Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Movie vs. Book: Incubus

The Movie:

When you have to include the phrase “gratuitous metal” in a review, you know it’s going to be a wild ride.

Incubus is one weird movie. A doctor and his teenage daughter have only been in this small town for a year. Does the town treat them like outsiders? Not really. I think this detail was in there as a setup for a red herring that was never followed through. But I digress.

This small town has a rash of murders. Weird murders where the victims are women who die from having their uteruses impaled during a rape. The police seem somewhat interested. The doctor is definitely interested. The doctor is also interested in the new reporter in town (how many small towns have this many people move in within a year’s time span?). And in scattered scenes, he may or may not be interested in his daughter in a not-so-fatherly way. Another red herring/subplot never fully explored.

Through the course of the movie, more women die (including one during a heavy metal concert at a movie theater. From what I understand, it was actually a movie in the book and not a concert. However, that one bit of gratuitous metal brought us a look at a pre-Iron Maiden Bruce Dickinson. There’s a bit of Jeopardy trivia for you). And we find out there was a rash of similar murders two decades prior that the town has been hushing up. Why you may ask? Again, no clue as it is never explored past an occasional mentioning.

Incubus wasn’t a horrible movie. Most of the performances were on the money, with the surprising exception of the normally fantastic John Cassavetes giving a wooden reading of the doctor role. The suspense was enough to keep interested, and the gore was balanced just right between the excessive and the non-existent. However, I can’t honestly say it was a good movie, either. There are just too many plot holes and half-attempts at red herrings to make the story fully cohesive. The ending packed a good ten minutes worth of action into one. It felt rushed, as if they ran out of film and said, “Oh, crap, let’s end this thing as fast as possible.” Hmmm. That could explain the unanswered plot holes, too.

Incubus could have been a great movie if it wanted to. The writing was there, the skilled cast was there. Yet it failed to follow through more than halfway. I don’t know if it was poorly set up from the start, editorial issues, or sheer laziness on the part of the director. Whatever reason, Incubus never made it to “Greatness” but stalled at “A Damn Shame”.


The Book:

INCUBUS by Ray Russell

Do yourself a big favor and read the book before watching the movie. The movie includes a couple of key plot points from the book, and that‘s all… just enough to make the introduction seem familiar and to ruin the ending, really.

Incubus is a horror novel masquerading as a mystery. There are mystery elements, not the least of which is the identity of the demon, and they are presented unusually well. There are a handful of novels which cross the mystery / thriller / horror as well as this one does… Falling Angel and The Tomb spring to mind… but only a handful. The actions taken by law enforcement are reasonable (unlike in the movie) and follow whatever the best logic of the time would inspire; at the point where it seems as if it is a regular serial rapist the police respond accordingly. When the sheriff becomes convinced of the supernatural element, he defers in many ways to a Professor of occult studies and shifts the town’s reactions to defense while the creature is being sought.

If you’ve ever read a book and been thrust out of the story by an utterly unrealistic action, you know how annoying it can be. This novel offers none of that.

Also, the characters are realistic; this, combined with the rational actions, should make this book work only if it is effectively a police procedural. Instead, Russell allows inspiration to come from a variety of classic ideas and shoehorns the result into a whodunit, resulting in a brilliant update / crossover of Dracula and “Who Goes There?” with a touch of Rosemary’s Baby thrown in for good measure.

The book opens with a young man and woman skinny-dipping, and the woman shortly thereafter becomes the victim of a violent rapist. The doctor examining her eliminates her partner as the criminal because of his relative endowment… the attacker is huge, akin more to a horse than a human. As the story progresses, the driving figures of the town - the doctor, the sheriff, a young scion, a returning occultist, and secondary characters such as the doctor’s daughter, the local publisher and the deputy - grow steadily more convinced that there is not a simple human rapist, but something darker and fundamentally demonic.

Unfortunately, as they are learning about it, it is learning about them.

Five stars out of five.

--Bill Lindblad