I was surprised as to how many people I know weren’t aware that William Shatner did a movie in Esperanto, a language created in the late 1880s intended to be a (the?) universal language for all humanity. I’ve known this for a while, so I figured many others did as well. Show’s you what I know.
Anyway, when I first heard that Mr. Shatner did this, I figured it was probably in the 1970s, after Star Trek TOS when he may have had trouble getting work because of possible type casting. Well, it turns out that he the the film in 1966, just prior to his work on Trek.
The movie was called Incubus, and it was written and directed by Leslie Stevens, who created the
science fiction show The Outer Limits. Shatner was a favorite of sci-fi writers and had worked on one episode of OL (he also did two episodes of The Twilight Zone, including one of its most famous, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”). Stevens showed Mr. Shatner a scripts for Incubus, which the actor liked for its simple, allegorical, Good vs. Evil story, and he agreed to do it. The script was in English, however, and apparently, Stevens waited until production almost started before he announced that he wanted to shoot the film in Esperanto.
His plan was that the several million Esperanto speakers around the world would flock to this film, since it was the only one marketed to them, and it would be a colossal hit. He failed to recognize that there was no major population center that spoke the esoteric tongue, and so its ability to reach those millions wasn’t gong to be successful. The movie bombed.
Kia ( pronounced with a long “i”) is a succubus who is tired of luring severely immoral men to hell, where they would end up anyway. She wants to try and seduce a moral man and bring him to the Prince of Darkness. Shatner is that man, a war hero who faced death with courage. Shatner lives with his younger sister Arndis, also a righteous person. Well, Kia doesn’t understand the power of love, and the power of Shatner, and her intended prey ends up “defiling” her with love, and she wants revenge.
Kia and her sister Amael conjure up an incubus (the male counterpart to a succubus), played by Milos Milos, who rapes and kills Arndis and subsequently provokes Shatner to kill him in anger. Shatner now is no longer pure, which allows Kia to finish her business with him. What happens next? Rent the movie and find out.
I must admit that the use of Esperanto gives Incubus an other-worldly feel to it. When you watch a foreign movie, you know that if it’s shot in French, it probably takes place in France. If it’s shot in Russian, it probably takes place in Russia. But where does it take place if it’s shot in Esperanto? Pretty clever.
The movie was shot in Big Sur, California by acclaimed cinematographer and three-time Oscar winner, Conrad Hall. Some of the photography is beautiful, done in black and white, but the acting is a bit stilted. I’m assuming this comes from the fact that the actors had to learn their lines phonetically and weren’t very comfortable with it (fluent Esperanto speakers complain about the inaccurate pronunciation throughout the film). This quality makes Incubus look like some kind of hybrid of an Ingmar Bergman film with Manos: The Hands of Fate.
I should note that Mr. Shatner’s performance is actually quite natural, especially compared with some of the others. Once again, he shows his acting chops, and he doesn’t overplay the roll, which could have easily been done by lesser actors.
One other thing that I found funny about Incubus was that an eclipse of the sun occurs during the day, and that night, there is clearly a full (or nearly full) moon. Uh, that can’t happen. If you’re not astronomically inclined let me illustrate for you. Here are the positions of the earth, moon, and sun in both an eclipse and a full moon:
It takes 14 days for the moon to get from the eclipse position to the full moon position. You’d think a science fiction writer would get that right. Maybe this is one of the factors that accounts for the movie’s curse.
A curse is attached to Incubus by some of those who worked on the film. I took these main points of the curse from Wikipedia:
- Actor Milos Milos, the Serbian actor who played the Incubus, killed his girlfriend, Barbara Ann Thomason Rooney – the estranged fifth wife of Mickey Rooney – and himself in 1966, nine months before the film’s premiere.
- Actress Ann Atmar [Arndis] committed suicide twelve days before the film’s premiere
- The daughter of actress Eloise Hardt [Amael] was kidnapped and murdered.
- William Shatner’s third wife drowned in a pool.
- Director Leslie Stevens and actress Allyson Ames [who played Kia] divorced, and Stevens’ production company, Daystar Productions, went bankrupt.
I think that last bullet point can be attributed to forces other than a curse, such as bad management, and the claim that Shatner’s third wife’s death was caused by the curse is dubious at best, since it happened decades after the film (why wouldn’t one of his first two wives die in a curious manner?).
I don’t know what to make of this film. I watched it twice (once with Shatner’s commentary), and the fact that it is only an hour and 15 minutes long makes it not an ordeal to get through. The photography is very good, and the inclusion of Esperanto definitely adds to the surreality of the story. Will I buy the DVD? No. I do recommend you watch it, however, purely for its historical significance in the Shatner catalog of work. And just to say that you watched a movie in Esperanto.