In honor of the 50th anniversary of both Star Trek and the 1966 Batman TV series, we’ll be spending this final week of 2016 looking at items that relate to one or both of those shows. We continue with a movie that is also celebrating its golden anniversary, and which starred William Shatner. It’s also a foreign language flick, though it’s not a language native to any particular country…
Written and directed by Leslie Stevens
Original release date: October 26, 1966
Intrigo resumo: A narrator tells us that the village of Nomen Tuum (Latin for “your name”) has a well that is believed to have magical powers that can heal, restore youth, and all the other usual stuff. The well’s legend attracts all manner of ne’er-do-wells, and so the town has a mess of succubi who lure these yucky men to their doom.
A very inebriated man drinks from the well, and then sees a beautiful woman standing nearby. He asks her if the marks on his face are gone, if he’s young and handsome again. She doesn’t answer, but after some witty banter, she leads him to a beach, tantalizing him with the notion of swimming naked with her. He trips and falls and cuts his forehead, but he continues to follow her even with blood trickling down his face.
As he crawls after her into the ocean, she steps on his head until he’s drowned. Then she happily builds sand castles.
Later, we see robed figures walking on the beach who disappointingly do not chant in Latin and hit themselves on the head with 2x4s. The woman, who is a succubus named Kia, reports to one of them, Amael, saying that she’s taken three souls, including this schmuck—who was rich and corrupt—as well as an ugly child dying from hatred and a widower addicted to grief.
Kia is getting bored with her work. She doesn’t get why they seduce corrupt men who are already ticketed to hell when they die anyhow. Kia thinks it would just be awesome to corrupt an innocent, noble soul instead of just harvesting a bad one. Amael warns her that good people have love, and that makes them dangerous. Kia scoffs and runs off.
She wanders through the forest, grumpy. She comes across a monastery, thinking that monks would be awesome to corrupt, but they turn out to be just as iniquitous as everyone else. Then she sees a man who must be virtuous because he is played by William Shatner with his coat draped over his shoulders and a cane to help him walk. He and his sister head out to the well. His name is Marc, and he was wounded in a war that has been giving him nightmares. But the last few nights, he has been able to sleep, and his leg is healing.
They walk off, Marc leaving his cane behind and letting his sister, Arndis, support him. Kia follows from a distance, snatching the cane en route.
Amael appears before Kia again and urges her not to try to corrupt Marc. He is too good, a selfless hero who faced death fearlessly, yet accepted no medals or honors. That makes him more attractive to Kia—there are no heroes in hell, and she wants to provide the first.
Kia walks onto Marc’s land, where he’s chopping wood. She claims to be a lost traveler, and he offers her food and rest. As they talk, there’s an eclipse, which confuses the animals, as they think it’s night already. Arndis goes to check on them, while Kia snuggles up to Marc.
Once the eclipse passes, Kia says she has to go. Marc offers to let her stay, but she insists, so he insists right back that he accompany her until she finds the road. He assumes that Arndis is safe in the house—but she looked into the eclipse and is now blind. She cries out for Marc, but he doesn’t hear her, as he’s gone off with Kia. The pair of them traipse through the forest, holding hands and laughing and having a wonderful time.
They reach a river. Marc says he doesn’t have the strength to carry her across, but she thinks they can wade. She says that will lead her to the sea, and when Marc asks if she likes the sea, she says that she does—at which point we cut to the corpse of the man she drowned earlier. He collapses halfway across because of his bum leg, and she helps him the rest of the way.
When they reach a tree, they smooch. She wants him to come with her to the dunes where she comes from and lie naked in the sun. He wants her to come back to the village with him and for them to be husband and wife. (Dude, you met her, like, five minutes ago…) He says they could have sex, but it would be meaningless if their souls were not also intertwined. Kia insists that she has no soul, but she admits that her heart is pounding as much as his is. They smooch again.
Meanwhile, poor, forgotten Arndis is crawling around the farm trying to figure her way around and wondering why her brother abandoned her.
Kia takes a nap in the grass and Marc declares his love for her while she can’t hear him, then picks her up and carries her back to the village cathedral. Meanwhile, Amael urges Arndis to go to the cathedral, find Marc, and stop him from marrying Kia.
The bells wake Kia up, and she’s overwhelmed by all the religious icons and starts having a fit. Marc tries to calm her, but she scratches his face (presaging a similar act by Yeoman Rand later that year) and runs away. Amael finds her crying in the grass, having been overwhelmed by Marc’s love. Amael calls it a “holy rape” and says Kia must take revenge on him for it. She must open the pit and release the incubus.
Back in the cathedral, Marc is confused by Kia’s behavior. Arndis enters the cathedral and suddenly can see. They fill each other in on what they’ve been doing since he buggered off with Kia. When Marc declares that he loves Kia, Arndis speaks for the entire audience when she says that he doesn’t even know her, which prompts him to utter some claptrap about feeling like he’s known her for a thousand years. Arndis takes him home.
Amael and Kia perform a ritual, and the earth splits open, and the Incubus (who looks like a young guy covered in mud) emerges from the dirt, instructed to destroy Marc for what he did to Kia.
Back at the farmhouse, Arndis is getting ready for bed. Her vision continues to improve—oddly, she can see better at night—and he’s still pining for Kia.
He tries to sleep, but is awakened by what he thinks is someone calling his name, though Arndis just thinks it’s a dog barking. Since he can’t sleep anyhow, he wanders around outside (again draping his jacket over his shoulders). He sees Kia in the distance, and she leads him through the forest, much the same way she did the schnook at the beginning of the film. Her intent is to kill him at the sea. Meanwhile, Amael sics the incubus on Arndis.
The incubus tells Arndis that Marc fell down through a floor made of rotten wood and is caught—but then he gets close enough to mesmerize her. He brings her to a house where the succubi are gathered. They tear at her bedclothes and hold her down so he can do vile and depraved things to her.
Marc arrives at the beach, but he turns and leaves when he can’t find Kia there. (At one point, he stumbles and loses his jacket. His shoulders are gonna get cold now…) When he leaves, we see Kia sitting and crying. Then she follows him.
He returns home to find Arndis’s robe, discarded on the ground outside. Arndis herself is nowhere to be found. Then, suddenly, the incubus shows up and tosses Arndis’s barely-conscious form to the ground. She urges him to go and save himself, and then she dies. Marc makes the sign of the cross, and the incubus, Amael, and Kia all flinch.
Marc attacks the incubus, and the pair have the world’s most peculiar grappling session. At Amael’s urging, the incubus lets Marc kill him, thus staining his soul with murder. Amael says that Marc is Kia’s now, and she begs him to run away with her so they can be happy. She leads him off, but he’s delirious, devastated by his murderous act, even though it was in revenge for his sister. But before she can completely take him away, he hears the cathedral bells and abandons her for God. She breaks down and cries again, admitting that she loves him and runs after him, pausing to strangle Amael along the way.
But before she dies, Amael pulls out the wooden stake that Marc stabbed the incubus with, which brings the incubus back to life. This leads to the big climax in the cathedral: Marc and Kia and the incubus. Kia declares her love for Marc again, and the incubus transforms into its true form—which kinda looks like a demented yak—and attacks her.
Weak, dying, Marc crawls toward the entrance to help her, and manages to pull her into the cathedral, which the incubus can’t enter.
And then the movie ends. Seriously, we have no idea what happens after that…
Kritiko kaj komentajo: There is, basically, nothing to recommend this movie. Not even a little bit.
Well, okay, that’s not entirely fair. If you squint you can find a couple of good things. The cinematography is beautiful. Conrad Hall did a beautiful job of lensing the picture, so it’s very prettily filmed, even if most of the things Leslie Stevens instructed Hall to film were pretty bland. William Shatner is a mostly convincing romantic lead, though we’re told that he’s a good person and a hero, but we’re shown no evidence of it.
Stevens created The Outer Limits, so you’d think he’d be able to put together a better movie than this. Instead, we get a languid mess that moves at the pace of a sloth on downers, yet which somehow rushes through its meagre plot, and then forgets to actually have an ending. I mean, if the running time was getting so dear that you didn’t have a chance to end the fershlugginer thing, maybe cut a few of the scenes of people walking through forests, of which there are, y’know, a lot? And hey, maybe also spend less time on walking through forests and maybe more on making the magic well that you spent all that time narrating about at the top of the film actually relevant after the first fifteen minutes?
It doesn’t help that the actors are visibly struggling to convey what their characters are like while wrapping their mouths around a language not their own. Or, indeed, anyone’s. Of the cast, only Shatner is able to convey emotion and character and tone, and he’s not even able to be consistent about it. Everyone else is very obviously trying to make sure they pronounce everything right, and it drains the life out of their performances. (Tellingly, the two monks that Kia spies on do the best acting in the film as they furtively dash about being secretly sinful, because they don’t have any dialogue, and are therefore freed from having to deal with speaking Esperanto.)
Of course, the fact that it’s in Esperanto—one of only two feature films to be shot in that constructed language—is half the reason why anybody even still cares about this movie five decades later. But that makes it a curiosity, not an actually interesting movie. Without it, it becomes just another horror movie, and not a particularly good one—though if the actors had been permitted to speak a language they were comfortable with, it might have been better. In particular, Allyson Ames might have made Kia into a scary demon who is redeemed by love instead of a person reading her lines in a near-monotone. (Ames was also married to Stevens at the time this film was made…)
I have to confess that I was surprised to learn that Esperanto is still a thing. Created in the late 19th century as an attempt at a lingua franca that everyone in the world could easily learn and speak, it has utterly failed to be that even a little bit. I think part of the reason is that it was created to be a universal language by an Eastern European opththamologist, L.L. Zamenhof, who had a very 19th-century view of “the world,” which was basically Europe and North America. The construction of the language derives from Romance languages (basically, trying to reunite them into a new Latin), Germanic languages, and Slavic languages. It’s all Europe, more or less, with no influence from the people indigenous to the other continents (though many of the people who currently speak Esperanto are in Asia).
Zamenhof’s hope that it would be a universal second language was stated by Zamenhof himself to possibly take centuries, and it’s a good thing he said that, because it has certainly failed to become that in the 129 years since he published Unua Libro. Supposedly, it’s easier to learn than English—which has become the de facto second language of much of the world, mostly due to British imperialism of the early 20th century and American political and cultural dominance of the late 20th century—but I suspect that’s only true if you’re already familiar with the languages used to construct Esperanto. There’s nothing “universal” about a language that has no roots in either of the two most populous continents on Earth.
I could be wrong, I suppose—I am very much not a linguist—but in any case, it’s telling that nobody’s tried to make a movie in Esperanto in fifty years, and there’s only one other one (Angoroj in 1964). Had it not starred the lead actor in Star Trek, it’s more than likely that this leaden nonsense would have been confined to the dustbin of history. (I mean, how many of you have heard of Angoroj?)
Keith R.A. DeCandido‘s latest release is the Super City Cops novella Avenging Amethyst, from which you can read an excerpt right here on this site. This is the first of three novellas about police in a city filled with costumed heroes and villains published by Bastei Entertainment. Full information, including the cover, promo copy, ordering links, and another excerpt can be found on Keith’s blog. The next two novellas, Undercover Blues and Secret Identities, will be released in January and February.