The poor old ghost has had a tough time of it lately, shunted off the silver screen and horror shelves of DVD stores in favour of Saw-inspired torture porn. Gone are things that merely go bump in the night.
Still, occasionally a Sixth Sense or an interview with Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican's chief exorcist, comes along to remind us ordinary folk of the existence of the other side. Which is something Drew Sinton has dedicated his life to through his Haunted Bookshop and, for the past 13 years, the Haunted Melbourne Ghost Tour.
The man is certainly equipped for the job. He's a former parapsychological research investigator, wrote The Antichrist's Bible, is the Australian ambassador of the Transylvanian Society of Dracula, a member of the Church of Satan and, after a successful case in the Melbourne's Magistrates Court last year, is recognised as a "legal vampire".
His demeanour, as he stands behind the register in his shop, is not as expected. Despite the long, jet-black hair, ankle-length black coat, wire-frame glasses, multitude of ornate rings on both hands and black frills spilling from neck and wrists, it's one with which any frequenter of small bookshops will be familiar: friendly, yet world-weary in the knowledge that the tide of progress has little time for enterprises such as his. At least, with shelves laden with skulls, papal hats, and books on magick, witchcraft theory, the liquid dreams of vampires and several editions of the Necronomicon, Sinton can rest assured Big W won't be coming after him in a price war.
It changes once he crosses the threshold into the street. With a lilting "Welcome aboard" and a wide-brimmed hat, Sinton is transformed into our supernatural guide, an elegant, swooping, camp mortician whose face is alive with raised eyebrows, eerie grins and unexpectedly long gazes into unsuspecting eyes.
At our first port of call, a group of young Goths with smudged eyes, taped hands and voluntarily mutilated faces slope past; our guide switches on his megaphone, glides among us and embarks on his ghostly history of the city, embellished by drawn-out syllables and pregnant pauses.
As we wind our way past the Mitre Tavern, the site of the Queen Street massacre in 1987, Melbourne's first Cobb & Co stables, up over Flagstaff Park and to the Queen Vic Market, a string of unfortunate deaths and ghostly happenings unfolds. We learn of pub landlords leaving jobs after repeated sightings, glowing orbs and axe-wielding spectres.
What shines through most, however, is Sinton's love for Old Melbourne. He's as keen to point out lost history as hauntings, bemoaning the demolition of sites of significance through modernisation of the city. It means tourists and locals learn as much about the city's past as the afterlife.
The tour ends in the deserted halls of the Queen Vic Market - built over a cemetery - with tales of the ill-treatment of two young indigenous men who return to haunt traders. It's a gruesome end to a fascinating evening, although not one that troubles the host. Having built up to a final, gory flourish, he spots a nearby van and says: "Mmm ... an American doughnut would go down well."
Haunted Melbourne Ghost Tours depart at 8.30pm on Saturdays from the Haunted Bookshop, 15 McKillop Street.