnipresent to be even remotely believable. Cordell was the head autopsy doctor, operating room doctor and the head investigator of the murders. That is a lot, even for a small town like Galen.
The first expectation of a high degree of sexuality and the expectation of a shocking ending were both not met. The rapes were kept mostly off-screen and with the exception of a few horrid facial expressions of a victim, the film chose to fright with screams and flying objects and victims. The direction was playful with the notion of being a sexual film, but remained quite calm considering the monster depicted raped its victims. The ending was also a disappointment. Before the ‘shocking' revelation even occurred I had a good idea of what was going to happen. No Boy George and no violent attack, just a vision of a dead body and the predictable discovery of the Incubus' chosen form.
No matter what the content of the film may be, Elite Entertainment has always tried to deliver the best-looking transfer it can. Early efforts with "Night of the Living Dead" and other titles have been highly applauded by critics and fans of the horror films it chooses to focus on. "The Incubus" is no exception. The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is quite good. Film grain, dirt, scratches and a few other problematic aspects of the source materials are prevalent. As the case of the film itself, they are not frightening or anything to look away from the screen as a result of. Detail was sharp. Colors were slightly over-saturated, but looked quite good considering the age of the film. Black level was good. Aside from the faults in the source materials, the DVD transfer of "The Incubus" cannot be faulted. Given the age of the film and apparent lack of preservation, the picture quality was surprisingly good.
Even worse for the wear were the sound elements for "The Incubus." The film's Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono soundtrack was frightening. The dynamic range of the film was incredibly narrow. Neither sharp treble or deep bass was present. This lent to a flat and unexciting sound experience. Dialogue was hampered during quieter conversations. With no sound in the high end of the audible spectrum, vocal clarity was lost and it became difficult to understand what the actors were saying. The usual suspects of a poorly preserved soundtrack were strangely absent. There were no pops, hisses or dead spots in the soundtrack. It was just flatter than what you would expect, even for a twenty-year old film and for a film that could have used a dynamic soundtrack to breed some life into it, this 1.0 mix offered no assistance.
I'm not going to be able to stretch out the list of value added content into a paragraph. A nice looking anamorphic theatrical trailer is provided. That's it folks. Elite is capable of some fine special editions, but they are also known to release bare-bones releases for collectors content to simply own an obscure film. "The Incubus" falls into the latter of the two. And I almost got a paragraph out of this!
"The Incubus" is not a film that has been well received. The film does deal with strong sexual subjects. Rape, particularly violent rape, is the prevalent theme. The extent of the rapes is nicely detailed in a few autopsy room scenes. However, even with the strong sexual subject matter, nudity is almost a rarity in the picture. A quick shot of a girl leaving a shower and a few cadavers on the autopsy table are the only visual treats for the demographics that have made gratuitous nudity an almost must in horror films. The violence depicted in the film is also kept off camera more often than not. The audience is given a good idea that something terribly violent is occurring, but gore and bloodshed is left for the imagination. There are certainly moments where the onscreen imagery borders on disturbing, but I've seen much, much worse. Perhaps by moving away from the stereotypical elements of a low-budget horror film, "The Incubus" has alienated its marketed audience. Maybe it truly is a bad film and I was somewhat sympathetic to the decent direction exhibited. The DVD features a decent transfer that is going to appeal to fans only as Elite continues to inject obscure releases into the marketplace.