The Hilarious House of Frightenstein
by Barry Meyer
Some ’70s monster mania from our friends up North
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A staple of the Baby Boomer pop culture diet was no doubt the groovy monsters craze. From Scooby Doo to your local Horror Show Host, the 60s and 70s were full of fun and playful monsters for all good boys and ghouls to gobble up. One of the more memorable, but little known, shows to come out of this craze was the trippy children’s sketch program The Hilarious House of Frightenstein. Unless you lived within airwave range of Toronto, or had cable that carried Canadian TV, then you probably missed this one. Don’t go tossing your bat wings out of whack, though, the good people at Empire Video have released a stellar DVD holding some of the best episodes for all good ghosties to see.
The show featured the talents of a Canadian performer Billy Van. He may not have been a familiar face to the American audiences, but Van had been a much loved personality on the CBC network for many years. His family roots in Vaudeville lent very well to his stint in Castle Frightenstein, taking on the task of playing nearly every major character on the show, such as the vampiric host Count Frightenstein, the Cockney British explorer Bwana Clyde, Grizelda the ghastly gourmet, and a Wolfman Jack-esque DJ called, uh… Wolfman. Sharing the screen with Van was the bald headed and rotund Fishka Rais, who played the Count’s beleaguered sidekick, Igor.
The show’s unorthodox production style helped land another notable regular at Castle Frightenstein—horror icon Vincent Price. Although the show ran for nearly twenty-five consecutive years, the entire production was shot out of sequence over the span of about a year. Billy Van would don the get-up of one character and then shoot all skits as that character at once, then repeat the process as another character for the next shooting day. Similarly, Vincent Price came to set and shot his entire work on the program (including the program’s creepy opening) during a few intense days of taping. Also taped at once were various musical acts, and educational segments with Professor Julius Sumner Miller. Then the weekly shows were cut and pasted together, giving the offbeat program its trademark zany pace.
The Hilarious House of Frightenstein is a classic example of children’s television from the Baby Boomer era, cheap sets, cheesy acting, corny humor, and loads of fun!
Barry Meyer is a writer living in Jersey, but that’s his fault.
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