The Hilarious House of Frightenstein
|The Hilarious House of Frightenstein|
Title card for the show
|Created by||Ted Barris, Ross Perigoe|
Julius Sumner Miller
|Theme music composer||Harry Breuer, Gary Carol and Pat Prilly|
|Opening theme||"March of the Martians"|
|Country of origin||Canada|
|No. of seasons||1|
|No. of episodes||130|
|Producer(s)||Rafael "Riff" Markowitz|
|Camera setup||Single camera|
|Running time||~48 minutes|
The Hilarious House of Frightenstein is a Canadian children's television series, which was produced by Hamilton, Ontario's independent station CHCH-TV in 1971. It was syndicated both in Canada and internationally, and occasionally still appears in some television markets. In Canada, the series has not aired for several years.
A quirky sketch comedy series that included some educational content amid its zany humour, the show's cast included Billy Van, Fishka Rais, Guy Big, Mitch Markowitz, Vincent Price, and Julius Sumner Miller. Van played most of the characters on the show.
All 130 episodes were made in a nine-month span starting in 1971; the scenes with Price and Miller were all filmed within one summer.
The production started with Riff Markowitz envisioning the concept and then inviting a room full of creative friends to a spaghetti and champagne 'brainstorming' dinner party in his double suite at the Windsor Arms Hotel in Toronto. Markowitz directed the brainstorming session while his assistant Roger John Greco made notes of everything said.
CHCH had broadcast two other Markowitz shows: The Randy Dandy Show for children, starring Rafael Markowitz as Randy Dandy; and The Ed Allen Show, an exercise program. CHCH approved the production of Frightenstein to take advantage of the station's new ability to reach into the Toronto market for advertising money.
Randy Dandy's soda pop venture was later taken up by the Count when he promoted Dracola from the castle to raise money for his Brucie project.
Sid Biby led the station at this time. The Hilarious House of Frightenstein was one of the most ambitious shows attempted by Canadian producers during this era.
Markowitz later began production of an animated cartoon version of the show with animator Al Guest that never got to air.
Horror icon Vincent Price starred in introductions for the show's various segments. Price, who was attracted to the project because he wanted to do something for kids, filmed all of his nearly 400 segments in four days for a fee of $13,000.
On Canadian television stations, the show generally aired as a children's show in an after-school or weekend morning time slot. In the United States, however, many stations aired it in a late night slot aimed primarily at college students. In an interview with film critic Richard Crouse on CFRB in the 2010s, Markowitz's brother Mitch Markowitz — also an associate producer and bit-part performer on the show — acknowledged that while he and his brother always recognized the show had kid appeal because of the zany monster characters and lowbrow humour, it was always intended to also appeal to a young adult audience of alternative comedy fans. In some American markets, the show drew higher ratings than The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson among that demographic.
The opening and closing credits were accompanied by a musical composition played entirely on a Moog synthesizer and written by Harry Breuer, Gary Carol, Jean Jacques Perrey and Pat Prilly. Its title is "March of the Martians". The original recording can be found on an out-of-print Pickwick vinyl album called The Happy Moog.
Although each episode was nominally structured around the basic narrative premise of Count Frightenstein's efforts to revive Brucie J. Monster, a Frankenstein-like monster, only some sketches (including the first sketch of each episode) directly addressed the premise itself, while most sketches depicted unrelated goings-on around the castle. Only the two main characters appeared in the "plot" sketches, although they could also appear in other sketches as well, while the supplementary characters generally only appeared in their own standalone sketches and were not part of the core "plot" sketches.
- Count Frightenstein (Van), the main character, was the thirteenth son of Count Dracula. Exiled to Castle Frightenstein in Frankenstone for his failure to revive Brucie, the core premise of the show was that he would be allowed to return to Transylvania if and when he succeeded in the quest. Count Frightenstein was also a "black sheep" vampire in other ways, including his strong preference for eating pizza rather than human blood. He also fancies himself an inventor, although his inventions generally have one of three faults: they're dangerous, useless, or already a common household object upon which his version is not an improvement.
- Igor (Rais) was Frightenstein's incompetent assistant.
Supporting characters were played by Billy Van, except where specified.
- The Wolfman - A werewolf disk jockey at radio station EECH who spun rock and roll records while doing a Wolfman Jack impression. The Wolfman's theme song was Sly and the Family Stone's "I Want to Take You Higher". The segment featured then-current hit singles by The Rolling Stones, Sly and the Family Stone, Three Dog Night or other Top 40 radio stars of the time (which were referred to as ‘golden oldies’ in order to avoid dating the program), with the Wolfman and Igor dancing in silhouette against a psychedelic background. For licensing reasons, the musical numbers are no longer shown on some reruns, although broadcasts on YTV in the early 2000s included the segments.
- The Grammar Slammer - The Grammar Slammer was a disembodied voice who challenged Igor to correct grammatical errors, accompanied by an eight-foot purple monster named Bammer who threatened to beat up Igor if he failed.
- The Professor (Julius Sumner Miller) - A professor who provided science lessons on such things as thermal expansion and the cartesian diver.
- Bwana Clyde Batty - A British explorer who teaches about wild animals on Zany Zoo. His name is a spoof of animal trainer Clyde Beatty. His catchphrase is "ooga booga!"
- Dr. Pet Vet - A veterinarian who teaches about domestic animals (whereas the Zany Zoo was about wild fauna). He always offers the day's animal to Igor as a pet, but the Sloth in the basement invariably refuses to allow Igor to keep the animal.
- Grizelda, the Ghastly Gourmet - A witch voiced as a parody of Julia Child, who provides a version of a television cooking show as she cooks suitably ghastly recipes in her cauldron. In every one of her segments, she bangs her head on the pot above her cauldron, and invariably declares the recipe a failure after it causes a small explosion.
- The Librarian - An elderly curmudgeon who unsuccessfully tries to scare the viewers by reading children's stories, such as "Humpty Dumpty" and "Henny Penny", which he thinks are horror stories. He also sometimes reads fables with unpleasant endings. He eventually admits to not being any more frightened than the viewers, but considers reading important nonetheless.
- The Maharishi - A Hindu guru who shares bits of mystically inscrutable wisdom (e.g. "It is written, that he who kicks the blind beggar, in the marketplace, during an eclipse, can only curse the camel, for its lack of discipline.") A large bag of flowers (dyed carnations) would then fall atop his head afterward.
- The Oracle - A mystic who reads out horoscopes in a Peter Lorre voice, invariably knocking over and breaking his crystal ball in the process. He also would often get his hand temporarily stuck inside his replacement crystal ball. He then answers questions supposedly sent in from viewers.
- The Mini-Count (Big) is a three-foot tall clone of the Count, who appears in brief sketches where he tells a joke. Big was originally slated to play the main role as the Count, as the original character concept was based in part on the sight gag of a diminutive Count contrasted against Igor's imposing height and weight. However, Big was not experienced enough as an actor to properly maintain Count Frightenstein's desired accent, so the role was recast to star Van while a new smaller role was written for Big.
Puppet characters were performed by puppeteer Joe Torbay.
- Harvey Wallbanger - The postmaster of Castle Frightenstein's "dead letter office", he would appear in sketches with The Count or Grizelda in which they answer letters.
- Gronk - A purple sea serpent who interacts with the Count or the Wolfman. Gronk would announce his presence with a loud call of "Gronk!" Gronk's segments usually had the Count reading a book; the Count would then start explaining what the book was about, with Gronk interrupting him, usually mid-sentence, with a completely incorrect conclusion to what the Count had been reading. This would happen several times, leading to greater and greater frustration on the part of the Count. Segments with the Wolfman were generally one or two line jokes.
- Bammer - A large purple monster who assisted the Grammar Slammer in correcting Igor's poor grammar.
Minor or interstitial characters
- Super Hippy (Mitch Markowitz) — A hippie in a superhero costume who appears leading in and out of commercials, sitting or flying in varying locations as he delivers some variation on "Don't change the channel; we'll be right back after these commercials."
- The Singing Soldier (Van) — A light-operetta styled palace guard who gets a cream pie thrown in his face whenever he starts to sing "Indian Love Call" from Rose-Marie.
- The Mosquito (Mitch Markowitz) - A mosquito who tells a bad joke about insects before biting a human foot.
- The Gorilla (Van or Paul Schultz) - A gorilla who would walk out of the jungle and invariably try to scare whomever he was looking at. In every segment, however, he would be thwarted by a ping-pong ball that would hit him square in the head, causing him to keel over. He often tried to avoid the ping-pong balls, in one instance by holding up a parasol.
On October 18, 2005, Empire pictures released a single DVD featuring a handful of half-hour US-syndicated episodes. The most significant change for these episodes as broadcast (apart from the length) was the addition of a laugh track.
On October 17, 2006, Alliance Atlantis Home Video in Canada released a three-disc box set of 13 full-length episodes, with restored Wolfman segments. The shows are not in chronological order, as only episodes that had thus far obtained music clearances for the Wolfman dance segments were included. The Wolfman theme, Sly & the Family Stone's "I Want to Take You Higher," had not yet been cleared, so the opening was altered with new music by the Tijuana Bibles from Toronto, and Van's voice was redubbed by another Toronto voice actor, as Van himself had died in 2003. For recent airings in Canada on the cable networks Drive-In Classics and Space, the main Frightenstein theme is also a re-recording, because of licensing restrictions by Morning Music, Ltd.
A second set of nine episodes was released by Critical Mass in late 2008.
- Opening Poem - Vincent Price - "Another lovely day begins, for ghosts and ghouls with greenish skin. So close your eyes and you will find that you've arrived in Frightenstein. Perhaps the Count will find a way to make his monster work to-day. For if he solves this monster-mania, he can return to Transylvania! So welcome where the sun won't shine, to the castle of Count Frightenstein!" (This dissolved into maniacal laughter.)
- National Anthem - Igor/Fishka Rais - "Gory, gory Transylvania! Where werewolves and bats will always maim ya. The murky moors will likely claim ya, As we go stumbling through." Sung to the tune of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic". Sung once before the Count recites The Pledge, hummed during the count's pledge, and repeated afterwards with a big finish, usually topped off by The Count singing the last word.
- Pledge - Count/Billy Van - "I pledge by the sign of the three-toed sloth, to do my best, to do my duty. To always obey the laws of the werewolf pack. And to never rest, until Brucie lives once more, and takes his rightful place in the annals of distinguished monsters, and I can once again return to that most goriest of homelands..." Many times The Count is showing off his heart shaped three-toed sloth pendant (on an elastic black string around his neck) to the camera. After the first line, he lets go of it, it flies back against his throat, and The Count does a choked/injured double take before going on with the rest of the pledge.
- Closing Poem - Vincent Price - "The castle lights are growing dim. There's no one left but me--and him. When next we meet in Frankenstone...don't come alone."
The Hilarious House of Frightenstein was referenced in the first episode of the Ed the Sock program This Movie Sucks!, which is another program produced and broadcast by CHCH. In the episode the hosts refer to them being in a studio that has produced many classic television shows, and Ed comments that they have the coffee maker from The Hilarious House of Frightenstein, along with the original coffee.
Comedian Mike Myers acknowledged the show as an important formative influence on his comedy in his 2016 book Mike Myers' Canada.
- "Fit and 40: CHCH Channel 11 was built on one man's dream, big-name movies and Tiny Talents". Toronto Star, August 14, 1994.
- Vincent Terrace, Encyclopedia of Television Series, Pilots and Specials, Volume 2. VNR AG, 1985. ISBN 9780918432612. p. 193.
- "More horrors from Price". The Globe and Mail, June 26, 1971.
- Perkins, Will (October 24, 2013). "How Horror Legend Vincent Price Helped a Tiny Canadian TV Show Become a Cult Hit". Yahoo! Canada News. Retrieved Oct 24, 2013.
- "Mitch Markowitz on the Hilarious House of Frightenstein". RichardCrouse.ca, October 26, 2013.
- "Billy Van was able to see funny side of Canadian TV ; Versatile comic dies at 68 after battle with cancer". Toronto Star, January 9, 2003.