A vampire ate my goat

Is nowhere safe from our fascination with the supernatural? Marianne Macdonald lifts the lid on the Fortean invasion
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The Independent Online
Believe it or not, Britain is to be swept by Fortean phenomena, including a new magazine and an eight-part Channel 4 series dedicated to the unearthly, the incredible and the weird. Bizarre is on its way from John Brown Publishing, home of such unlikely stablemates as Viz, Gardens Illustrated, Fortean Times, 12 contract magazines and the new Spice Girls fanzine which starts next month. Bizarre targets men aged 18 to 30 - Loaded readers who also have a unhealthy interest in, well, the bizarre.

The magazine rose from the ashes of a discussion about possible new Internet titles between John Brown, managing director, and the new editor, Fiona Jerome, who invented the Sweary Mary Interactive Swearing Dictionary on the Viz website. "We couldn't come up with anything," Mr Brown confides, "and we spent most of the time talking about the bizarre stuff on the Net. I said they should go off and come back with an idea for a Net magazine and they came back two days later with the idea for Bizarre.

"When I read it I remember almost looking over my shoulder. I thought: `Christ! Why has no one thought of this before?'"

Why indeed? The first issue will offer what will be a regular slot of 10 pages of weird photographs - such as one of a stowaway falling from an aeroplane - and an interview with an Anglican vicar who does exorcisms, a feature on a private orgy in Holland, and a story about the curse of Superman.

This is not, of course, far from what is offered by the Fortean Times, which sells 55,000 copies in 65 countries. But the gentlemanly Mr Brown explains: "The difference between Bizarre and the Fortean Times is that the Fortean Times is for a specialist market - Bizarre is for a mainstream market."

Mr Brown sums up the magazine into which he has pumped pounds 400,000 as "full of bizarre but largely true stories and pictures from around the world". He continues: "The majority of things in Bizarre aren't inexplicable, just very odd. The stories will often be about subjects which we think are true, but we're not sure - such as exorcism. Also, we're investigating spontaneous human combustion. One of the main promoters of it is a Welsh policeman who was called in to investigate a case and is now one of the world's experts."

John Brown Publishing is exploiting its expertise in things Fortean (Charles Fort, the turn-of-the-century American writer, argued that science could not explain everything) in another venture, too. It is supplying material to Rapido Television for a Channel 4 series, Fortean TV, starting tomorrow at 9pm.

Fortean TV is fronted by Father Lionel Fanthorpe, a priest, black belt and motorbike fanatic, and aims to build on the success of The X Files to "look at the wonders of the natural world, bizarre beliefs, freak animals, strange phenomena, histories, mysteries and the just plain bonkers".

Tomorrow's line-up includes a feature on the vampire goat-sucker of Puerto Rico, which has purportedly claimed the lives of more than 150 goats and numerous other animals by sucking their liver out of two holes in their necks. This predator appears to be a cross between a kangaroo, a wolf and an ostrich.

Another focuses on a medical centre in Turkey where people afflicted with skin diseases can bathe in water from hot volcanic springs. Tiny fish in the water can cure patients with psoriasis by first nibbling the wound, then eating the dead skin. Also watch out for the world's first televised mermaid autopsy.

The link between Fortean TV and John Brown Publishing exploits, dare one say it, an awakening phenomenon. Mr Brown notes that "Channel 4 are keen to exploit the increasing fascination with the unexplained - as exemplified by the endless TV programmes of which the most successful is The X Files".

Fortean TV was commissioned by Peter Grimsdale, in charge of religion at Channel 4. He believes the interest in the unexplained is linked to growing freedom from conventional dogmas: "People are rejecting Establishment attitudes. There's a sense that lots of people can have different ideas - and that's OK"n