Incubus is a 1966 American horror film filmed entirely in the constructed language, Esperanto.
The film was written and directed by Leslie Stevens, creator of The Outer Limits, and stars William Shatner (The Devil’s Rain; Kingdom of the Spiders; A Christmas Horror Story), shortly before he would shoot to fame in the original Star Trek TV series. It also stars Milos Milos, Allyson Ames, Anne Atmar, Eloise Hart and Robert Fortier.
“This was the only film shoot in history in which no one making the film actually spoke the language in which the film was being made. Leslie directed in Esperanto. Nobody understood anyone else, which accounted for the marvelously strange tone of the film; the somewhat desperate looks on the actors’ faces in the meaningful scenes which invoked Fellini or Bergman or Kurosawa, scenes in which the actors looked as if they were attempting to comprehend fate or understand the magnificent works of God – but it wasn’t that at all. We were simply trying to figure out what the hell Leslie was trying to tell us.
Perhaps the one area in which we did not have any trouble was that no one forgot his lines, no one understood their lines, and no one knew if anybody else was saying their lines correctly.” William Shatner, Up to Now, Sidgwick & Jackson, 2008
The film’s striking cinematography was by Conrad Hall, who went on to work on major movies such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, American Beauty and Road to Perdition.
Incubus was lost for many years because the original print of the film burned in a fire and all copies were reported lost, destroyed, or worn away, but a copy of the film with French subtitles was found in the permanent collection of the Cinémathèque Française in Paris.
The Sci Fi Channel funded the restoration from that print and released a DVD in 2001 that included subtitles in English and French. Because the source print contained burned-in French subtitles, the English subtitles are placed over black bars that partially obscure some portions of the frame.
‘The universality of Esperanto seems now a perfect fit for this tale, which like the language has many roots but no specific grounding. The basic themes and timeless quality of the film have aided it during its absence from the cultural consciousness, and now that it has been found, Incubus is assured to retain its particular mystique for years to come.’ Arts Editor
‘Incubus is memorable for three reasons. First off, you’ve got William Shatner giving a very Shatnerish performance. Secondly, legendary cinematographer Conrad Hall gave this film a very dream-like feel. And third, this is one of the four movies to have been filmed in Esperanto…’ Lisa Marie Bowman, Through the Shattered Lens
‘As a horror film Incubus is unique. The shallow seriousness of William Shatner is nowhere near as impressive as in Corman’s The Intruder, but he’s still very moving. These demonic women are an excellent horror threat of the repressive, conservative kind that identifies sensuality with Evil.’ Glenn Erickson, DVD Talk