Succubus isn’t the easiest of films to describe, even more so when faced – as we are here – with the “American version”. It’s not quite a horror film, not quite an art film and not quite a sex film. Yet the reasons why aren’t especially clear. Has the re-edit and addition of an English language dub caused the dilution of these elements, or was it like this all along? No matter, as anyone who picks up this disc will arrive at a strange blend of all three. We have a kind of experimental, exploitation flick, the kind to truly split an audience though it has enough idiosyncrasies to attract a certain cult appeal.
The main reason for this division is the fact that Succubus doesn’t really contain a plot. Rather it plays out more as a series of soft-focus dream sequences which present various couplings, portentous dialogue and demonstrate a keen attachment to kitsch. In this respect it could be described as a mood piece as we get by more through the general feel of the film than we do any concrete events. Ultimately, it would appear, everything comes down to the avant-garde exotica on the soundtrack and the amount of Vaseline on the lens.
Which is, of course, another of saying that this is undoubtedly a work of its time. And needless to say it doesn’t end here: we also have a crash zoom gore shot; nudity that thinks it’s being risqué when it fact it’s quite tame; plus a midget, a drag queen and psychedelic drug taking. In fact, Succubus does, at times, play more like a pastiche of sixties Euro-erotica than it does the genuine article, but then the overall kitsch sensibility and director Jess Franco’s love of the garish means that any pretensions are almost always sidestepped. Some of the dialogue is, however, more than a little risible, particularly the following exchange:
MAN: Charlie Mingus
Yet whilst this should result in a fun picture, Succubus is too wayward and too indulgent to retain many viewers. The reliance on the visual side allows Franco’s various concerns to come through (it probably couldn’t have been directed by anyone else), but then this produces too many longueurs even for a movie which runs for only an hour and a quarter. What it needs is some of the rigidity which Luis Buñuel or Pier Paolo Pasolini would no doubt bring if they were to tackle something similar. And whilst Franco has produced a number of noteworthy pictures (Vampyros Lesbos is a classic of its kind), this was sadly never one of his fortes.
Disappointingly, Anchor Bay’s UK handling of Succubus is frankly appalling. The sleeve claims that the disc is in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, but the number of clearly cropped images suggests otherwise. Moreover, the print is in very poor shape, with the colours clearly faded, intermittent damage appearing and a horrible lack of clarity (though the brighter images also reveal some highly noticeable grain). All told, it looks like nothing more than a second generation videotape.
As for the soundtrack, we get a pointless choice of DD2.0, DD5.1 and DTS mixes. Given the fact that we are getting the appalling English dubbed version, there really isn’t one to single out – quite frankly they all sound awful. And the same can also be said of the extras as these amount solely to the film’s theatrical trailer.