Just what is a succubus? They’re female-appearing sex demons, not to put too fine a point on it. They have male equivalents (incubi) and show up in a variety of folkloric traditions—though many of our modern fictional depictions of them derive from Judeo-Christian mythology and, specifically, the story of Lilith, Adam’s first wife who was cast out of the Garden of Eden.
The precise penalty for laying with a succubus varies depending on the bit of folklore you happen to be interacting with, but it’s rarely good. In some versions, they feed on human life force, like psychic vampires. In other depictions, they can kill or even steal away your very soul. Regardless, succubi—like the vampires they resemble—have taken hold in the public consciousness, showing up often in horror and urban fantasy tales, not to mention comic books, video games, and more.
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Sometimes these fictional depictions show the succubi as evil and predatory. Other times the tales showcase more sympathetic portrayals. Here are ten of the most interesting depictions of succubi in horror movies, television series, and books.
V/H/S (2012) / Siren (2016)
The first segment of the 2012 anthology horror film V/H/S features a group of men out for a bachelor party who bring a couple of girls back to their hotel room for sex, only to have the evening definitely not go as planned when one of the women reveals that she’s actually some kind of monstrous creature with wings and claws. The segment was popular enough to spin off into its own feature-length film in 2016, in which the woman was revealed to be a succubus named Lilith who was summoned and bound as a sex slave, only to escape with the help of the protagonists and bond with one of them in ways that, as these things are wont to do, end poorly for him.
Def by Temptation (1990)
This 1990 horror movie starring Kadeem Hardison and Samuel L. Jackson, among others, revolves around a sinister succubus who appears as the “perfect woman” at a bar, latching onto Joel, a divinity student who is questioning his beliefs. The sole writing and directing credit of former child star James Bond III (who also plays Joel), Def by Temptation became a cult hit thanks to what the Washington Post calls a “depth and emotional detail generally absent from such films.”
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Jennifer’s Body (2009)
A rock band’s efforts to conjure up a demon using a virgin sacrifice (because that’s what rock bands do, right?) goes awry in this bawdy 2009 horror comedy written by Diablo Cody and directed by Karyn Kusama. Megan Fox plays the would-be sacrifice, Jennifer, who instead gets possessed by the demon and begins to wreak havoc, especially with some of her male classmates, much to the consternation of her bookish best friend, Needy, played by Amanda Seyfried.
Originally created by legendary manga artist Junji Ito, Tomie has not only starred in one of his most popular series, but has also gone on to form the central figure in a nine-movie film sequence. The unexplained Tomie is not exactly a succubus in the traditional sense—in fact, the series never makes clear exactly what she is—but she always appears as a beautiful woman who makes those around her fall in love with her. Their desire to possess her eventually becomes a desire to kill her, but no matter what atrocity befalls her, Tomie cannot seem to die.
Grim Prairie Tales (1990)
In this weird western anthology film from 1990, one of the segments involves a man who helps out a young, seemingly pregnant woman he encounters. In what is essentially a Wild West version of those “beware of picking up hitchhikers” stories, the two are bedding down for the night when the man gets a whole lot more than he bargained for as the woman literally absorbs his body into hers during the act, explaining why she appeared pregnant in the first place. She was actually digesting.
Lost Girl (2010-2016)
The popular Canadian TV series—which aired on the Syfy Channel in the United States—follows the adventures and misadventures of Bo (Anna Silk), a bisexual succubus who struggles to master her supernatural abilities and the drawbacks that come with them, while using her powers to help those in need. While far from the only iteration of a “white hat” succubus story, it is certainly one of the most enduring, with five seasons and a loyal fanbase.
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Kolchak: The Night Stalker, “Demon in Lace” (1974-1975)
In this episode of the classic TV series, Kolchak runs up against a succubus who is attached to a Mesopotamian clay tablet. This succubus works a little differently than many of the others, existing mainly as a disembodied spirit who possesses the bodies of recently dead women and proceeds to come onto men on a college campus, only to end up scaring them to death.
The New Neighbor
World Horror Grandmaster Ray Garton isn’t exactly known for bright and cheery fictions, and his 1991 novel The New Neighbor is no exception. Publishers Weekly calls it “an X-rated fable about a glamorous new neighbor, Lorelle Dupree, who generously provides the answers to everyone’s erotic dreams in a Chicago suburb.” Of course, Lorelle’s motivations aren’t so generous, and she proves to be “a daughter of Lilith … a sexual vampire.”
French novelist and playwright Honore de Balzac is probably best known for his sequence of novels known as Le Comedie humaine, which show what life was like in post-Napoleonic France. As a writer mostly associated with that sort of down-to-earth naturalism, he may be a surprising name to find on a list of fictional depictions of succubi. Yet his 1837 story “The Succubus” is just that, telling the story of a 1271 trial of a woman accused of being a succubus who could, among other things, entangle her victims in her flowing hair.
“What a terrible, what an atrocious idea for a story,” John Langan writes in the story notes for the titular tale in his collection Sefira & Other Betrayals. “What an example of lowest common denominator, sensationalistic fiction.” Langan’s agent had jokingly suggested the idea of a novel about a “succubus hunter” after the author’s most recent novel was rejected once again for being “too literary.” The suggestion began as a terrible joke, but once it was installed in his brain, Langan couldn’t shake it, and the result was this (highly literary, of course) tale of a woman on a cross-country road trip, in pursuit of the eponymous succubus with whom her husband betrayed her.