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Guest Post: Justin Gustainis (The 1970s: When Occult Detectives Ruled TV)

Please give a warm welcome to Justin Gustainis, who joins us today in celebration of the Paranormal Spring Break and to tell us about a little project he put together Those Who Fight Monsters: Tales of Occult Detectives.  A former Army officer, speechwriter and professional bodyguard, Justin Gustainis is a college professor living in upstate New York. He is the author of The Hades Project (a semi-finalist for the 2003 Stoker award for Best First Novel), Black Magic Woman, Evil Ways and two forthcoming novels: Hard Spell and Sympathy for the Devil. He has also published a number of short stories, two of which won the Graverson Award for Horror in consecutive years. He is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop.

The 1970s: When Occult Detectives Ruled TV
Justin Gustainis

 I am a nut for occult detectives – oh, wait, you probably figured that out, what with the anthology and the novels, and all.  But my first introduction to occult detective characters wasn’t in fiction (although there were several series popular in paperback original during the 1960s, all of which I managed to miss – at the time).  It was on TV – especially in made-for-TV movies (remember those?).  And the 1970s were the decade when the occult detective figure dominated the airwaves (or, at least, showed up a lot), as I shall now demonstrate.

     I’m going to start off by cheating (a bad sign, I know).  The first movie in what proved to be a decade of occult detective thrillers actually appeared in 1969.  So sue me.  Fear No Evil starred former movie heartthrob Louis Jourdan as Dr. David Sorell, a psychiatrist who finds himself drawn into a case involving a mirror with the ability to trap people’s souls.  He must have enjoyed it, because he was back a year later in Ritual of Evil, investigating the death of a former patient and uncovering the occult forces behind it.

     The year 1972 brought what was, IMHO, TV’s second-best occult detective movie of the decade: The Night Stalker, starring Darren McGavin as investigative reporter Carl Kolchak.  The idea of a vampire stalking modern-day Las Vegas seems pretty stale today, but in 1972 it was fresh, and producer Dan Curtis played it straight all the way.

     The film was the most popular made-for-TV movie ever (to that time), so of course, there was a sequel: 1973’s The Night Strangler.  The plot is virtually identical to its predecessor (that famed Hollywood originality, again).  Just change the location from Vegas to Seattle and for the vampire substitute an evil scientist who needs human flesh for the elixir that has kept him alive and vital for 80 years.

     All of the films I’ll discuss here were pilots for possible series, but only one of them made it.  Kolchak: The Night Stalker premiered in the fall of 1974, and lasted one miserable season.  It sucked, IMHO, not blood but pond scum, with its formulaic “monster of the week” plots.  Darren McGavin later admitted that he hated it.  However, the series redeemed itself, in a sense, by later serving as Chris Carter’s inspiration for a little show called The X-Files that you may have heard of.

     Two other occult detective pilots appeared in 1973.  Baffled! (yes, with the exclamation point) starred Leonard Nimoy (without the ears) as a race car driver who saw dead people.  He linked up with a female parapsychologist (Susan Hampshire) to find out what it all meant.  The answer: not much, alas.  Showing more promise was The Norliss Tapes, starring Roy Thinnes as an investigative reporter who has disappeared, leaving behind a series of audiotapes detailing his past cases.  His first (and only) televised adventure involves vampires and Angie Dickinson – what’s not to like?

     Then there was nothing, for four whole years.  The occult detective was thought dead -- but, like Dracula, he rose again, stronger than ever.  In 1977, three pilots reached the airwaves, one of which was the best such movie ever made.  But before we deal with the gold, let us discuss the dreck.  James Farentino, a staple of made-for-TV melodramas during the period, brought both of his facial expressions to The Possessed, playing an ex-priest who is now an exorcist.  I would have thought the whole exorcist thing would have worked better if he had remained a priest, but that’s just me.

     The same year brought big, blond Granville Van Dusen into the fray as Paul Taylor, a man who had a near-death experience on the operating table and can now communicate with the dead.  He did so at length in The World of Darkness, and came back to do it some more in 1978’s The World Beyond.  Rumor has it that he signed on for a third film in the series, The World of Warcraft, but the network decided that, with a title that stupid, nobody would be interested.

     Which brings us to the cream of the crop: Spectre, starring Robert Culp as criminal psychologist William Sebastian and Gig Young as his sidekick, Dr. Hamilton.  The pilot was written by Gene Roddenberry of Star Trek fame, and his wife Majel Barrett, once again found work in a supporting role.  Despite an uninspired opening title sequence, Spectre is stylish, spooky, and pretty scary, at times.  It’s even got a young John Hurt, before he got serious went all Masterpiece Theatre on us.  Oh, and the Satanic orgy sequence near the end, which was heavily edited for network broadcast (naturally), can be seen in all its bare-breasted glory in the European version.

     And there you have it.  Other occult detectives have stalked the airwaves since the 1970s (notably HBO’s Cast a Deadly Spell in 1991) but no other decade has offered, so far, such a plethora of Those Who Stalk the Night.

     Oh, yeah, I edited an anthology.  It’s great.  You should buy it.

Got Vampires? Ghosts? Monsters? We Can help!

Those Who Fight Monsters: Tales of Occult Detectives, is your one-stop-shop for Urban Fantasy’s finest anthology of the supernatural. 14 sleuths are gathered together for the first time in all-original tales of unusual cases which require services that go far beyond mere deduction!

Those Who Fight Monsters: Tales of Occult Detectives brings together popular characters from many Urban Fantasy paranormal investigative series, for your enjoyment.

Meet the Detectives:

Danny Hendrickson - from Laura Anne Gilman's Cosa Nostradamus series.
Kate Connor - from Julie Kenner’s Demon Hunting Soccer Mom series.
John Taylor - from Simon R. Green’s Nightside series.
Jill Kismet - from Lilith Saintcrow’s Jill Kismet series.
Jessi Hardin - from Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty Norville series.
Quincey Morris - from Justin Gustainis’ Morris/Chastain Investigations series.
Marla Mason - from T. A. Pratt's Marla Mason series.
Tony Foster - from Tanya Huff’s Smoke and Shadows series.
Dawn Madison - from Chris Marie Green’s Vampire Babylon series.
Pete Caldecott - from Caitlin Kittredge’s Black London series.
Tony Giodone - from C. T. Adams and Cathy Clamp’s Tales of the Sazi series.
Jezebel - from Jackie Kessler’s Hell on Earth series.
Piers Knight - from C. J. Henderson’s Brooklyn Knight series.
Cassiel - from Rachel Caine’s Outcast Season series.

Demons may lurk, werewolves may prowl, vampires may ride the wind. These are things that go bump in the night, but we are the ones who bump back!


BLHmistress said...

I hadn't heard of this book but it does sound very interesting gonna add it to my list.

Maria (pronounced Mariah) I blame my mother... said...

I hadn't heard of this until recently when I saw it on another looks intereisting!

Thank you!

Barbara E. said...

Those Who Fight Monsters sounds like a great collection of stories, and I'm looking forward to reading it. I'm not sure where I was in the 70's, since I thought I watched a lot of TV, but the only show I can remember out of those mentioned was Night Stalker.

WildIrishRose33 said...

Thank you! I did meet a lot of people during Follow Friday!
I think every town needs a bit of freaky. :-) After your comment I started imagining a bookstore decorated a la Tim Burton. That would be wicked cool. :-P

Judy said...

I have seen this around the web. It does look like a very interesting read.
I enjoy anthologies with several different stories linked together.


Eileen Bell said...

I too can only remember Night Stalker, but I remember loving it, and being crushed when it was gone.(I was young. Cut me some slack!) The rest, though? Never heard of them Obviously I didn't watch as much TV as I thought!
Oh and the anthology? Looks really good. Will make sure I pick up a copy -- are there any book signings? Wouldn't mind having a couple of autographs with the stories!

Nina said...

Great anthology...I love occult detectives too...looks interesting.


linda2060 said...

Love occult detectives. It's on my TBR list now!

Melissa (Books and Things) said...

Oh this sounds interesting. I'm going to have to check this book out!

donnas said...

Great post. And really looking forward to the anthology. His books are great too.

Katy said...

I haven't read most of the series in here...but it will be great to have a checklist of series that I need to start lol~

Rosie said...

I was (and still am) a fan of Kolchack/Night Stalker. Loved Darren McGavin in that role. Thanks for stopping by!

rosie0512 @ hotmail . com

Natasha said...

Awesome guest post. NIGHT STALKER! :D B&W rules. Thanks for this great post!

lindseye said...

Not familiar with these tv shows but I like to read mysteries and loved the first oouple of seasons of X-files.

linze_e at

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