Saturday, November 14, 2009

Jess Franco's Incubus (2002)

One of Jess Franco's few and recent films, Incubus (2002) was produced by One Shot Productions and released on DVD by Sub Rosa. The 90s and 00s haven't been critically kind to Franco nor have they garnered him any new fans really. Incubus is a low-budget, shot on video, remake of his sublime Lorna, the Exorcist (1974) with Daniel White's music culled from his The Perverse Countess (1974) (as the credits reveal), shot on location in beautiful Spain. Johan (Carsten Frank) is a successful artist. At a bar before returning home to his wife Rosa (Lina Romay), he encounters a woman (Fata Morgana) who demands a meeting with him. Twenty years prior, Johan made a promise to this woman that in exchange for a successful life he would surrender his daughter, Lucy (Carina Palmer) to the woman. Lucy was not yet born when the promise was made nor was she ever made aware of it. Rosa is truly frightened, and Johan has to confront the woman, today, whether he likes it or not.

The behind-the-scenes production footage included on the DVD contains some wonderful images: Franco's hand always holding a lit cigarette; Romay bringing Franco a cup of coffee with one for herself, sitting at the bar, during the film's initial scene; Romay helping the two younger actresses with their costumes or makeup; and the most striking, Franco holding presumably the script or a shot list. Whatever the literature is, it is related to the production and appears to be less than a handful of pages. Again, Franco's narrative is going to give away to his imagination and his imagery.

Unsurprisingly, quite a bit of female flesh is on display. Frank's Johan is also frequently nude. One of the more unsettling images for modern viewers, as I have I read on message boards and the like, is Franco's continued shooting of a nude Romay. Romay, approaching fifty at the time of Incubus, lacks the youthful body of her previous work, where most of her fans prefer to romantically remember her. However, I find it quite endearing that Franco continues to shoot Romay as lovingly as when she appeared walking slowly out of focus and into soft light focus at the beginning of his Female Vampire (1973). An older woman's sexuality has always been a problem for cinema-goers, especially males. Not for the elder Franco, though: for a director who has obsessively shot the female body throughout his career, he knows well who he finds beautiful. Franco shares an intimacy with Romay beyond the cinema, and it shows. Romay's performance, as she often is capable of showing, is both vulnerable and powerful.

Frank's Johan is an ineffectual character, and the narrative of Incubus gives him little to do. Beyond sharing scenes with his wife Rosa, Franco devotes the majority of his scenes with Fata Morgana, primarily in flashback sequences. In an extremely long static shot, with the occasional zoom from Franco, Johan is receives the tail end of Morgana's whip. This was Johan's inducement to promise away his unborn child: the masochistic pleasure he received from his sensuous provider of pain. Beyond providing the kink for the viewer, this sequence hides the mystery for the devilish deal: was Johan coerced or willing to trade for continued pleasures?

Johan's relationship with Lucy is an odd one. As the film progresses, Lucy's days become her final ones, as she eventually learns of her father's deal. Franco shoots her revelation interestingly: it comes when she views her father's art. Her father's imagery is surreal, and it alters her consciousness (or maybe a demonic possession). Palmer's Lucy in a subsequent scene attempts to seduce Johan and gets him to willingly admit his sexual desire for her. It's an uncomfortable scene (in which Frank is unfortunately not very good) which Palmer plays with a sinister sensuality and playfulness.The ending is classic Franco, shot in a palatial mansion, where Morgana now holds Lucy to seal her deal. Completely sexual and dream-like, Franco's imagination is let go. An impressive visual sequence full of flesh, mirrors, phallic imagery, and masquerade masks, Morgana plays with Lucy.
As much derision as these recent Franco productions have received, I was determined to seek them out. No, Incubus is not like modern cinema and will appeal to few. The film is available on DVD for those willing to check it out and judge for themselves.


Aaron said...

Great review, Hans. I'm honestly not familiar with a much of Franco's work because he has so many films that the thought of even tackling his back catalog is a little intimidating. What five or so films would you recommend as a good starting point for his work? I've only seen two, maybe three of his movies: Oasis Of The Zombies (horrible) and Eugenie De Sade are the only ones that come to mind.

Hans A. said...

Thnx Aaron. I would check out Vampyros Lesbos w/Miranda, Female Vampire w/Romay, Venus in Furs, and A Virgin Among the Living Dead. They are all classics that Franco fans agree upon (so is Eugenie w/Miranda). They've all been released in America on DVD, too.

Mr.LargePackage said...

Kick-ass review, Hans. I made a deal with a strange woman to keep her tiger while she was away in a foreign land. The tiger just lounges on my bed while I hear faint cries of "Turn me loose". What immortal hand or eye dare frame thy fearful symmetry? And that is large and in charge.