Category Archives: True crime

Cold Light of Day DVD commentary for Arrow Video

I’m excited to announce the upcoming release of my first DVD commentary, done with my fellow Melbourne film historian and friend, Dean Brandum, on British director Fhiona-Louise’s 1989 film, Cold Light of Day.

This little known film, critically attacked when it was first released, is based on the life of Dennis Nilsen, a mild mannered and unassuming civil servant, who was in fact one of Britain’s most shocking and prolific serial killers for several years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, until his arrest in 1983.

Starring the little known Bob Flag (the face of Big Brother in Michael Radford’s 1984) as Nilsen, this film is indeed one of the most realistic and chilling depictions of a serial killer put on the screen. It is also among the handful of films made in the United Kingdom based on the activities of British serial killers (Richard Fleischer’s 1971 film, 10 Rillington Place, about the murders committed by John Christie, and the Ian Merrick’s excellent 1977 effort, Black Panther, the story of murderer Donald Neilson, are two others.

Dean and I discuss why it is that a country which has experienced so many real life serial killers has been so reluctant to put them on the screen, as well as Nilsen’s life and crimes, and many other aspects of this confronting but fascinating film.… Read more

Pulp Friday: Sharks in Australian pulp fiction

Pulp fiction has long been fascinated by sharks, and pulp published in Australia is no exception.

Being attacked by them, hunting them, sighting or being threatened by them, or just marvelling at large they grew, sharks were a perennial pre-occupation in local Australian pulp paperback fiction from the 1950s to the 1970s. They also appeared regularly in the pages of the Australian equivalent of men’s adventure pulp, publications like Adam and Man.

Although I have not included any of this material in the images below, sharks were also a staple of popular tabloid magazines like Pix and Australasia Post. Referred to in Australia as ‘barbershop magazines’, these now defunct weeklies presented punters with a steady diet of girls in bikinis, racy jokes, Hollywood gossip, and masculine adventure stories.

Many of these were set in heavily exoticised parts of the South Pacific and Asia. But there was also a rich variant that took place far-flung parts of tropical northern Australia and the outback. These latter stories depicted a sort of Australian weird – a land of gnarly, weather beaten eccentrics (much like Captain William E. Young on the cover the Shark Hunter, published by Horwitz in 1978), who had dangerous livelihoods in unimaginably remote parts of the country, and did battle regularly with the threat posed by the country’s uniquely lethal fauna, including sharks.… Read more

Book review: Murder on Easy Street

Back in 2014, I wrote a piece for the Wheeler Centre site about what I described as the ‘new wave’ of true crime works. These books differed from the earlier style of true crime work, which, with a few exceptions, were liable to be by the numbers, often quickly written books about sensational crimes – serial killers being a favourite – put together from various second hand sources, with a bit of local colour thrown into the mix.

The new wave of true crime books I was referring to, were more literary, focused on the political processes around the crime in question and, indeed, had a much broader definition of what ‘crime’ was. More often than not, they also seemed to be written by individuals that were either directly involved in the crime in question or somehow managed to shoe horn their own life experience into what they are writing about, so they become as much about the author as whatever crime they are writing about. When these kind of true crime books work, they can work big time. But they don’t always work.

If I had to classify it, I would say Helen Thomas’s Murder on Easy has more of the former type of book in it than the latter.… Read more

2019 mid-summer reading report back

Summer is the one time of the year I am able find a decent amount of time to read. And, despite going full bore on my PhD at present, this year has, thankfully, been no different. Here is a very brief mid-summer reading report back.

The Real Lolita, Sarah Weinman

I have to fess up to not having read Vladimir Nabokov’s novel, Lolita, or seen either of the films based on it (I have Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 version and, having read The Real Lolita, want to see it). This didn’t stop me from devouring Weinman’s book. The Real Lolita has two threads. The first deals with the 1948 abduction of an eleven-year-old New Jersey girl, Sally Horner. The second looks at the torturous process by which Nabokov created what is his best-known work, the story of a middle-aged literature professor and his obsession and, eventually, sexual relationship with a 12-year-old girl, a story which Weinman contends Nabokov partly based on the Horner case.

Weinman painstakingly recreates the circumstances of Horner’s abduction and sexual grooming by a much older man, and the lengthy police investigation into her disappearance. It is fascinating, at times, horrific stuff and she puts it together brilliantly. I found the second strand concerning Nabokov less satisfying. … Read more

My top 10 reads of 2018

I reconciled myself long ago to the fact I will never get to the end of a year without thinking I have not read as much as I should have. That said, I have read some great books this year. Fiction and non-fiction, old books and new, in no particular order, here are my top ten reads for 2018.

Red Dragon, Thomas Harris

This year, I read a few bestsellers from the past to see if I can figure out what made them so successful, and this was my favourite. The book that introduced Hannibal Lector, it is a riveting rollercoaster ride into the serial killer mind. Beautifully written and acutely observed. Harris includes some incredible detail on forensics and police procedure without overdoing it. Red Dragon is the perfect mix of elevated airport novel and hardboiled crime story.

Twisted Clay, Frank Walford

Australian writer, Frank Walford’s 1933 account of a murderous young woman,  a pathological liar and sociopath, was banned in Australia until the late 1950s. The story, which contains patricide, sex work, suicide and the young female main character’s burgeoning awareness and enjoyment of her lesbian sexuality, is a wonderfully lurid read. One can only wonder what readers must have made of it in the 1930s. Not surprisingly, they seemed to like it as it was a bestseller in the UK and US, where it was published.… Read more