Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Satanic Panic: THE INCUBUS (1982)

There are some movies that I can watch now and think "damn, I actually liked that back in the day" or "damn, this is great, I can't believe I didn't like this back in the day", but every now and then a movie comes along that makes us say "holy shit! I can't believe I watched that back in the day and never batted an eyelash!" INCUBUS was a staple of the early days of HBO and home video and I had seen it plenty of times, but twenty years later, good christ this movie is fucking twisted! If Steinem didn't keel over from COUNTRY CUTIES, this would definitely do it.

A small New England town suddenly finds themselves in the middle of a rash of brutal rape-murders. The victims are mostly young girls, one of whom is attacked while taking care of business in the ladies room, and all of them are violated by such a large phallus that it rips them apart and leaves massive amounts of semen in the victim (no, seriously, that is the plot). John Cassavetes, apparently weary of winning awards, plays a local surgeon, Dr. Sam Cordell, who helps the police investigate the murders and worries about his teenage daughter... with whom he has relationship so awkward that it seems like he married a much younger woman until later in the movie when it is made clear. Awkward as in the opening scene where his daughter Jenny (Erin Flannery) leaves the bathroom door open and steps out of the shower, buck nekkid, and he must take a moment to compose himself. What the hell? There are other weird scenes which are definitely not father-daughter relationship stuff, and perhaps this was originally intended to be a red-herring to make the audience think that perhaps he is the rapist. Perhaps.

You see, the composition of the shot implies the distance between father and daughter and
the previously obscured realization of Cordell's daughter blossoming into womanhood.
ummmm... anyone buyin' that?

Complications arise when Jenny's boyfriend Tim (Duncan McIntosh), starts freaking out, claiming to have dreams about the murdered girls concurrent with their brutal demises. Of course, being a learned man of science, Dr. Cordell jumps right on this and damn near busts out the torches and the pitchforks himself, while the villagers think him a bit nutty and go about their business. Yes, for some reason, in spite of a string of brutal murders of innocent women in a small town, as from a few people, for some reason the town doesn't seem terribly bothered by it. The local library/torture museum (I didn't stutter, you heard me) still stays open late, providing a perfect opportunity for an attack, as does the strangest rock gig I've ever seen. For some reason one of the attacks is cross-cut with a rather flamboyant performance of the band Samson, who old-school rockers will recognize as Bruce Dickinson's pre-Iron Maiden outfit. I never had the chance to see Samson play a club gig, but I'm pretty damn sure they didn't do laser-light performance art complete with a dry-humping couple in front of what appears to be a high-school auditorium of slightly bored pubescent teens! What the hell? This leads me to wonder just who they were trying to market this film to. Graphic sexual violence that makes even leathery trash movie veterans like me a bit uncomfortable, a cast that appeals to guys in tweed jackets, and a band aimed at '80s teenagers. I suspect even the producers had no idea where they were going with this.

Attempting to be a slasher flick, a supernatural horror outing and a gritty crime drama outing all rolled into a far slicker-than-it-has-any-right-to-be package, the rapes are violent and bloody and are followed by graphic discussions of how the victims had their uteri torn apart and were filled with an extraordinary amount of red semen. In addition to this, once great director John Hough, who gave us classics like DIRTY MARY AND CRAZY LARRY (1974) and LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973) (and went on to help Clive Turner clog video stores everywhere with HOWLING IV: THE ORIGINAL NIGHTMARE), shows a genuinely creepy obsession with vaginal bloodletting. Hough has either has got a gallon of blood in the crotch area of the tape outline at the crime scene, or he’s zooming into bleeding crotches that are pumping blood everywhere. Even Jess Franco would draw the line there. Based on Ray Russell's 1976 novel of the same name, the lead character was changed from an anthropologist turned supernatural investigator (Indiana Bones?), but for the most part the core of the story is still the same. A rampaging demon with a huge dick attacking young girls. Ray must have been working through some relationship issues at this point in his life.

There are so many bizarre things in this movie, but one of my favorites is Cassavettes insisting on delivering serious, graphic dialogue with a weird Mona-Lisa-esque smile. Not to mention the scenes in which he tries to question a surviving victim in the hospital and repeatedly calls her “tough guy” in a really creepy, patronizing sort of way. And then there is the ending... phew! They definitely don't make 'em like this anymore.

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