Category Archives: Horror

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

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