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.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Hail, Son of Svengoolie

Like most Americans, we're on a tight budget, so a few decisions were made in the household on how to save and reallocate a few bucks each month.  One of these decisions was to change our media provider, which was cemented upon the discovery of Svengoolie.

Now, when I was a kid around age eight and allowed to stay up on Saturday nights, I grew up with a couple of local t.v. horror hubs during the late seventies and early eighties, Ghost Host and Creature Feature.  The more I talk to people from my age bracket on back, it seems we all had our own Saturday night classic horror portals before the dawn of the video age and VCRs put those wonderful and often campy shows to rest, pun intended.  There's a reason the original Fright Night with Roddy McDowell from 1985 resonated so well (and why its 2011 remake missed the mark entirely); it came upon (and blatantly condemned) the demise of the Saturday night horror host era. 

I interviewed famed horror director Mick Garris quite a few times and one of our sidebar topics was this one.  Mick told me he'd watched a similar weekly Saturday monster mash on the outer rim of Hollywood.  Of course, those who were fortunate enough to be within Dr. Dementia's broadcast waves will tell you, there's just nothing like old black and white horror masterworks from the glorious Universal era of the thirties and forties through the sci-fi mutant romps of the Fabulous Fifties.  Depending on what rights were purchased by the respective station, you might even get a handful of Vincent Price films.  I don't think I ever recovered when Theatre of Blood spurted onto the screen.  I'd seen the original versions of The Fly and The Blob in color (though in our day, they were washed and faded prints that look like brand new pictures under modern re-master treatments), but the somewhat gory dealings in Theatre of Blood was one of the bigger impact movies from my youth before the original Carrie turned my world upside down.  I was stunned (and still am, thinking upon censorship standards of 1978 and 1979) Ghost Host had such moxy!

If you were fortunate enough to have your own Saturday night ghoul fool who gave you your weekly horror fix somewhere amidst the blizzard tundra of UHF hell, you can understand why such a simplistic operation became a drug.  One could watch Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Tingler, Them! and Beast From 20,000 Fathoms ad nauseum and never grow bored, since the creepy (and often lampoon-driven) emcee was part of the attraction.  Our Ghost Host on Channel 45 was simply a suited spook (a funeral home director with more gallows' humor than the norm, I always felt) who dwelled in a hazy cellar and dragged out his shivery laughs amidst monotone anecdotes about the films he presented each week.  Creature Feature was hosted by a flashy, gaudy vampire on Channel 20 who had a bit more pop and zing from his coffin set, and it was even funnier since everyone knew he was also the space ranger host of the station's afternoon kids' programming, Captain 20.

Intentionally naïve, mostly innocent, but always in the spirit of fun, I've missed this avenue in my life.  Until now with the changeover in cable services that has brought MeTV and Svengoolie into my living room. 

If you grew up on this stuff, you've probably already flocked to Svengoolie.  I'd heard about him and how Rich Koz had resurrected the character, originally played by Jerry G. Bishop.  I knew the original Svengoolie was a hilarious mash-up of an undead hippie who spun horror classics with his own twisted panache.  Under Koz's care, Svengoolie wields a good-natured bit of tempered slapstick behind his presentations of both classics and duds from horror yesteryear.  Certainly there's a touch of Mystery Science Theater 3000 as Koz gently razzes the Grade Z schlock while keeping an air of respect for the fan favorites and inarguable best of the best. 

What's great about Svengoolie is that Koz takes the time to drop bits of historical information about the films he presents, i.e. the actors, directors and events around the movie while telling corny jokes on commercial breaks.  The viewer sits on edge somewhat, waiting for the potential barrage of rubber chickens to come flying from off-screen if Koz makes an especially bad crack.  You can count on the rubber chicken shower during the signoff of Svengoolie as you can on his mutated chicken pal Berwyn to set him up for those bad cracks.  I love the soundbyte interjections that are often corralled from Animaniacs that accent his goofy shtick.  Likewise, you can count on Koz to meld his painted façade hilariously into still photos and to create mock advertising for outlandish non-products in the vein of Wacky Packages based on his soup du jour of the week.  Svengoolie is probably the only show these days where commercial interruption is welcome outside of providing an opportunity for a pee break.

Thank you, Mr. Koz, aka Svengoolie.  This stuff's exactly what this old dog's needed to keep a happy heart while maintaining a budget.

                                  Listenin' to:  Montrose - s/t

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