On a walk in Galway once I met a Polish couple poring over a map. We were going the same way, and fell into step. They were in town for an Esperanto conference, and when the man – an Esperanto playwright – learned I had an interest in languages, he eagerly gave me a crash course in its grammar as we manoeuvred the uneven paths and busy streets.
It was a fun experience, but it remains the only proper exposure I’ve had to spoken Esperanto. More recently I encountered the language again, not in the flesh but in the form of a film – I wrote a post about films of linguistic interest and the comments soon filled up with tips; Edward Banatt suggested Incubus.
Incubus is an experimental horror fable from 1966 with dialogue all in Esperanto. Starring a pre-Star Trek William Shatner, it was written and directed by another playwright, Leslie Stevens, better known for his cult TV show The Outer Limits. Incubus was lost for decades, which did wonders for its underground reputation, and what happened behind the scenes (“murder, suicide and kidnapping, for a start”) did likewise.
Whether or not it’s a good film is an open question. There’s good and bad in it, so its appeal depends chiefly on your taste and tolerance for this sort of thing, by which I mean heavily stylised allegorical arty black-and-white psychotronic occult fantasy hokum about forces of evil and corruption of souls. With William Shatner. In Esperanto.
Shot by the great Conrad Hall, and filmed in California, it looks very well, the stark cinematography and otherworldly atmosphere evoking Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf and Harvey’s Carnival of Souls. It doesn’t come near those films’ intensity, but it passes an hour and a quarter effortlessly if you’re in the mood. The dialogue is diverting, Shatner and company do fine, and it all amounts to a strange and original package.
I’m not qualified to assess the use of Esperanto in Incubus, but I have read that the pronunciation is poor. Whatever the motivation for this choice – aesthetic, political, financial, whimsical – it suits the film. You can get a flavour in this trashy trailer (Thrill to the Horror of Satanic Ritual! Tingle with Excitement at the Succubi Sisters! Look on in Bewilderment as William Shatner speaks in Tongues!):
Or watch the full film, subtitled in English (N.B. not suitable for children or sensitive viewers):