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 11, 2014

All Hallows' Month: I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957)

Cheesy by today's standards, I Was a Teenage Werewolf is one of those fifties B-movies I've always loved.  Starring future acting icon Michael Landon in his adolescent years, I Was a Teenage Werewolf might as well be considered one of the first rock 'n roll horror films. 

Arriving at the height of rock 'n roll's eruption into pop culture, the youth of that era was stereotyped by leather jackets, slicked-down ducks' ass hairdos, denim, chiffons and missile-tit bras, all of which you can find in this flick.  Teen angst, unchained by the rebellious insurrection from Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry was not only reflected by the music of its time, but in film.  Blackboard Jungle, The Wild One and Rebel Without a Cause are not only hallmarks of fifties cinema, but also earmarks of the pulse emanating from American youth of the decade.

I Was a Teenage Werewolf doesn't exactly stand up to the aforementioned masterpieces.  However, Michael Landon captured the chip on the shoulder dynamic of his peers in this film nearly as well as Brando and Dean, which is why I Was a Teenage Werewolf works as well as it does.  The title is pure schlock and the premise is on the hokey side, yet Gene Fowler, Jr. knew what resonated with the drive-in crowd that was, more often than not, getting it on in the back seat or socializing at the concession stand instead of watching the films.

Instead of taking a bite from a lycanthrope in this film, the perpetually pissed and violent Tony Rivers becomes the subject study for an unscrupulous doctor (Whit Bissell) who hypnotizes him to research regressive degeneration.  Of course, this digresses to the nth as Dr. Brandon triggers a werewolf state from Tony.

Thus sets Michael Landon on the prowl to become even more of a public nuisance than in his normal human state.  In many ways, the hairball makeup cast around Tony Rivers' jeans and baseball jacket and button down shirt is just plain goofy, which has drawn plenty of derision from jaded viewers.  Nonetheless, there's something raw behind Tony Rivers' transformation and rampage that resonates, considering Landon portrays his character's insurgency and backlash against his peers still with enough sympathy to care about his ultimate fate. 

Featuring a cameo from Guy Williams (Zorro), I Was a Teenage Werewolf is a fast-moving and short-running fix of nonsensical terror that you may have to be a connoisseur of black and white films or Little House On the Prairie fan to fully appreciate.  If that doesn't appeal to you, Landon's furious portrayal at least speaks to generations beyond those who flicked blades and survived deadly chickeeruns.

                       Listenin' to:  Earth - Primitive and Deadly

Friday, October 10, 2014

All Hallows' Month: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Serving up the first of the mandatory fright flicks for October, Bride of Frankenstein.  I've already written a few analytical bits about this genre classic, so I'll skip the plot overview and historical aspects behind Universal's spectacular sequel to their 1931 adaptation of Mary Shelley's immortal Frankenstein.  A loose, occasionally nutty continuation spawned from the second half of Shelley's novel, Bride of Frankenstein is a perfect mate in film, if not as a figurative companion to the lead monster.

My son and I kicked back with Bride of Frankenstein after dinner and it reminded me of myself at his age, when I was weaned on the Universal monster mashes via the weekly after-hours horror shows on Saturday nights.  I've written before how we had "Ghost Host" on UHF Channel 45 and "Creature Feature" on Channel 20 back in the day and there was a heavy lean on the Universals back then, as I'm sure it was all across America during the late seventies and early eighties before the horror host moguls were put to rest.

Of course, I didn't keep my son up until 11:30 p.m., not with the age of home video, cable and on-demand hubs.  Still, I smiled as I heard questions out of that child's mouth that mimicked mine when I was ages eight and nine, some almost verbatim.

"Why is Frankenstein so angry?"  "Why does he want a wife?"  "Why isn't the blind man afraid of him?"  "Who is that creepy guy with the funny little human figures in the glass?"  "What makes Frankenstein go crazy?"  And of course, the most intuitive query I was proud of him for asking, "Why doesn't the Bride of Frankenstein like him?  She's supposed to be his woman."

Most of the time, my son sat quietly, intrigued by the film, until Frankenstein escapes his irons after capture and tears the doors off of his prison cell.  Boris Karloff's rampage from the jail through the town had my son's mouth creaking open with delight and marvel--as well it should, to someone his age.  Then he uttered the most profound, mature caveat, as if warning an entire room full of people:  "I don't suggest you mess with Frankenstein.  He's very strong!"

Of course, Bride of Frankenstein compelled me to reinforce that smoking is not "good," when O.P. Heggie lights up a cigar and tells Karloff to enjoy.  Whereas I've laughed at the naiveté of that scene in the past, now as a parent, I was compelled to rebuke Heggie's glowing endorsement to my son.  The times being what they were all the way through the 1980s when smoking became less cosmopolitan and more dangerous to your health, I get where Heggie and Universal were coming from.  However, when you're already pointing out to your little one that smoking is an unwise and unhealthy life choice, a conscious parent like myself can't help but feeling like smacking my forehead and yelling "Doh!" in the key of Homer Simpson at that scene.

Luckily, by the end of the film, that sequence was forgotten by the little man.  He was more interested in finding out what happened to Dr. Pretorius after the Frankenstein monster releases his maker and his wife, then brings the castle down upon himself, Pretorius and the short-lived Bride who rejected him upon sight.  A natural thing to be inquisitive about, once my son put the pieces together (pun intended here, of course), he nodded emphatically when I said "Kinda stinks Frankenstein was brought into this world with nobody to love, doesn't it?"  This, considering the painstaking measures the film does to build sympathy for the monster, director James Whale manages to undermine the terrifying undertones of grave robbery, murder, heart plucking and a sick fascination with the dead, the latter relative to Doctor Pretorius.  All of those nuances went above my son's head, since he was busy trying to make sense of Frankenstein's dual nature teetered between violence and sensitivity.

The funny parting shot from my son, though, knowing there are more Frankenstein flicks down the pike following this one, said "It's all good.  Frankenstein's gonna go hide and take a nap for a while.  He'll be back." 

Parenting through the monster classics.  You take every opportunity to teach a child where you can.  Unfortunately, I couldn't teach him about the perils of vanity after I sent him off to bed and wrapped my evening with the more adult-oriented Countess Dracula.  That's two nights spent with Ingrid Pitt; I suppose I should move on.  At least Elsa Lanchester's iconic shriek at the end of Bride of Frankenstein left an appropriate mark upon my son, much as it did upon me as a kid.  He went to bed trying to replicate that blood-curdling scream, while I silently patted myself on the back. 

                            Listenin' to:  Zombi - Surface to Air

Thursday, October 9, 2014

All Hallows' Month: The Vampire Lovers (1970)

Without Hammer Studios' button-pushing (or button-popping, if you will) The Vampire Lovers, there'd be no True Blood.  The original vampire lore as envisioned by Bram Stoker has always carried the air of erotica to it, as in the seduction, arousal and ultimate subjugation by a powerful male from an otherworld.  Of course, it's only natural over the course of horror history the tables should be turned with a female lead vampire doing the conquering.

Never mind Dracula's trio of vampire wives who have been depicted in various horror flicks over time.  It was Ingrid Pitt in The Vampire Lovers who broke the mold on what we should typically expect from a nosferatu.  Based on J. Sheridan Le Fanu's novella, Carmilla, The Vampire Lovers breached turf that had been flirted with prior to, but not yet shoved full-frontal. 

It's easy enough to flip roles by featuring a vampire temptress of men and that plot has been churned infinitum since The Vampire Lovers.  In this case, Hammer Studios boldly pushed its thumb down upon the genre with this first entry into what's become known as "The Karnstein Trilogy."  Followed by Lust for a Vampire (1971) and Twins of Evil (1972), The Vampire Lovers shined a mirror upon vampire lesbianism.

Vilified by some, celebrated by others, I would offer that The Vampire Lovers is s stylish slow-cooker that satiates horror purists, Goths and of course, perverts.  Without a doubt, the freeing of the ta-tas all over this film gives it its primary (and primal) allure.  Nudity in horror was just starting to come into itself around this time, but what's impressive about the film is how Ingrid Pitt uses her feminine wiles and purported naiveté to succumb her female victims--those she doesn't just grab and kill outright.  Normally this would be used as artillery against weak-willed males.  Pitt's seduction of Emma Morton is handled rather sensitively, even as Emma's goodies are paraded about, to be claimed by Pitt's evil blood sipper, Carmilla.  It's the doe-eyed, nubile Emma (played by Madeline Smith), barely aware she's being raped in a different manner, that sets the terror zone of The Vampire Lovers.

Ingrid Pitt, in my opinion, is the finest (using both connotations of the word) onscreen lady vampire who ever lived.  Surrounded by a hearty cast including the illustrious Peter Cushing and George Cole (who played a young Scrooge in the Alastair Sim Christmas Carol), The Vampire Lovers is titillating (a-duh), but the expectedly gory dispatching of Carmilla at the end puts this one relatively high in the fang bang genre.  Classy or sleazy, you be the judge.  Superficial assets sadly being one of its draws for me personally, I'm fond of this one for its other attributes aside from the obvious.

                          Listenin' to:  Prince - Art Official Age

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Coming Up This Week... All Hollows' Month

It's October, peeps, and in my household, that means horror flicks out the keister!

Halloween's quickly on its way and if you have kids, you're no doubt trolling the costume shops and searching for the cheapest goodies to pass out, assuming you're not searching for somewhere cooler to be than answering the door for trick or treaters.

For me, Halloween is all month long.  Albeit, knocking out a horror film in any month is time well-invested--even if it's a turd.

Thus it's time to serve up the turds, the classics, the freakazoids, the mandatory annuals and in-between brouhaha--maybe even a rubber chicken or two.  For the rest of October, I'll be posting my horror viewing selections with a few anecdotes about each.

This month-long screamfest is a tradition at Casa del Van Horn, thus I'm all warmed up from a preliminary round featuring The Purge, Blood Night, Werewolf of London and Would You Rather, plus a smorgasbord of Vampirella comics.  Time to get into the nitty gritty, friends, so come on back, as it's All Hallows' Month here at The Crash Pad!

           Listenin' to:  Byzantine - The Fundamental Component

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Top 10 Cool Comics o' the Week

Since I have a sizable number of readers who drop by this site to read my bits about comic books, I kinda owe you folks a little something in that department since I've missed the past couple "Cool Comic 'o the Week" selections.  Chalk it up to an insane schedule, but to make amends, how's about I dish you folks a super-sized installment this week? 

Lots of developments and new things arriving in comics shops lately and while Batman Eternal, Batgirl, Moon Knight, Justice League, Nailbiter, Vampirella, The Twilight Zone, Red Sonja, The Mercenary Sea, Silver Surfer, Ghost and Witchblade are some of my heavy hitters each month, here are ten selections that also make my radar on a continuous basis or I've just picked up with them.

Aaaaaaas follows:

1.  Futures End one-shots - I'll admit, I dropped off from DC's Futures End weekly series, not because it's not a quality book.  However, last month's Futures End one-shots that hit the majority of the New 52 titles with standard and 3-D, flip-image embossed covers were, in my opinion, the toast of September.  The premise of these individual stories was to set each DC character five years ahead where the Futures End storyline progresses.  Being on a budget, I certainly couldn't hit every one of them, but I did get to Batgirl, Batman, Detective Comics, Swamp Thing, Harley Quinn, Wonder Woman, Superman/Wonderman, Aquaman, Catwoman, Justice League and Batman and Robin.  Not a weak one in the batch and Gail Simone has a hell of a finale with the Batgirl issue as she exits as writer of the series.  Barbara losing her husband on her wedding to her psychopath brother, James, and training with none other than Bane to rekindle her will to live, all while engineering a new street team of Batgirls...it was savage, emotive and the most poignant of all the Futures End books I got to, and the rest...not too shabby in the least.

2.  Harley Quinn - I've already written plenty about this series and how I've hoped for it to go as over-the-top as Issue # 0 and the San Diego Comic-Con one-shot that were absolute side-splitters.  Conner and Palmiotti continue to push the envelope as much as they can get away with, and Harley has really evolved as a diamond in the rough of the New 52.  No longer Mr. J's bonzo babe sidekick in a clown outfit, I've gotten on-board with the Riot Grrrrl makeover of Harley since the series has been splat-stick fun.  Her recent hijinks in building a catapult to eject her tenants' dog shit to the city dump had me crying.  I shouldn't admit this, but the standard issue cover for # 9 (even better than the Selfie variant cover released that month) is plastered on my computer and cell phone wallpaper.  Hot, hot, hot.  Hilarious, too. 

3.  Sally of the Wasteland - UK publisher Titan won me over in a huge way with the Death Sentence miniseries.  Now they've got me again with Sally of the Wasteland.  Only three issues deep and this is one of the nuttiest badass chicks to rip into the comic world.  Horny and hedonistic Sally can tear the crap out of monsters and pirates and her alliance with the hilarious feminist posse, the Alabamazons steps up the gorefest while Sally continuously tries to glaze her fop of a love interest, Tommy, who can't seem to get with the program.  Harley and Sally...I smell crossover.

4.  The Blood Queen - Inspired by the bloody lore of Countess Bathory, this dark fantasy series from Dynamite is one of the best-written, best illustrated books on the market.  There's something awry about our lead, Elizabeth, who is summoned to cure the sovereignty's sick baby due to her reputation with the healing arts.  Her success brings her close to the court as a mainstay while she doinks the two valiant heroes of the story.  Both yield slightly sketchy overtures themselves as the kingdom teeters on the edge of war.  Elizabeth has ties of other sorts beyond her healing capacities and it should be a beautiful yet haunted trip as The Blood Queen's sordid plot unravels.

5.  Aliens:  Fire and Stone miniseries - Dark Horse reboots its popular and prolific run with the Aliens franchise, this time as part of a massive tie-in event with other miniseries, Predator, Prometheus and Alien vs. Predator.  While this one has much of the same feel as the other miniseries Dark Horse engineered through the nineties, our main cast of scientists and engineers have rocketed from one planet infested by the Alien hive to another one.  Guess what came along for the ride?  A rumble in the jungle awaits us, along with the extensive threads to the other miniseries.  Stock your dollars, folks.

6.  Thor - The rumors are true.  Our beloved Thor of Asgard, has been replaced by a girl.  Marvel appears to going out of their minds right now with all of their changes and expansions.  Steve Rogers will be Captain America no more, as his longtime buddy The Falcon takes over the cowl and shield.  Now this.  Frankly, I was more annoyed that Jason Aaron's brilliant Thor:  God of Thunder series was being wiped out in favor of this new overhaul.  When it was announced Aaron would be continuing on with the new Thor, I decided to cave in and give it a shot.  Glad I did.  It's no secret I favor a lot of female-lead comic series, so I'm not opposed to this drastic change.  Thor's been replaced in the past (as has Cap, for that matter), but Aaron's opening story where a humiliated and purportedly unworthy Thor has lost his enchanted hammer, Mjolnir.  Left planted on the moon, not even Odin himself can pull it free.  As Frost Giants and evil elf supreme Malekith invade the Earth underwater, a powerless Thor still takes it upon himself to fight for Midgard, to no avail.  A brutal finale to this opening story sets up for the new era as our undisclosed female warrior arrives on the moon and successfully enjoins herself to Mjolnir.  Here we go.

7.  Aquaman - Speaking of underwater, I've always loved Aquaman and don't know why it took me so long to get back on board with the New 52 version.  The art and the stories here have been knockout stuff and Aquaman's Futures End story was another emotional ride as his divorce from Mera has put him even further on the outs as a lord of the sea.  The riotous variant cover of Issue # 34 was my favorite of DC's Selfie covers month, the second one being a smooched-up Supes on Superman/Wonder Woman the same month.

8.  George R.R. Martin's In the House of the Worm - Avatar's adaption of George R.R. Martin's In the House of the Worm has to feel like a payday in the making for the indie press.  Proving Game of Thrones is not just a comic-to-cable wunderkind, this is a lavish and sexy adaptation of yet another tale of ruthlessness set within an even more fantastical environment.  Gruesome and tantalizing.

 9.  Spiderman 2099 - Of all of the smaller franchise characters Marvel's rebooted lately aside from She-Hulk, Iron Fist, Moon Knight and Elektra, their resurrection of Spiderman 2099 was right up my alley.  I loved the first run, though Marvel didn't quite replicate the tech-savvy action and plot-lined brilliance of Spiderman 2099 with the expanded Ravage 2099, X-Men 2009 and Doom 2009 series, though X-Men 2099 was on the cusp of something good.  Miguel O'Hara wasn't Peter Parker, nor did he have to be.  It's no wonder Spiderman 2099 went the distance of those 2099 books in the nineties.  I'm glad Marvel had faith in the character to bring him back again and though his displacement from the future into the now is reminiscent of DC's Futures End amongst other things, the mojo is hardly lost. 

10.  Dawn/Vampirella miniseries - I've taken to Vampi in a big way this past year, even more so now that Nancy A. Collins is helming the main series.  Vampirella's been paired off with countless partners and adversaries, to which Dynamite has a field day cranking out as miniseries.  Kidnapped by a demon called Masodik (let your imagination run wild saying that name over and over really fast) as a would-be sidearm for his bloody purposes, he pits Dawn and Vampirella, two of the hottest and fiercest lady ass-kickers in comic history, into a purported cat fight.  Still early in the story, Masodik (laugh, laugh, chuckle, chuckle) is hearing out each character in a battle of storytelling.  You figure Dawn creator Joseph Michael Linser has something more over-the-top awaiting us on the horizon.  Ridiculously hot for the cover of # 1 alone, here's hoping the rest of Dawn/Vampirella shreds as much as its preamble does.

               Listenin' to:  Daft Punk - Tron:  Legacy soundtrack