Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.

He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.

Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Best Assignment Ever: Ray Reports On the Original Camp Crystal Lake, June, 2006

In 2006 I had the honor of interviewing Betsy Palmer. Metal Maniacs magazine had welcomed my initiative to expand their coverage into the horror genre, since both heavy metal and horror films make natural bedpartners. I can tell you with all sincerity that Betsy is pure class. Our half hour phone chat went magnificently. The focus of the interview was, of course, to hone in on her memories of breathing life into the role of the nefarious Pamela Voorhees from the original Friday the 13th. Yet we got to talking at great lengths about Betsy's life and professional work centering around her time on various television shows from the fifties and sixties such as I've Got a Secret, Password, Studio One, Toast of the Town and Philco Television Playhouse, not to mention her shotgun riding with Alan Funt on Candid Camera. Betsy opened up to me at great lengths leading to her opinions of the then-proposed Friday the 13th remake, which had sparked my editor's interest in doing the piece altogether.

After the interview published, I mailed a copy out to Betsy and came home one day to find her voice message on my recorder thanking me as the only writer to that point for accurately quoting her and recounting the facts. Betsy invited me to get together for lunch or dinner sometime whenever I could get up to Manhattan where she lives. I'm still looking for the time to book that date.

The response to that interview was a success and with the Friday remake going green, Metal Maniacs were again responsive to my pitch about taking a visit to the original campsite where Betsy, Kevin Bacon and company had worked. Betsy had done the film because she'd needed the money for a car (down to the last dollar, it would come to pass), yet I could picture every spot she described to me and I could feel the nip in the air which Betsy conveyed in her reflections of filming at Camp No-Be-Bos-Co near Blairstown, New Jersey.

Thus I was given my own green light to pursue this article. To my delight, the owners and rangers operating Camp No-Be-Bos-Co in Hardwick Township--which still operates as a full-fledged Boy Scout camp--returned my call and gave me permission to come up and photograph the camp. Ranger Tom (as I remember his name being) was full of information about the camp and the surrounding territories in Warren County. Most amusing were his fair warnings to my readers that anyone sneaking on to the campgrounds without expressed consent were subject to immediate arrest. The local sheriff, whom I pictured to be less hokey though no less strict than the one in Friday the 13th, was in tight with the camp. Ranger Tom kicked out a number of camp trespassing arrest stories for my edification. Undoubtedly, the sheriff of Hardwick Township doesn't stand for any weirdness.

Better yet, Ranger Tom told me a hilarious story about a limousine that had driven up to the camp and gotten stuck on a muddy portion of the drive into Camp No-Be-Bos-Co, which is even longer than the film indicates. The person getting out, Tom told me and my wife with a chuckle, was cursing up a storm as the limo couldn't get out. Said party hadn't gained prior permission to come to the camp, yet Tom informed me the rider happened to be none other than Kane Hodder, then visiting the camp to get into the character he would define in the late eighties, Jason Voorhees.

What struck me most about the camp is how little of it has changed. Ranger Tom told me a couple bunkhouses were in such disrepair they were removed, yet once you make your way to the lake's inlet, a decided creepiness hits you. You are there, Camp Crystal Lake, 1980.

The main bunkhouse where Adrienne King and her counselor friends play strip poker is prominent. To say it's rustic is an understatement and it has a strange "W" planted to the front door. Still, there's an aura by standing in its presence, much as there is when you pivot 180 degrees and catch a view of the lake captured by Sean S. Cunningham and Steve Miner's crew--in particular the grainy driveway where Crazy Ralph pedals on his bicycle after delivering his prophecy of doom.

Once I found the bunkhouse where Kevin Bacon and Jeannine Taylor are belly slapping before Bacon takes the notorious spear through his throat (a pivotal gore effect done by the maul maestro himself, Tom Savini), I laughed and waved my wife over. I've dragged the poor girl to the Monroeville Mall near Pittsburgh, site of the original Dawn of the Dead. I've dragged her to Burkittsville, Maryland to scope out early-on locations in The Blair Witch Project. I've dragged her to Georgetown, Washington, DC to the cryptic Exorcist steps swooping down onto M Street. She's been a sport and a champ in accompanying me on these geek-out trips. At least this one I was getting paid for, yet I received a humoring smirk once I pointed out how tiny Bacon and Taylor's bunkhouse really was. Magical extension and broadening of scope from Miner's film crew.

That girl, I tell you. She was impressed only that I'd been able to get us onto the premises, albeit she did inquire to me where the bathrooms featured in the film were. You know, the spot where Jeannine Taylor takes an axe to the face. Turns out those bathrooms in the films had burned down a few years before my visit. We found the new bathrooms where the old ones stood. Too modern for my tastes, but hey, who's going to complain when you have the entire camp to yourself? The only area we were forbidden to go to at Camp No-Be-Bos-Co was the archery range, reportedly the same as it was back in the day, now used in the off-season as a target range by local law enforcement. As I said, they don't stand for any weirdness up there.

It was an unbelievable experience visiting the real-life Camp Crystal Lake. I was trying to pinpoint with my zoom lens where I figured young Jason sprang out the water and dragged Adrienne King to her fake-out watery grave. That's how serious I was taking this assignment. As you can see, I grabbed quite a load of camp shots, but I never did come to terms inside my head as to what the definitive "Jason jump" mark was.

Driving off to Blairstown to further investigate the Friday the 13th film locations, I have to admit I really started getting giddy once I saw other spots that are used as establishing scenes in the first 20 minutes of the film. You can tell by the "No Trespassing" signs where they are and I confirmed all of them upon my next viewing of the original movie.

Blairstown itself is an interesting, though very conservative little township. They're obviously used to Friday nerds crawling around town and I'm sure they considered me no better, even if I was on official business. Still, a few locals nodded at me on the streets since I was respectful in my shadowing the spots on Main Street you see in the film--albeit things are decidedly different in color if not scheme.

For the article, I tried to engage a few folks to see what they would talk about specific to Friday the 13th. As luck would have it, not many knew about the film. That, or they were just keeping mum in the hopes I would leave them be. Ironically, I found a woman who owns a small jewelry shop with the last name of Voorhees. It's a common name in those parts, I later learned, thus Cunningham deserves his research props. This Voorhees lady was short, long-haired and peppered with incense. She knew of the film but gently laughed when I told her she carried the name of two fictitious horror icons: Pamela and Jason Voorhees. Had I not confessed to this Ms. Voorhees I was on assignment, I'm sure she would've politely asked me to leave. I suspect there's a cover-up of some sort.

For dinner, we decided to take in our meal at The Blairstown Diner on State Route 94 that was used in the film. Of course we would. How could I not, in good conscience? By this photo, I'm sure you would assume there's very little familiarility to the diner Peter Brouwer stops at in Friday the 13th before heading back to his counselors and ultimately his death.

You'd assume correct, since The Blairstown Diner has more or less the foundation of what was there in the film, but it's been been given a galvanized interior and exterior upgrade to reflect many of the retro, silver sleek Double T diners you see everywhere now. As most diner food sucks, we kept things simple to a couple of hamburgers, fries and sundaes. You can never go wrong with that combo at a diner, forget the veal parm and the roast turkey.

The crazy part about our visit to the Friday the 13th diner happened to be when our waitress disappeared after I'd asked her how many Friday fans tramped into the place. I was hell-bent to retrieve some local color for my article and again I was denied. The young waitress with thin black hair ducked my query, gave me a nervous grin and then we never saw her again. Someone else brought our food and then our bill after one check-up. It was bizarre, to say the least.

Not as bizarre as the hostess of the bed and breakfast we'd stayed at. A completely sweet and hospitable woman, the owner of the bed and breakfast ran her own farm and horse stable, but on top of it, she had a goat which had free reign of her house. Luckily, our room was in a separate building opposite the main house. Save for a mom and her punky daughter, we were left to ourselves on a rather rainy evening. That felt appropriate for a piece on the original Friday the 13th film locations. I tried not to laugh too hard when we heard goat noises from across the way. Our hostess really was such a kind soul and the place was immaculate, so you had to imagine what she went through on a personal level to keep her own place clean with a goat running free inside her house.

My wife and I made coffee that night, flopped on the bed which had to have been four feet high or so and watched a documentary on rollercoasters. Later, I went to the oak desk in the living room of our quarters and handwrote the article I later submitted to Metal Maniacs. Word processors may be a gift from the writing gods, but nothing feels like genuine work accomplished than scrawling by hand.

The following day I drove us up to Brooklyn and Coney Island as part of the deal I made with my wife to join me on this Friday the 13th excursion. You see, she'd only pretended to like the film while we were dating. No doubt she must've felt like she'd gotten more than she'd bargained for with me, but as I said to her after leaving the bed and breakfast for New York the next morning, she couldn't deny I do things with a certain flair...

Photos (c) 2006-11 Ray Van Horn, Jr.

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