Category Archives: Horror

Lockdown recollections of the outside world and the wonder of Space Age Books

The shopfront of Space Age Books, 317 Swanston Street, Melbourne, in the early 1980s

I was saddened over the Eastern weekend to hear of the death of Mervyn ‘Merv’ Binns on April 7, at the age of 85. Binns was a major participant in Melbourne science fiction fandom going back to its earliest days in the 1950s, and established Space Age Books, Australia’s first specialist science fiction bookshop, and a frequent bolt hole for myself and no doubt so many other teenagers, desperate to escape the boredom of long suburban weekends in the 1970s and 1980s.

I only met Binns once, but his passing feels particular poignant given the circumstances we currently find ourselves in, unable to leave our houses and take part in Melbourne’s physical public culture, a field in which Binns once played a small but important role, to go to the pub with friends, browse in a bookshop or go to the cinema or film club screening.

But more than this, memories of Space Age Books briefly made concrete my fears about one of the unintended consequences of the (very necessary) restrictions evoked to combat the Covid-19 virus – its potential impact on the few remaining cultural holdouts that make living in Melbourne feel special compared to a lot of other places: bookshops, including the second-hand and antiquarian bookshops, independent cinemas and cinema clubs, record stores, and other speciality businesses that deal in material cultural items and experiences and, just as importantly, provide a space to engage in face to face discussion about them.… Read more

Hungry wives and evil husbands

I’ve been writing a piece on the science fiction of Ira Levin for an upcoming book project. This led me to re-reading his amazing novel Rosemary’s Baby, which led to a re-watch of the 1968 film, which got me to thinking, why there seemed to be a preponderance of cinema in the late 1960s/early 1970s which involve supposedly ordinary women having witchcraft used against them or using it for empowerment.

Roman Polansky’s version of Rosemary’s Baby abides fairly closely to Levin’s book and I suspect regular readers of this site don’t need any introduction to how good the book and film are. Obviously, the story has a very strong feminist tone, as did a lot of Levin’s work. An innocent woman, Rosemary, has her young, fertile body quite literally sold to a group of Satanists who, unbeknownst to her, live in the same New York apartment block, by her husband, Guy, in return for success in his chosen profession as an actor.

What is really good about the film, and even better about the book, is the way Levin leaves a trail of small clues as to what is going on – that Satan has raped her and Guy, in league with the Satanists, is manipulating her to carry the child to full term – often seemingly inconsequential or coincidental details, just enough to move the plot forward, but which all add up to a horrifying, inescapable trap.… Read more

The Lighthouse

I loved Robert Eggers’s 2015 film, The Witch, so had high hopes for his second big screen effort, The Lighthouse. While The Lighthouse is not without problems, it is a satisfyingly creepy brew of nautical themed horror and troublesome masculinity. You can read my take on the movie for Australian Book Review Arts Update in full here.Read more

M and my top 10 reads for 2019

It is no exaggeration to say I have been eagerly anticipating Samm Deighan’s monograph of Fritz Lang’s 1931 film. I love the film and I am a big fan of Deighan’s movie writing, so the combination is bound not to disappoint. And it didn’t.

As Deighan puts it in her introduction, M ‘exists in a liminal space between urban social drama, crime thriller, and horror film’. It was arguably the first serial killer film, long before the FBI coined the term in the early 1970s. Anchored by a superb performance by Peter Lorre as the paedophiliac child killer, Hans Beckert, it was certainly the first motion picture in which a serial killer was the central protagonist. Another crucial innovation was the way in which Lang depicted the character of Beckert in a not entirely unsympathetic light. This same sensibility would have a influence on some subsequent serial killer cinema, most notably in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 horror/thriller, Psycho.

Deighan discusses M’s broader social and political themes, including the film as a critique of modernity and a text for Germany on the brink of totalitarian control, appearing as it did a year before the Nazi’s assumed power and Lang had to flee the country.

Another fascinating aspect of the book is the discussion of how the themes in M would echo in Lang’s subsequent work, particular the threat of the lawless mob violence and what is perhaps the director’s most defining idea, how even the most noble individual is capable of brutal murderous thoughts and actions.… Read more

The Evil Touch talk at the Australian National Film & Sound Archive

I know from previous mentions of the show this site, that there are more than a few fans amongst you of the early 1970s Australian television horror anthology show, The Evil Touch.

For those who live in Canberra or nearby, I’ll be giving a talk on the show at the National Film and Sound Archive from 6pm on Friday, September 6.

The late 1960s/early 1970s was viewed as the peak period for horror anthology television. The Evil Touch is Australia’s only contribution to this particular broadcast niche. Made specifically for the American market – at a time when little Australian TV was made, let alone exported overseas – it bombed when it aired locally in 1973 and the 26 episode show is now largely forgotten and remains unavailable on DVD.

Although cheaply made, the show remains strangely effective, at times, genuinely disturbing viewing. The grainy look and surreal narrative style give it the feel – to use the words of American television critic John Kenneth Muir – of ‘a low grade transmission straight from hell’.

My talk will look at the show’s origins, making and reception. As part of the event, the NFSA will also screening two episodes: the debut episode that aired in 1973, ‘The Obituary’, starring Leslie Nielsen, and what I think is the most innovative episode, ‘Kadaitcha Country’, starring Leif Erickson as an alcoholic Christian missionary assigned to a remote outback mission, where he immediately comes into contact with an Aboriginal ‘witch doctor’ called the Kadaitcha Man.… Read more