Category Archives: Horror

My cultural highlights of 2021

In past years, I have always tried to conclude the writing year with wrap up of my top fiction/non-fiction reads. But this year I want to do something a little different and look more broadly at the culture that has sustained me in what has been another difficult and stressful 12 months, dominated, as it has for so many of us, by the Covid pandemic.

Film

As was the case in 2020, Covid meant that I spent far more time than I would’ve liked at home. So, most of the movies I watched had to be on the small screen. One of the standouts for me was a 1953 Argentinian retelling of Fritz Lang’s 1931 classic, M, called El Vampiro Negro or The Black Vampire. Helmed by one of Argentina’s most famous mid-century directors, Roman Vinoly Barreto, the story focuses the panic that engulfs Buenos Aires as children are stalked and murdered by a paedophile. Barreto particularly focuses on a nightclub singer and mother, played by Argentina’s equivalent of Marilyn Monroe, Olga Zubarry, who is the sole eyewitness to the child killer and who fears her daughter may be the next victim. Proof positive that classic noir was not just a North American phenomena, El Vampiro Negro is a powerful film, stunningly restored by the US Film Noir Foundation.… Read more

Projection Booth podcast #543: The Mephisto Waltz (1971)

I had a great time co-hosting for the latest episode of Mike White’s Projection Booth podcast, on Paul Wendkos’s 1971 occult thriller, The Mephisto Waltz. The episode features a very special guest, Jacqueline Bisset. The Mephisto Waltz is one my favourite 1970s occult thrillers, occupying as it does a liminal space between the aesthetic forms and conventions of made for TV horror movies – hugely popular format in the 1970s – and big screen productions. We talked a lot about the film’s similarities to Roman Polanski’s 1968 movie, Rosemary’s Baby, other examples of occult transference cinema, and how the occult, along with other strange & unexplained phenomena – UFOs, the Loch Ness monster, the Bermuda Triangle – were much more a part of everyday public discussion in the late 1960s/1970s. You can access the entire episode at the Projection Booth site here.Read more

Interview: James Herbert

Regular readers of this site will be familiar with my fascination with New English Library paperbacks of the 1970s, as well as my confoundment that no one has yet written a comprehensive history of the incredibly influential mass market publisher. The first of the pulp and popular fiction histories that I co-edited for PM Press, Girl Gangs Biker Boys and Real Cook Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950-1980, focused in some depth on NEL’s youthsploitation books (bikers and the skinhead and other paperbacks written by James Moffat aka Richard Allen), including re-published important material written by British critic Stewart Home. NEL was also included in my second PM Press book, Sticking it to the Man: Revolution and Counterculture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1950-1980. I’ve read bits and pieces on NEL, how they worked, their authors and their books around the place, mainly on-line, but there is nothing comprehensive I am aware of that has really pulled all this disparate information together and properly analysed the significant of NEL to 1970s British print culture.

Anyway, when award winning writer, author and horror historian Johnny Mains mentioned to me during an online discussion that he had an interview with one of NEL’s best known authors, James Herbert, that didn’t have a home, I was keen to provide one.Read more

Ghostly Messages: Australia’s Lost Horror Anthology, ‘The Evil Touch’

In a June 2017 article in Fortean Times, the British magazine concerned with strange and paranormal phenomena, writer and broadcaster Bob Fischer discussed how the sensation of not being exactly sure what you were watching on television, or not being able to recall the details with any precision, was a common experience in relation to consuming visual culture in the 1960s and 1970s, before the advent of streaming, DVD, and VHS. This sense of “lostness”—of incomplete and unverifiable experience—is also what makes these memories such powerful nostalgia prompts.

The television viewing experience that most encapsulates this sense of lostness for me is a little-known, American-backed, Australian-made horror anthology series, The Evil Touch, that debuted on Sydney screens in June 1973 and in Melbourne a month later. Largely forgotten now, American critic John Kenneth Muir referred to the show in his 2001 book, Terror Television: American Series 1970-1999, as the “horror anthology that slipped through the cracks of time.” The Evil Touch has never had an official DVD release, although poor quality versions of some episodes can be found online, or as bootleg editions originally copied from television on VHS. It is not even known who now owns the rights. But the program was significant in many ways.

You can read the rest of the piece in full here at the We Are the Mutants site.Read more

Rosaleen Norton ‘The Witch of Kings Cross’

Rosaleen Norton aka ‘The Witch of Kings Cross’

I was familiar with the name Rosaleen Norton long before I watched Sonia Bible’s excellent documentary about her, which takes as its title Norton’s long running nickname, The Witch of Kings Cross.

In an attempt to cash in on the upsurge of public interest in the occult that occurred throughout the west in the 1960s, the long defunct Sydney pulp publisher Horwitz Publications put together a number of salacious tabloid style non-fiction books on the so-called rise of witchcraft and Satanism in Australia. My favourite of these, which I wrote about on this site some years ago, the 1965 book Kings Cross Black Magic, was a direct attempt to piggyback on Norton’s fame.

Norton was also a semi-regular presence in the bachelor and barbershop magazines that proliferated on the shelves of Australia’s newsagents in the 1960s, titles like Adam, Man, Pix and Australasian Post. These magazines, incredibly tame by today’s standards, were once seen as very risqué. The activities of Norton slotted in well with their steady diet of stories about UFO sightings, white slavery, heroic Anzacs, shark hunting and out of control teens.

So great was interest in the occult in mid-1960s Australia that the subject even featured in a 1965 episode of the high rating locally produced Crawford TV crime show, Homicide.… Read more