Welcome to Freaky Friday, that day of the week when we all eat fish and have a good think about the sexy demons from Hell who are, right this minute, plotting ways to have sex with us and corrupt our immortal souls, according to paperback horror novels written in 1982.
Early Eighties horror loved succubi and incubi and horny ghosts, who filled the pages of Bedroom Intruder novels like Incubus (1976, Ray Russell), The Entity (1978, Frank De Felitta), The Night Visitor (1979, Laura Wylie), Succubus (1980, Kenneth Rayner Johnson), Queen of Hell (1981, J.N. Williamson), and Satyr (1981, Linda Crockett Gray). There was also a massive fascination with the Catholic church and horror novels like The Guardian (1979, Jeffrey Konvitz), The Piercing (1979, John Coyne), Virgin (1980, James Patterson), and In the Name of the Father (1980, John Zodrow) capitalized on the ascension of A New Pope.
Dark Angel was where the hunger for succubi collided with the fascination for Catholicism in an overheated hothouse of a novel that tells the story of how Pope John Paul II was stalked by a flesh-hungry succubus who wanted his baby, and how one lone wolf Irish-American priest risked everything to slake her insatiable thirst for man flesh and save the Pope’s sperm.
In 1978, after the 33-day reign of Pope John Paul I, the Catholic Church elected its first non-Italian pope in 400 years, Pope John Paul II. Despite being seen as a relatively conservative figure today, at the time he was a compromise figure between traditionalists and reformers within the Vatican, splitting the difference by dispensing with a lot of the formal pomp of his coronation while also shoring up the faith by toeing the line of tradition where it mattered.
In Dark Angel, the fictional Pope is not called Pope John Paul II, but come on. He’s Polish, a compromise candidate elected to appease both the traditionalists and conservatives, and while he’s dedicated to the idea of human progress he pushes a stricter dogma to shore up the faith and unite the faithful. When this book came out JP2 had just become the first Pope to visit the White House and his visit to Soviet-occupied Poland brought 13 million Catholics out in the streets in a country where, officially, no Catholics actually existed. He was a mega-celebrity. Let’s just assume Sean Forestal was excited.
Forestal has no other credits that I can find except for a writing credit on the post-apocalyptic film No Blade of Grass (1970), but he is clearly a man who knows when his hour has come. Looking at JP2 fandom, and the hunger for succubi, he knew that these were two good tastes that went great together. Horny Succubus who wants a baby by the Father of the Church + Studly Catholic Priest = Blockbuster.
In Dark Angel, assisting his fictitious-but-not-really Pope, are the only two Americans in the Vatican, Cardinal Ricci, the elderly secretary of state, and his protege, Joe O’Meara, a tough Irish kid born to Pennsylvania steelworkers who became a college football star known as “The Wolf” before attending seminary in Boston. Now he functions as Cardinal Ricci’s valet and bodyguard, and the three men are known as the Basilica Trinity. Which quickly becomes the Basilica Duo when Cardinal Ricci is humped to death by a succubus.
She’s not just any succubus, however, she’s the most Eighties succubus of all time: a hot blonde in a little white dress driving a jet black 928 Turbo-C Porsche. She leaves Ricci dead with a hickey on the side of his neck, and only Joe bumps into her as she makes her getaway. Everyone says that Cardinal Ricci died of being old, but Joe knows that he died from succubus sex because the image of the last thing the cardinal saw is imprinted on the dead man’s retina: the face of the blonde Joe just passed in the hall, disguised as a nun.
The Cardinals think Joe’s “obsession with diabolism” and his claim that Cardinal Ricci was sexed to death by a hot nun is enough for them to sign him into a psychiatric hospital where they’re going to have him lobotomized in order to protect the reputation of the church, but Joe escapes and flees with nothing but a Vatican credit card and a hunger to avenge his mentor. He hasn’t left the Vatican in 16 years, so he is not only a sexual virgin but a “social virgin” too, as Forestal is careful to tell us. He seeks assistance from his friend, Thom Cross, “the English sculptor and stonemason, vegetarian, and gardener” who maintains a home where Joe burns his credit card and finally feels safe. Thom and Joe pick up the succubus’s trail because Joe remembers the scent of her perfume and is prepared to stalk her by smell across Europe, but unfortunately Thom is murdered by the succubus and hung from his own necklace when he catches her desecrating a church (the succubus is destroying all ugly sculptures of Satan because she finds them offensive to her lord and master).
Full of thick blooming flowers and ripe nightmares in which hugely pregnant nuns give birth to clawed monsters with the face of Cardinal Ricci, Dark Angel exists in a state of maximum hysteria. When Joe decides to snap some innocent photos he winds up on a nude beach and is tormented by all the flesh on display, “He was in the wilderness now… and these were part of the temptations,” he moans. It also turns out that Thom, whose house is full of half-naked young men and whose home office is lined with vintage torture devices, is gay—which horrifies Joe and kind of makes him sad when Thom is strangled to death because now his soul will burn in Hell for all eternity. The succubus—Angela Tansa, who only drives Porsches—must have sex every seven days or she dies, and her latest rented Romeo is a Eurotrash aristocrat who says things like “I want to fuck that fatness out of you!” as she gorges on artichokes and Mexican food… because she is carrying Cardinal Ricci’s baby!
Oozing black breast milk, Angela flees from Joe and winds up hiding in Germany, giving birth in the snow, then he tracks her to a hospital where she has stashed her half-evil, half-Catholic twins: one succubus and one incubus. In an attempt to kill her demonspawn, Joe sets an entire nursery on fire, killing five non-succubus babies, but whatever. It’s all in a day’s work for a man who must stop the evils of sex. Then Joe tracks Angela to England as she tries to get pregnant again by a racecar driver with half a face. And we haven’t even gotten to the really crazy stuff yet.
This is the kind of book where a priest resists fleshy temptation by jamming a nail through his palm, people vomit their souls into toilets, and men refer to “the ovulation that started in Hades” in casual conversation. And when Joe discovers that the succubus can only be destroyed if she’s decapitated at the moment of orgasm, well, you know that the good times are only just starting to roll.
Grady Hendrix has written for publications ranging from Playboy to World Literature Today; his previous novel was Horrorstör, about a haunted IKEA, and his latest novel, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, is basically Beaches meets The Exorcist.