Incubus (1976) by Ray Russell


Death by penis is the name of the game in this 1976 novel from Ray Russell. Galen, a cozy little New England town somehow located in California is beset by a series of violet rapes, committed by an inhuman but clearly male creature with a particularly large and lethal member.

Luckily for Galen, a flashy know-it-all anthropologist called Julian Trask arrives with a grimoire and some arcane knowledge, and soon figures out that the perpetrator is an incubus, a man who involuntarily shapeshifs into a creature endowed with king-size goods. The creature’s only instinct is to breed in order to continue its ancient bloodline, like an animal in heat, so it’s not really murderous, just unusually horny. There are of course some suspects, mainly Tim, a descendant of the town’s founders who happens to have some connection to witchcraft by blood.

The novel was written in the seventies, which fortunately makes it closer to silly than sordid. There’s a heavy dosage of pulp in the mix, especially towards the end when even the elements (Earth, Wind and Fire or some other nonsense) begin attacking the good people of Galen. Trask’s interest in the supernatural is almost cartoonish, and I’m guessing the whisky-sipping, curmudgeonly town doctor is the last call when all other medical professionals have declined to accept your health insurance.

Poster for the 1982 film hits all the right notes

The rapes, of course, are very nasty, especially in the second part, and there’s mercifully nothing silly or cartoonish about them. One can only imagine how bad it would be if the novel was written by some horn-dog like Richard Laymon. As it is, Incubus is a strange mix of gruesome and cozy. It’s far too boyish to really register as something more than a fast-paced adventure novel – even if it does have a monster with a big dick. Incubus is alright, but that’s all.

The novel got an unmemorable Canadian film adaptation of the same name in 1982. The California location was changed to a town in Wisconsin and the Trask character was combined with that of the town doctor (played by John Cassavetes). The New York Times said the incubus of the film resembled “a large, shaggy, extremely mean E.T. with bad teeth”, so I’m guessing it won all the Academy Awards that year.

*** (3/5)