By JUSTIN MCDEVITT
We don’t spend enough time talking about incubi. As imagined by the phenomenal Anna Biller (The Love Witch), the incubus is a lecherous, unromantic rapist lacking the vampire’s charisma. He is intimidating neither as a demon nor a predator, feared by no one and avoided by all. He might be a salesman of secondhand Subarus or a recruiter for the next big multi-level marketing scheme. He oozes sleaziness and probably has a crush on Lauren Boebert. Where vampires are seductive with castles and capes and employees, the incubus is a one man operation: the inhabitant of a basement apartment littered with TV dinners and pink moscato for special occasions. He considers the January 6th insurrection to be an example of harmless civil disobedience and believes servers make too much money. He avers that a 10% tip is generous, not that he’s paying, because he forgot his wallet back at the lair. Biller’s incubus is a stand-in for that slothful cis straight white male who haunts and pervades the world at large, a dome of privilege blurring his vision and bumping and bruising all who cross his path. As we sit today at the corner of Omicron and Apocalypse, I had to ask: would the incubi take over the world or would the world just burst into flames?
Hey everyone! Welcome to a new year of Stab Me Gently, where I lend a queer eye (i.e. a tired, gay leer) to horror cinema. My name is Justin and this week I’m dishing on the horror-western-musical experience A VISIT FROM THE INCUBUS. Starring Biller, Jared Sanford (Viva), and Natalia Schroeder (Snakeskin). The short is written, produced, and directed by Biller, who also masterfully handles costumes, sets, and the musical score. This film runs a commendable twenty-six minutes, which affords you lots of time to make a nice ranch dip between repeat viewings.
A title set up the film: “An incubus is a horrible demon who has sexual intercourse with sleeping women. The woman is unable to wake, but has a NIGHTMARE. The incubus has oppressed women for centuries and continues to be a problem today. Our story takes place in the Old West.” I loved this introduction because it gives “based on a true story” vibes and does the necessary thing of explaining what an incubus is. While the name may have struck a bell, I knew nothing of this creature’s mythology. Pretty straightforward: demon rapes sleeping woman.
Lucy (Biller) visits her friend Madeline (Schroeder) who makes tea and eats bread. Apparently the Old West is exactly like Lockdown 2020, when baking bread and then carrying it from one part of the house to another part of the house was considered a day well spent. Lucy confides in Madeline about her late night visitor. “When he preys upon me,” she says, “I feel as though he will suck out my very innards.” But wait: Madeline also knows about incubi! As Madeline comforts her friend, she gives major Bernadette Peters lip and my one complaint is that we don’t see more of her. But alas, Lucy has to rush off to “buy onions” (a euphemism? Let’s find out). “Goodbye tender Lucy,” Madeline calls out. Goodbye!
That night the incubus (Sanford) crawls through Lucy’s bedroom window. He is exactly what you’d expect: horns, goatee, imported cloak from Rite Aid. Stark in contrast to the beautiful period costumes worn by Lucy and Madeline, the incubus is doing everything but wearing socks with sandals, tucking in his Margaritaville t-shirt, and sporting a visor. But why this departure from reality? Why the obvious humor? Part of me thinks our director wants to poke fun at the limited budget available to an independent film. But more than that, Biller doesn’t want us to fall for this obvious predator. The incubus is a skeez, a lech, a wastrel and low-rent swine. He should be derided endlessly, not redeemed by groovy costumes. The incubus splooges green cum on Lucy’s nightgown. Tacky…utterly tacky.
Lucy opens her package which turns out not to be onions at all, but a beautiful red dress. She heads on down to the Red Bird Saloon in search of a job. The manager asks, “Have you got what it takes?” Lucy responds, “I don’t know. Do I?” Then she lifts up her skirt to just above the knee revealing legs-in-stockings. Go Lucy! She’s hired. This is how I’m going to approach all job interviews from now on. The manager informs her she’ll make $12/week plus tips which sounds like a better deal than what the government has offered us poor suckers who don’t make passive income or own land. When asked why she never worked as a waitress, Fran Lebowitz said that she would have been expected to sleep with the manager to get the job. Through her literal dress-lifting, Biller satirizes the type of discrimination that is the backbone of America.
A VISIT FROM THE INCUBUS is Johnny Guitar meets The Evil Dead, proving that in the horror genre, there is always room for a touch of John Wayne and a delightful musical score. The incubus is also performing at the saloon but the crowd does not like him. “What’s an incubus doing on the stage anyway?” asks an audience member. No one seems concerned they’re in the presence of a demon; they just want girls on stage. The men threaten to leave but the manager assures them that Lucy won’t disappoint. She takes the stage and is a massive success. The manager boosts her pay to $100 a week. Lucy is going to be a star!
Lucy goes to the bar for a post-show whiskey. The incubus sidles up next to her. “What do you know about showbiz?” asks the embittered demon. Lucy’s response is simple: “It does a lot for my self-esteem, to feel that I can be accepted by an audience and earn a living at the same time.” Love this. And that’s our climax. There is no duel, no ancient spell to squash the demon beast. Lucy shows us that doing better is the best revenge. She escapes her oppressor and finds a way to support herself.
Final Thoughts: I loved this movie. I wish Madeline Kahn (Lili Von Shtupp herself) could have seen it. Anna Biller is fantastic. I can’t wait to dive into her other work. I would say I wish this movie was longer, but I really respect a piece that is so succinct. Art does not have to fit into a ninety minute to two hour time table in order to be good. A VISIT FROM THE INCUBUS contains all the great elements of a horror film but does not seek to scare the viewer. And while it inspires discussion, it doesn’t belabor its point, nor does it intimate that eventually we’ll live in a world without incubi, demon or human. And that’s what this movie is really about, making this big, scary world work for you. The monsters walk among us, we just have to do a little better than them to survive.