For anyone out there who doesn’t know Jes(u)s Franco, here’s the one oh one: back in the sixties Franco was maybe the first filmmaker to link gratuitous sex and nudity with genre horror, and his prodigious personal output has cornerstoned the whole wide field of cinematic horror erotica ever since. Franco made a few really memorable pictures early on, and went on to produce less and less distinguished work. Only the IMDB and God know how many movies Franco has directed, and maybe not even them; in his filmography, this new one, “Incubus,” certainly carries a triple digit number.
Franco’s antagonism to the most basic needs and desires of any conceivable audience or market is both difficult to describe, and notorious for being so. At his best, he makes you feel like you’re asleep, and dreaming that you’re watching a bad movie. All Franco movies are desperately slow and dangerously incoherent. His cast always have problems with the language, and, often, with the idea that they’re acting at all. Usually the music is excellent, and though the movies are technically shabby, the frequently nude women are sometimes beautiful, and the locations they adorn always so. Franco’s autorial voice is distant, and awkward, and somehow, despite itself, hypnotic and engaging, at its best, depending heavily on your taste. If you like to take enough strange drugs to stun yourself right out of any sense of narrative propriety and watch naked European women hang out in castles making out with one another while playing with whips and candles and mumbling about being vampires, Franco is your man.
Most of Franco’s dubious positive qualities have now faded, sadly, entirely away. “Incubus” is shot on video; it looks terrible; the sound and camera problems are simply unreal. The locations are indeed pretty, but the acting and writing are worse than ever. (The plot is so muddled that if I try to explain it, you’ll just think that I’m the one who’s being incoherent.) The cast are uniformly execrable, especially in terms of being people we really want to see naked; none of the girls are pretty, and some of them aren’t even remotely the right age (the oversexed virgin is played by a woman who’s about as old as me – and if you asked me how old that is, I might hesitate to tell you, if you were, say, a pretty girl the age this actress is supposed to be). Franco seems to have consciously abandoned any attempt at real eroticism, as the sex scenes in “Incubus” are a series of faltering abstractions more akin to still tableaus than any kind of cinematic action. He still displays an interest in soft-x elements American filmmakers regrettably shy away from; the middleaged nude, odd images of perversion, and lengthy male nudity are all on hand here. But this exotic machinery serves, not to titillate, but to propel a most ungainly character-driven art film – if that’s what this is intended to be.
On the (narrow) positive side, Franco retains a modicum of spastic pseudo-psychedelic charm; oddly distorted sounds and colors are sort of sprinkled around the edges of the movie, though not, unfortunately, all over the top. The music is still okay. Franco still lives on his own planet – it’s still the same one – and, though it may be shocking and shameful, I still feel at home there.
(The Sub Rosa disc also features two short films by writer/director Pablo Ros Cardona – he shares a production company with the Franco picture, and these short films are very intriguing – it’s a shame he didn’t direct the feature, too.)