Friday 29 November 2013


Director: Anya Camilleri
Writer: Gary Humphreys
Producers: Donald Kushner, Adam Shapiro
Cast: Tara Reid, Christian Brassington, Alice O’Connell
Country: UK/Romania
Year of release: 2006
Reviewed from: UK DVD (Sony)

Even by my standards, Incubus is shite. I have a notoriously high tolerance for crap. I’m very forgiving, very understanding, I will give credit where it’s due and I will try to appreciate what the film-makers are trying to do.

But dear God this is bollocks.

A very long, completely pointless prologue has two characters in white coats (or it might be three - it’s too dark to tell) chasing each other along dimly lit corridors. Why are corridors in these places always dimly lit? I mean, either the lights are working or they’re not.

The movie proper starts with a car-crash - only the budget wouldn’t stretch to a stunt so we actually start with our six characters emerging from a van on its side with a dented roof that suggests it has done at least one and a half rolls. Yet none of the sextet are injured or even shaken, in fact they don’t have a hair out of place. They’re in the Bitterroot Mountains, Montana (according to a caption which isn’t even centred properly) and there’s no mobile reception so they’ll have to walk. You or I would set off along the road because, well, it must lead somewhere, you can’t get lost, it won’t get muddy or impassible and there’s a chance of encountering another vehicle. But these idiots decide to yomp across the Montana hillside and head into the woods.

This opening scene suffers by apparently having dialogue that was not rewritten to match the available props and scenery, so in discussing the damaged van they talk about “getting it out of there” even though it’s just lying on the grass, not ‘in’ anything. They make no attempt to right it even though I’m sure six fit young adults could move a van if they emptied their luggage out of it. Someone says they can’t even shelter in it - why not? And someone else refers to it as a truck.

Heading off without their luggage (although they will later turn out to have about thirty feet of rope, an ice axe and six large torches) they find, just as it’s getting dark, an isolated building that is “not on the map” - which suggests that, despite being in the middle of nowhere they know exactly where they are. They break in through a fence then climb onto the roof, prise open a skylight and discover a deep, octagonal shaft. It’s about ten feet across and goes thirty or so feet down to ... well, just the corner of a corridor, frankly. (The building is actually quite small so we have to assume that most of it is underground.) A girl named Jay (Tara Reid: American Pie, Alone in the Dark) goes down the rope - very easily, like she’s just rappelling down a cliff - and starts exploring. When she doesn’t return, her brother Peter (Christian Brassington, who played the title role in the Channel 4 drama-doc Tony Blair: Rock Star!) follows her.

One brief exchange establishes these two as siblings, otherwise we get no character information whatsoever. I mean: none at all, not on anyone. We don’t even know if the other four are two couples or just friends. We have no background on these kids; we don’t know who they are, where they’re from, what they think. I have never seen a film with less characterisation. The one and only comment that anybody makes which does not relate to their situation is when a girl called Karen initially refuses to leave the van because she doesn’t want to walk in $500 boots (what, she’s going on a camping trip with no other footwear?). (Karen is played by Monica Dean who sounds British but is actually from Romania - her real name is Monica Barladeanu - where this crap was shot. She was voted the sexiest woman in Romania by various local magazines and TV shows and has since gone on to have bit parts in Lost and Nip/Tuck.)

But Karen, after the other five have gone down the rope, climbs off the building and in fact is the only one who does set out walking - though we’re never told why. Josh (Russell Carter, fresh from drama school), whom we presume is her boyfriend, gets stuck on the end of the rope because it has caught on something up top, then it snaps and he falls to the floor but is not injured. So the rope is now considerably too short to reach the top of the shaft. Remember that.

Exploring, they find two bodies in lab coats, in a pool of blood, and can immediately deduce that they killed each other. Okay. They also find the centrepiece of the movie: in a large hall (about the size of, oh, a movie soundstage, which even has sound baffles lining the walls) they find an octagonal cell within which is a man. He’s bald, almost naked, sitting in a chair and has various tubes and wires attached to him including a tube going into his stomach, just above his navel, which they think (not unreasonably) is feeding him. However, as he seems to be wearing ordinary pants, you have to wonder where the waste goes after it has passed through his alimentary canal. (He’s played by Mihai Stanescu whose normal job is as make-up artist on movies such as Lurking Fear, Kraa! The Sea Monster, Totem, Voodoo Academy, The Brotherhood, Leeches etc.)

No, actually you don’t have to wonder about where his poo goes. There are far too many other things to wonder about in this inept production of a hopelessly clicheed script. For example, the power supply to the building. The outside lights come on as the group approach the fence, then once inside it’s dark(-ish) till they find the light switch that controls the whole building. This is later turned off, without noticeably affecting the general lighting situation. The octagonal cell is never less than fully illuminated and it has lots of computers and other equipment so presumably has its own permanent power supply. And they later find an office which is very brightly lit indeed. Basically, the sets are dimly lit when they want to be spooky, brightly lit when they want to be otherwise. The point is: it’s all done to suit the story, rather than with any logic. (There is also some business later with torch batteries starting to run out which is frankly these idiots’ own stupid fault for having all their torches on all the time, even when the lights are working.)

I should also note that the publicity consistently refers to the octagonal cell as a ‘cube’ which suggests that either the publicity was written before the production designer got to work, or someone doesn’t understand basic three-dimensional geometry.

So anyway, the nearly naked bald guy is instantly - instantly! - identified as a murderer who was supposedly executed ten years earlier. I mean, there’s no labels or notices or anything, it’s just: “Hey, this is that guy...” To be able to recognise a person you’ve never met from newspaper photos you saw ten years ago, despite him being now naked and bald and, well, ten years older - wow, that’s some feat. Bizarrely (or at least, it would be bizarre in a competent movie) we are never actually told what this guy’s crimes were apart from a passing reference to him having killed some members of his family. (Once again we have to turn to the publicity, which calls him a ‘serial killer’, something which is never alluded to in the film itself. Mind you, the publicity also calls the young people ‘teenagers’ whereas, in accordance with international cinematic law, they are all played by actors in their mid-twenties. In fact token name value Tara Reid was thirty when she filmed this - and looks it.)

A flashback, narrated by one of the group, explains to us that when this guy (called Kiefer, I think) was seven, his mother used to punish him for singing. We see a skinny kid in a filthy bathroom, cleaning his teeth and humming a tuneless melody. An evil-looking woman comes in with a small washing-up brush and scrubs his tongue - which is probably uncomfortable but hardly major-league child abuse. In response to this, the boy bites his own tongue off.

Biting tongues off is something of a recurring feature in this film and is pretty much the only interesting or scary thing on show.

We are never told how long after this the boy killed his mother, or whether he ever killed anyone else, or how our gang are so extraordinarily clued up on the life of this one guy. They subsequently find an office (as mentioned) where there is lots of easily readable information on the cell’s inhabitant that explains everything that is going on, plus a stack of VHS tapes because, yes, this is one of the many scientific research facilities where people, instead of writing things down, record them by speaking to a video camera. Despite there being dozens of tapes, Jay easily finds the ones she wants and even though she fast forwards through bits, each time she presses play, we get a nice, complete sentence that explains a bit more of what is going on.

So what exactly is going on? Well, first, let’s bring ourselves up to speed. The team find a lab-coated individual in one of the rooms (who may or may not be someone from the prologue) who repeatedly stabs Peter. The other four manage to drag Peter from the room and close the door before the other person reaches it, which suggests he/she wasn’t really serious about chasing them. Peter then dies and Jay is so upset about this that Tara Reid comes perilously close to acting. Later, they re-enter the room and we have the immortal line, “It’s all right, the psycho’s gone.” We never find out who this person was - I don’t even know if it was a man or a woman because it was so dark - and frankly I don’t think it matters.

After all the nonsense in the office where these experts on Kiefer are brought up to speed with what has been going on, Josh turns into a psycho and chases the other three (Jay and Holly and Bug the Token Black Guy). We are assured that he went psycho after he fell asleep but since none of the others were with him when he fell asleep or woke up, in fact there was no hint to the viewer that he was ever asleep, this leaves us all scratching our heads. Oh, and when he chases them, Jay, Holly and Bug all simultaneously decide that in this big facility the only place to hide is the octagonal cell, despite the fact that it has glass windows on all eight sides.

Holly (Alice O’Connell, who has been in Silent Witness and Casualty) reaches it first, goes inside and locks the door (why?). Bug (Akemnji Ndifernyan, who was a regular in cut-price daytime soap opera Doctors) and Jay run up and bang on the door, shouting for her to open it, which she decides to do just before Josh reaches them. Since there is no other suggestion that Holly really hates the other two, we can assume that this was added to increase the tension despite it making no sense. Fortunately for the trio, possessed Josh hasn’t got enough enough sense of his own to smash a window, despite having eight to choose from, so he bites his own tongue off at them.

Oh, and how did they get the key? Let me take you back to the first discovery of the octagonal cell, when the door was locked. One of the gang (I think it was Josh) announced that he knew where the key was, led them all back down the various corridors to the two bodies and pulled a small chain from the mouth of one of them, on the end of which was the key to the cell. Just try to get your head round the sort of thinking that has gone into writing a script like this, devoid of common sense, motivation or cause and effect. Someone on this planet (in fact several people) find it perfectly believable that someone would notice a chain sticking out of a corpse’s mouth, not mention it at the time, then find a locked door elsewhere in the building and, putting nothing and nothing together get four, working out that the key must be on the end of the half-swallowed chain. I mean, where else could it be?

Jesus, this movie is stupid.

Oh yes, I did promise to explain what is happening. As far as I can tell, through the terrible dialogue and hamfisted direction, the CIA (or somesuch) were experimenting in remote viewing (a phrase that the writer presumably heard somewhere but didn’t bother to find out what it means), a project they claimed to have cancelled in the mid-1990s around the time that Kiefer was executed. But in reality they bribed the doctor at the execution to claim he was dead before his heart stopped so that they could ferret him away and experiment on him. This is all explained by Bug (I think) who has the most fantastically detailed knowledge of modern execution techniques, which he suddenly decides to share with his friends for no good reason. (Whenever people are inside the cell, we get distorted shots of them from Kiefer’s point of view, although his REM-shifting eyes remain closed.)

Quite why experiments in remote viewing would require a convicted psychopath with no tongue is something that concerns us as little as it concerns the idiot who wrote this. But the upshot of all this, not that there is any hint of cause and effect or any other sort of connection, is that Kiefer projects himself into people when they sleep and possesses them, turning them into psychos like himself, with a taste for tongue. Quite how Bug, Jay and Holly work this out is completely unfathomable, but not as mysterious as the question of how the audience is supposed to work this out or accept it when they are told it in one of many cack-handed infodump scenes. It’s like an off-the-peg horror movie plot has just been stapled to the existing script.

To test this, Bug and Jay tie up and gag Holly - on account of her being the smallest and weakest - and somehow send her to sleep (possibly by forcing her to watch a tedious movie called Incubus). She then becomes possessed so they very sensibly remove the gag from her mouth and she bites Bug who I think then kills her. Bug then rips all the tubes and wires from Kiefer in order to kill him but of course when he and Jay are walking away, Kiefer (now resplendent in white lab coat) leaps down from a walkway and breaks Bug’s neck.

Gee, it’s a good job that ten years of sitting in the same chair didn’t cause his muscles to atrophy. Mind you, his tongue muscle is particularly strong, having apparently grown back since he bit it off all those years ago, as he speaks quite clearly while chasing Jay (we also heard Peter speak clearly only five minutes after biting off his own tongue). Martin Sherman, voice artist on such games as Conflict: Desert Storm II - Back to Baghdad and Pac-Man World 3, provides Kiefer’s voice.

I mean, for Christ’s sake, the one and only thing that this film has going for it is a couple of gruesome scenes of people biting off their own tongues. Without the tongue stuff there would be nothing here at all. And yet the morons who made this film either didn’t know or didn’t care that we use our tongues to speak. This is the best (but far from the only) example of how monstrously inept this pile of crap is.

So Kiefer chases Jay through the corridors, nice and slowly, and she makes it back to the octagonal shaft. She attaches a G-clamp (which is presumably just lying around) to the end of the rope and throws it up the shaft where, on the third attempt it catches on a grill in the roof. Apart from the sheer unlikelihood of the G-clamp landing anywhere where it would hold a person’s weight, you have to admire the strength of this thirty-year-old teenager who can repeatedly throw a heavy, cast-iron tool more than thirty feet above her head.

Oh, and don’t forget that the rope snapped when Josh was coming down and was, when last seen, about ten feet shorter than the shaft, yet it now reaches easily to the floor, even with a knot tied in the end round a G-clamp.

Now here’s the clever bit. Well, not really clever, it’s actually as insultingly stupid as the rest of the film. When Kiefer finally reaches the rope, he climbs up it, calling Jay’s name. But then she appears from round the corner. She tricked him! He’s about ten feet up the rope and he could just jump down (as he did five minutes ago when he landed with great agility behind Bug and killed him) but instead he holds on while Jay yanks on the rope until the G-clamp slips off the grill and Kiefer plummets to the ground, sustaining inexplicably massive injuries. Lying immobile, he begs Jay to kill him which she does by holding a bit of rope over his throat and pressing down. I told you she was strong.

At this point, a Sheriff turns up and without asking anything about what has happened, or whether anyone else is around, pops some cuffs on Jay and leads her outside to his car, passing another police car with Karen (remember her?) sitting in the back. The final ‘twist’ is that, as the car drives off, Jay’s eyes glow - exactly like, erm, no-one else’s eyes have glowed, even when they were possessed.

Holy crap, I’ve seen some shit in my time but Incubus comes perilously close to setting a new level. Let’s rank this one up there (or down there) with Star Crystal, The Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Rock’n’Roll Musical and Hellgate. There’s just nothing to recommend here. As if the crap script, crap acting, crap design and crap direction weren’t enough, the whole thing is full of flashy jump-cuts that do nothing except piss off the viewer. It’s like someone is saying, “Look, look, they’ve let me have a play on the Avid and I want to know what all these buttons do!”

Let’s name the guilty parties. Incubus was directed by Anya Camilleri who directed episodes of Boon and The Bill before helping to create Samantha Janus-starring cop show Liverpool 1 and trendy transatlantic drama NY-LON. This is her first and, thankfully, to date only feature film. I never saw Liverpool 1 or NY-LON so I don’t know this woman’s work from anything but the DVD I have to hand. Maybe she knows how to direct TV drama but she hasn’t got a clue how to direct a horror film. Not that anybody could have made a half-decent movie out of this terrible, terrible, unbelievably terrible script. But a more experienced director might have actually requested some changes, like a plot that makes sense or any characterisation whatsoever.

Gary Humphreys is the man who wrote this pile of tripe (or, to be fair, may have written something that got turned into this pile of tripe then not had enough sense to take his name off it). He graduated from Oxford in 1981, spent 1986-1992 working as a journalist in London and Paris then produced a series of novels, some of them written/co-written under the pseudonyms ‘Patrick Lynch’ and ‘Joseph Geary’. One of these, Carriers, was filmed as a TV movie in 1998 starring, erm, nobody I have ever heard of. To judge from on-line synopses, this tale of a killer virus outbreak has thematic similarities to Incubus such as Government conspiracy paranoia, bollocks pseudo-science, a nonsensical plot and a token black guy. Humphreys is now, apparently, a professional ghost-writer. Hmm, yes I would trust my book to the man who wrote the script for Incubus.

Evidently Humphreys makes a steady living out of writing although one must wonder how much of that is talent and how much is because he went to Oxford and met the right people. Did he really write a script with zero characterisation? Does he not know what characterisation is, or is his understanding of horror films so limited that he thinks it’s not necessary as long as you have young(-ish) people and the occasional bitten-off tongue? Is he so dumb that he thinks people with no tongue can speak clearly, or does he believe that his audience are so dumb we will accept that? Is he an idiot or just condescending?

Gary Humphreys seems to have one other produced screenplay to his credit, a Romanian-shot thriller called True True Lie starring, erm, nope, nobody I have ever heard of. I would rather cut my thumbs off than watch it.

Although filmed at Castel Studio in Romania (a fun place where I visited the set of Pumpkinhead 3) and actually described in the credits as ‘a UK-Romanian co-production’ (like the Pumpkinhead sequels, Seed of Chucky etc), Incubus is to all intents and purposes an American film. Yes it has a British director and writer and a largely British cast, but it was produced by Americans taking advantage of tax breaks and cost-effective production facilities in London and Bucharest. Donald Kushner is one credited producer, formerly half of Kushner-Locke, with a B-movie CV as long as your arm. His most recent credits include the aforementioned True True Lie, the equally aforementioned Pumpkinhead sequels, Bernard Rose’s Snuff-Movie and the non-Charlie Band sequel Puppet Master vs Demonic Toys. The other producer is Adam Shapiro whose work includes disability sports documentary Murderball and the 1999 version of Tom’s Midnight Garden.

Simon Boswell (Octane, Dr Sleep, Lord of Illusions and - crikey - Black Sunday) provided the music which I didn’t really notice so must have been okay I guess. The hyperactive editing is credited to Adam McGraw (NY-LON) and John Wilson (Billy Elliot). Cinematographer John Lynch worked on the marvellous Wordsworthsploitation movie Pandeamonium as well as pop videos for Bjork and Blur. Gary J Tunnicliffe gets a credit as ‘Special make-up effects designer’ - although it’s difficult to see what effects needed designing apart from a couple of bloody tongues - and Blake Bolger (whose e-mail address I managed to lose after she gave it to me in Romania) was the technician responsible for tongue-wrangling. Pretty much everyone else is Romanian and has credits that include most American B-movies shot at Castel.

Whenever the subject of crappy films comes up in conversation, people want to offer their own ‘worst film ever’ - and much of the time it turns out to be a perfectly reasonable B-movie. I love B-movies me. I don’t expect everything to be some star-studded, big-budget, big-screen blockbuster. I positively thrive on cheap and cheerful movies with plenty of faults. You have to go a long, long way into Awfultown for me to completely hate a picture. But Incubus is so egregiously bad that it beggars belief. The production is crappy but I’ve seen crappier. The script however is something else. And sorry, Gary Humphrey, but your name’s in the credits so you have to take the rap.

Incubus doesn’t have the tuneless songs of The Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Rock’n’Roll Musical nor does it have the cavalier attitude to comprehension of Hellgate nor the jawdroppingly bad acting of Kannibal. But it does have the worst script of any film that I have ever seen - and that’s saying a lot. Anyone who read that script and thought it was even remotely passable needs to seriously rethink their career.

Now here’s an interesting thing. Incubus was the first film offered for download on AOL. A website called AOL Red made the movie available to download (for a fee) from Halloween 2006. The film was shot in summer 2005 and Adam Shapiro allegedly told the LA Times that they went with the straight-to-download option because they were “unable to find an attractive deal for theatrical release” which is unbelievably bogus because something like this wouldn’t go theatrical even if it was good. What he means, I suspect, is that the film wasn't even good enough to go straight to DVD. (I don’t think anything shot at Castel has gone theatrical except Cold Mountain, to be honest.) Whether anybody did download it, I have no idea - but I bet they were pissed off when they did.

Finally, a note on the title. According to the Inaccurate Movie Database the original script was called Nightmares (not to be confused with this 1992 anthology, this 2004 short or at least two other films) and the working titles were Heart Stopper (not to be confused with this 2006 feature) and Pulse (not to be confused with the Kiyoshi Kurosawa movie or its US remake, which also had Gary J Tunnicliffe effects). And of course Incubus is not to be confused with the legendary Bill Shatner-starring Esperanto movie of that name. Were the producers desperate to find the most overused title they could?

So anyway it ended up as Incubus. Now, remember how I mentioned that the writer clearly didn’t know/care what ‘remote viewing’ means? Well, he also was clearly ignorant of what an incubus is. At one point someone (Bug, I think) explains what an incubus is - but he gets it wrong. He says it’s a demon that gets inside you while you’re asleep, but in fact an incubus is a male demon who has sex with a woman (as any fule kno), the opposite being a succubus. In a half-hearted attempt to make up for this, there is a brief dream sequence near the end when Jay imagines she is in bed, something starts moving under the sheets - and it’s Kiefer! But that doesn’t alter the fact that what Kiefer does is nothing like what an incubus does. Plus, of course, he’s not any kind of demon. His powers are paranormal, not supernatural.

The fact that the makers of this film gave it a one-word title without bothering to check in the dictionary that it means what they think it means tells you everything you need to know about this sad waste of everybody’s time. Avoid this film as one would avoid a rabid dog.

MJS rating: D-
review originally posted 15th April 2007

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