Shock horror! It’s Kim Newman
For four decades, Kim Newman has provided a peerless commentary to the lesser known gems of horror cinema – and is a dab hand himself at the monster myths
Every now and then, when meeting an interviewee, one requires some identifying information to pick him or her out from the crowd. “I’ll be wearing a blue shirt and a baseball cap.” That sort of thing. No such tips are required to locate Kim Newman.
Long one of England’s most distinguished horror specialists, Newman has always made sure to dress the part. Fond of waistcoats and flappy Edwardian ties, his hair worn several inches beneath the collar, Kim could easily step straight into a Hammer film from that studio’s late, groovy period.
Here he is, settling up at the bar of a posh Dublin hotel. Newman is, perhaps, still best known as a critic. Though knowledgeable on all areas of film (he is, for instance, a walking encyclopaedia of the western), Kim has, since publishing Nightmare Movies in 1988, become the first point of contact for any wise documentarist or writer probing the spookier areas of cinema history.
Throughout the decades, however, he also satisfied a solid fanbase with his varied macabre fiction. Jago was an epic horror in the style of Stephen King. A series of novels set in the Warhammer universe delighted enthusiasts for that role-playing game. But his finest fictional achievement is unquestionably the superb Anno Dracula series. Johnny Alucard, the fourth in the sequence, has just arrived and looks to be belatedly securing Kim wider appreciation for his fiction.
Does he crave greater celebrity?
“I am not sure I do,” he says in a voice that carries little of his west-country origins. “WeIl, I have the degree of celebrity I am comfortable with. I can sit in a bar and nobody hassles me in the way that even mildly famous actors get hassled. After all, you could be the most famous writer in Britain and nobody would know who you were. Because I’m on television, some people know who I am. The other day the manager of my local supermarket admitted he knew who I was.”
The recent reissues of the first three Anno Dracula books have done much to alter perceptions of Kim Newman. Moving from the era of Jack the Ripper through the first World War and onwards to Italy at the time of La Dolce Vita and, finally, to New York and Hollywood in the 1980s, the books imagine a universe in which Dracula survived Van Helsing’s assaults to spread vampirism throughout western society.
Though the count makes several hideous appearances – notably as Queen Victoria’s consort in the opening section – the books are most remarkable for the way they integrate characters from other popular fictions. Sherlock Holmes, George Smiley, Doctor Caligari, James Bond, Lord Peter Wimsey: the list of familiar supporting players runs into the hundreds.
“I am not sure I have rules about those things,” he ponders. “Bram Stoker appears as a character, but so does Dracula. Oscar Wilde is there, but so is Dorian Gray. In this universe Stoker writes a book about Dracula and Wilde writes a book about Dorian Gray. But those books are more like Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. In the new book, Martin Sheen appears as himself. But the character he plays in Badlands also appears. So, no, I don’t have rules.”