Category Archives: Horror

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

Pulp Friday: Cover Me: The Vintage Art of Pan Books 1950-1965

Pan paperbacks are among the first adult books I can remember making a serious impression on me. My father had a number of Pan editions of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books in the collection of paperbacks he had in his den and from an early age I was entranced by their colourful, energetic, somewhat carnal covers.

Colin Larkin’s Cover Me: The Vintage Art of Pan Books: 1950-1965 notes the Fleming series was, not surprisingly, a huge seller for Pan. The books my father owned, which I still have, include cover art by Pat Owen and ‘Peff’ or Samuel John Peff, the latter one of Pan’s most used artists in the 1950s and the first half of the 1960s. I also discovered from Larkin’s book that the small drawing of a suave looking Bond holding a pistol that appears in a banner at the bottom of the main cover design in some of the Fleming Pan editions, was an illustration of Ralph Vernon-Hunt, the company’s managing director at the time.

Pan paperbacks appeared in Australia in large numbers in the three decades after World War II, and can still be found relatively easily in second-hand bookstores and thrift shops throughout the country. I have a fairly large collection, including I am happy to say, many of those that appear in Larkin’s simply sumptuous work.… Read more

The long, dark legacy of William Hjorstberg’s supernatural neo noirs

One of the great things in the not so great year that was 2020 has been writing regularly for the excellent American site, CrimeReads. My latest for them is live and looks at the the supernatural neo noirs of the late writer, William Hjorstberg.

Hjorstberg’s 1978 book Falling Angel was the basis for Alan Parker’s 1987 supernatural thriller, Angel Heart. Posthumously published for the first time in paperback by Britain’s No Exit Press, the sequel, Angel’s Inferno continues the story of the down at heel private detective, Harry Angel, who takes a routine missing person case and becomes ensnared in an occult nightmare.

Only Angel is now Favorite, the amoral crooner who sold his soul to the devil for fame, then stole Angel’s identity in an attempt to evade payment. And he’s in Paris, determined to hunt down and exact revenge on Lucifer’s earthly manifestation, Louis Cypher.

I was particularly fascinated by the differences between Falling Angel and Parker’s film version, one of several things I write about in my piece which you can read in full here on the crime reads site.

Enjoy.

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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