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From: John Chalmers <[log in to unmask]>
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To: Jon Chang <[log in to unmask]>
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Jon: This might conlangly interest you.

         FWD (FT) Curse of the "Incubus"
         Thu, 04 May 2000 19:30:44 -0700
         "Terry W. Colvin" <[log in to unmask]>
         "[log in to unmask]" <[log in to unmask]>

[This looks like a must-see for *next* year's UnCon (not that I'll be able
to attend)--I have a feeling this article was inspired by the piece in the
current LinguaFrance on Esperanto, which mentioned the movie--if you're
interested in Esperanto, check out the magazine (unfortunately the article
isn't up on their web site)--lj] > Arts & Entertainment May 3, 2000

Curse of the "Incubus"

In the obscure '60s art-horror film, William Shatner is terrorized by
murderous sea creatures. What happened off-screen was worse.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Cara Jepsen

The story of "Incubus," the 1960s cult horror film, is bad enough. It's
about a beautiful succubus who lures corrupt men to the sea, where she steps
on their heads -- and drowns them.

Finding that almost too easy, she decides to seduce a morally upright
soldier. But they fall in love. Her succubus sister summons their leader,
the Incubus, from his underground lair. He gets back at the soldier by
violating his virginal sister and then tries to murder him.

And if that doesn't put the chill in your bones, it gets worse: "Incubus"
stars William Shatner. And the whole thing is done in Esperanto.

"Incubus," directed by "The Outer Limits" creator Leslie Stevens, made a
minor splash on the underground film scene right after its release in 1966.
Few know, however, that the real-life story of the film and its aftermath
rivals the on-screen horror. Murder, suicide and kidnapping, for a start.
And the movie itself, decades later, seemed to have vanished from the face
of the earth.

"Who knows if there's a curse or not," says Tony Taylor, the movie=92s
producer, "but a lot of stuff happened to a lot of people."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

"Incubus" is set in a small village during a lunar eclipse and shot in black
and white, which gives it a timeless, otherworldly atmosphere. It was filmed
by cinematographer Conrad Hall, who remembers the Big Sur, Calif., setting
as "a windswept forest of eucalyptus trees with gnarled limbs that looked
like monsters frowning down on you." (Hall, who won an Oscar for his
work on
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," took home another in March for
"American Beauty.")

"Incubus" is the only known film in which the characters speak entirely in
Esperanto -- the made-up universal language created in 1887 by Ludovic
Zamenhof using characteristics from a variety of the world's languages. (The
film was subtitled in English.) "I never liked the idea of seeing World War
II movies where the Germans and Japanese characters spoke English," explains
Taylor. "I thought the idea of having devils and demons speak English
was a
similar thing. Also, we thought it would help get us into the art houses."

The thought of watching a stiff, pre-"Star Trek" Shatner speaking a fake
language with spooky music in the background may sound like hell on earth.
In fact, the film is engaging, and has more in common with Ingmar Bergman
than Wes Craven.

Hall's inventive cinematography, the Esperanto dialogue and the rough-hewn
setting work together to give the film a timeless, otherworldly quality.
(The village where it's set is called Nomen Tuum -- "An Unknown Time.")

Its brief but thorough examination of purity and corruption is also clever,
particularly when the young succubus is complaining to her older sister that
she=92d prefer more challenging work. "I'm weary of luring evil, ugly souls
into the pit," she says. "They'll find their own way down to the sewers of

The older sister replies, deadpan, "When wheat ripens, someone has to
harvest it."

Then there's the scene where the Incubus tries to lure his wayward succubus
away from Shatner at the entrance to the church. When she makes the sign of
the cross in defense, the Incubus suddenly becomes an extraordinarily ugly,
screaming black goat who commences to ravish her.

But nothing audiences saw on the screen approached the horrors that
would be
visited on its makers in the time after its release.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The film was invited to several film festivals, which gave it rave reviews.
The program for the 1966 San Francisco Film Festival of that year describes
the scene in which the Incubus emerges from underground as "one of the most
splendid pieces of horror since the late James Whale conceived the idea of
Frankenstein=92s electronic monster." But all the producers could notice wer=
the gruesome fates that befell their comrades.

The Incubus -- a lumbering, craggy-faced giant -- was played by Milos Milos,
a buff actor from Belgrade, Yugoslavia, who'd spent some time as a stand-in
for decadent French superstar Alain Delon. At the time, he was dating
Barbara Ann Thompson Rooney, Mickey Rooney=92s estranged fifth wife. In 1966=
Milos murdered her, and then shot himself.

In the film, Shatner's virginal sister, whom the Incubus violates, was
played by Ann Atmar, a sometime girlie-magazine model. She committed suicide
a few weeks after the film wrapped up.

A few years after the film was released, the daughter of the woman who
played the elder sister succubus, Eloise Hardt, was kidnapped from her Los
Angeles driveway and murdered. Her body was discovered a few weeks later in
the Hollywood Hills.

Those were the most gory manifestations of the "Incubus" curse. But there
were others: Director Stevens=92 production company, Daystar, went belly up
not long after the movie was released. (He ended up marrying Allyson Ames,
who played the young succubus. The couple later divorced. Stevens passed
away from complications of a blood clot on the heart in 1998.)

Even the film's premiere at the San Francisco Film Festival turned into a
disaster. The brand-new print of the film turned out to be missing its
soundtrack. Taylor, tipsy from a pre-screening reception, had to
scramble to
find another print while the audience waited for nearly an hour.

And there were other, more remote but still eerie events. Special guests of
that premiere were director Roman Polanski and his date, actress Sharon
Tate, who would be killed in the Manson "family" rampage in 1969.

And in the 1970s the film's music editor -- Dominic Frontiere, one-time
husband of St. Louis Rams owner Georgia Frontiere -- landed in prison for
scalping thousands of Super Bowl tickets. ("That's pretty amazing for
someone who had gone to Juilliard," says Taylor.)

The tragedies seemed to center primarily around the actors who played the
film's various incubi and succubi. Others involved with the film seem to
have escaped the curse.

Shatner went on to land "Star Trek," record his infamous rendition of "Lucy
in the Sky With Diamonds" and torture the world with his ads.

Assistant cinematographer William A. Fraker was nominated for five Oscars
between 1977 and 1985, for "Looking for Mr. Goodbar," "Heaven Can Wait,"
"1941," "War Games" and "Murphy's Romance."

And cinematographer Hall went on to acclaim as well. "If there is a curse,
it could work both ways, because I was very much a part of that
project," he
says now. "My curse has been to win two Oscars and to have three
grandchildren and a wonderful life."

The film itself never really had much of a commercial life. Today, it's not
even mentioned in the Leonard Maltin or Videohound movie guides.

France loved it. Paris Match called it the best fantasy film since
"Nosferatu." It also did well at foreign film festivals. "I thought I was
home-free -- that it would translate into something big here," says Taylor.

"I went around and showed it to exhibitors and distributors. They would look
at it and realize they enjoyed it and it was a good film. Shatner was well
thought of, and so was Leslie. So they took the thing seriously. Everyone
liked it but had no concept of what to do with it. It was like an actor with
talent, only no one knows what to put them in.

"At that time, there weren't videos. Getting a low-budget movie into
theaters was an incredibly difficult thing, unless it was a drive-in or
X-rated. There weren't many American films being shown in the art houses at
that time, and getting into mainstream theaters against the majors was nigh

By 1968, "Incubus" had hit a brick wall. "Leslie and I decided we would
shoot a scene with naked women in it and change it all around," says Taylor.
"We were going to lose the Esperanto. Bill was going to do the
narration. We
shot some parts in Technicolor. But it was pretty obvious that it just
didn't work. We looked at it and realized it just wasn't there, and put the
stuff back in the lab."

In the early 1970s, Taylor moved up the coast to San Luis Obispo to raise
avocados with a girlfriend. She skipped out a few weeks later. Taylor, who
has never married, stayed put. "If I hadn't done that you wouldn't be
talking to me now," he says. "I'd be long gone like most of my friends are."

In the early 1980s, he sold the farm. "It's all been downhill since then,"
he says, laughing. "I had an auto accident, and then I recuperated. Then I
lived in Mexico, Palm Springs [Calif.] and Taos, N.M. I was looking for
something, I guess. It was a feeble attempt to find some meaning in all this
before it got too late."

He ended up not far from his old avocado farm, and in 1993 decided to look
into putting the film on video. "I don't know why I was thinking of it," he
says. He called the lab and learned that the film had been lost.

The curse again.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

"I've had stuff disappear from the lab before, and the thing about it
is, it
=92s usually a conspiracy," says Hall. "Things don=92t just disappear."

Taylor agrees. "It isn't like storing it in your garage. That's what they
do. They have vaults and vault custodians and they guard film negatives. And
this was really a lot of stuff."

He sued the company for damages and won, and resigned himself to never
seeing "Incubus" again. "But the nature of the curse is that you cannot kill
this film," he says. In 1996 a friend, Hollywood agent Howard Rubin, called
and said he=92d found a print at the Cin=E9math=E8que Fran=E7aise in Paris.=20=
was shocked.

"It turns out they had been running it for 30 years to packed
audiences," he
says. "I had no idea."

But he still wasn't home-free. "I thought that, as the copyright owner and
producer, I could tell them, send the print over here and I'll borrow it and
send it back to you," he says.

Instead, he had to negotiate with the organization, which dragged its feet
for a year. "They acted like I wanted to go into their archives and smoke
crack in the vault," says Taylor. Finally, the UCLA Film Archive contacted
the Cin=E9math=E8que on his behalf, and it sent a print to be copied at a Fr=

But that still wasn't the end of it. "The lab called to tell me the
perforations were messed up," he says. "I had to make optical negatives and
redo [the] whole thing. I went back and forth for a long time, sending faxes
and wiring money.

"Then one day Fed Ex showed up with a bunch of large cans of film. I had no
idea if it was a film you could see or if it would be all scratched."

That was in the summer of 1998. He and two restoration consultants brought
the film to a lab in Los Angeles. "I was surprised at how good it looked,"
says Taylor. "It was a lot better film than I remembered."

Taylor cleaned out his savings restoring the film. The French version had
French subtitles; he had to pay to have English subtitles put on over the
French ones. He was able to consult the only remaining version of the
script, which he'd had bound in leather back in 1965. "I'd expected to have
45 of [the scripts] lined up in my office," he says. It was prohibitively
expensive to remove the French subtitles. "It'd be nice if they weren=92t
there, but I was happy to get anything," he says.

He sold the French rights to a large French company, and is purveying the
video out of his house, where he divides his time between "talking to
Academy Award nominees and schlepping stuff to the post office." (The video
is available through Taylor's Web site.)

He can't afford to release the film theatrically. But later this year Taylor
will offer the film on DVD, complete with an introduction by cinematographer

"When someone hears that it's black and white and 35 years old, they think
it's going to look like some World War I newsreel," says Taylor. "Then they
hear it's in a foreign language and think they're in for a root canal or
something. They're usually pleasantly surprised.

"But I don't think I'll make another movie in Esperanto."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

So was there really a curse?

If there was, Taylor=92s own scourge has finally been removed. Picking up
where he left off 30 years ago, he recently optioned a screenplay for "a
rock 'n' roll story" by Jake Records head John Hartmann. Graham Nash has
signed on to do the music, and production starts next year.

"There=92s somebody who hasn=92t been cursed, and that=92s the star," says H=
Shatner "goes on and on, doing better and better. If Tony wanted to remake
it, he could still play himself -- just play him older. Play everybody a
little older. Maybe that=92s what Tony ought to do, to take out the curse.

"I=92ve had misfortunes, too," Hall adds. "But I don=92t believe that=92s pa=
rt of
any curse. That=92s just due to my own bad judgment." | May 3, 2000

- - - - - - - - - - - -

About the writer
Cara Jepsen writes for the Chicago Reader.

Terry W. Colvin, Sierra Vista, Arizona (USA)
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