The Hilarious House of Frightenstein
My first feature for my “TV” section is going to be dedicated to one of the shows I loved growing up with. Surprisingly to some, the first entry is not about He-Man and the Masters of the Universe or The Muppet Show (two that would easily be placed into my top five shows I watched growing up). It is about a cult classic TV show that was filmed in the 1970s only a few hours away from where I currently live. That show is The Hilarious House of Frightenstein.
For those unfamiliar, this was a show that aired on Saturday mornings in select markets in Ontario, Canada before going to spreading out to some other markets in the US and Canada. It featured actor Billy Van portraying the infamous Count Frightenstein (and almost every other character in the show) in a humourous program that was one part silly, one part educational, and one part blatantly insane. I loved it the very first time I can remember watching it and I love it to this day.
Before I start talking more about the show’s history, characters, and my thoughts on it all, I will state that some information I’m giving in this feature is courtesy of the awesome website, http://www.frightenstein.com. Make sure to visit it for even more information and media! I also took the screen grabs myself from an episode on YouTube. I’m embedding a different episode at the end for your viewing pleasure!
The show was created and filmed at the CHCH TV station in Hamilton, Ontario in 1971. According the Frightenstein.com, the show was filmed out of sequence over 9-12 months. Billy Van would film many scenes as one character and then they’d film a whole bunch of scenes as another character. From there, they’d go back and throw scenes together to make one show. Seeing how each episode as a whole or segment in the shows had absolutely no continuity, there was never any issue in being able to splice together different scenes to make an hour long show.
Along with Billy Van, Fishka Rais was the lovable Igor character in the show. Igor would always appear alongside the Count at the beginning of every episode when they lowered the flag to sing the Transylvania anthem, “Gory Gory Transylvania” and the duo would discuss what Igor was up to.
The two would also appear together to find a way to make Brucie, the Frankenstein monster, live again. They tried everything to get him to work but to no avail. Part of the fun of the show as watching to see all the crazy stuff they did.
If the main two characters aren’t trying to get Brucie to work, the Count is trying to invent new products (like Dracola) and run them by Igor, they’re answering phone calls, or just doing random stuff, most of which is totally over the top and funny.
Before all the different skits, horror movie legend and icon, Vincent Price would introduce the segment. These intros were also filmed in one huge taping spree. Vincent Price also was featured at the beginning and the end of the show.
As mentioned, Billy Van played most of the other characters that lived in and around Castle Frightenstein. Not all the characters would appear in every show, but if you watched two or three episodes, you were sure to see each character at least once. I’m going to quickly run through the different characters and their segments that were brought to life by Billy Van (besides the Count).
Grizelda, the Ghastly Gourmet
I have to start with Grizelda because this was the segment I was the most excited to see every time I watch the show. Grizelda was humourous and always used the craziest ingredients to create a concoction that sounded so gross, it was unfathomable.
Grizelda always banged her head on the pot hanging over the large cauldron in every episode before she placed her mixed ingredients into it. After she added all the ingredients, she’d stir and yell that it was “tasters time” and proceed to slurp up the dish she created. The recipe would be so disgusting she’d make an odd face but praise it afterwards for being horrible. I guess that was always the key!
Here’s a note for the uninformed: Grizelda’s voice changed from the earlier filmed segments to later ones. I prefer the latter as I think it just sounds better.
I could see how this creepy old man would scare kids. He promised tales of terror and horror, but for some reason, he would always read children’s stories, fairy tales, or nursery rhymes. He was trying to convince the audience and himself that they were the most terrifying stories ever. I didn’t get the joke as a kid, but watching them as an adult, it’s good for laugh. I find the Librarian skits the ones I will skip over most, though, if I’m watching the show and pressed for time.
This was another sketch that I didn’t quite understand as a child. I’d always laugh at him because he’d break his crystal ball every episode. When he’d finally get to discussing horoscopes or the traits of someone’s sign (I’m a Sagittarius, people!), I was absolutely lost. At least I liked the funky graphics that were used.
Bwana Clyde Batty
Bwana was one character’s name I could never remember (and still have trouble to this day). This character hosted the Zany Zoo segment where Bwana educated people about different animals that are in the wild.
I always dug the intro/outro music as well as the tunes used while they were showing the footage of the animals. Add in the silly dancing Bwana did and his catchphrase, “Ooga Booga” (which meant a different thing every episode), and you had a winning segment.
Dr. Pet Vet
This was another segment that featured animals. Dr. Pet Vet would visit a bored Igor in the foyer of the castle. Igor would usually be enamored with whatever animal Dr. Pet Vet would bring in to showcase. Most times the animals would be the kind that you could keep as a pet instead of the wild animals found on Zany Zoo.
Dr. Pet Vet would always give the pet to Igor to keep and he would be so happy! The only problem was he always had to ask Mr. Sloth – a character we never saw who lived in the dungeon – if he could keep it. Mr. Sloth would always growl and Igor’s demeanor would immediately change because he could never keep the pet. I have no idea why Igor had to listen to Mr. Sloth when it came to keeping pets, and not ask the Count. This segment would be the only time we’d ever hear about Mr. Sloth so I don’t know what kind of pull he had around the castle.
This guy was a legit physics instructor. Dr. Julius Miller appeared on the show to educate the viewers about the science that is all around us that affects our everyday lives. Most of the stuff that he discusses and proceeds show on his chalkboard is way too sophisticated for younger viewers. I’m sure there are adults out there who will have no idea what he is discussing. Even if you don’t (and I didn’t at the time), he’s still entertaining to watch and the experiments he did were visually appealing. I always paid attention.
This segment was the one that usually closed the show. The Wolfman was based off of the radio personality at the time, Wolfman Jack, who played rock and roll. Wolfman would answer the telephone to answer questions or take requests. From there, he’d play a tune from the 60s or 70s and dance in front of a psychedelic backdrop. Igor make an appearance most of the time and dance with him.
I always loved this part of the show because the visuals were great, The Wolfman was cool and funny, and I usually loved the songs that were used.
There are many others that lived in the castle. Some would appear for segments that lasted seconds, while some had longer screen time and interacted with the main characters. I’ll take a look at a few of my favourites here, but to get the whole list, I’ll once again direct you over to this page over at Frightenstein.com
This poor bastard…he’d always come out of the jungle to engage in some sort of activity. Sometimes he would even be dressed up in some kind of costume just so he could have fun. Unfortunately, someone would always hit him with a baseball in the head and the gorilla would get knocked out. Any time I see a primate, the music that plays in this skit pops in my head.
This guy is one of my favourite characters. Most of the time, the Count shows up and reads out loud about a particular topic from a book. From there, Gronk interjects, usually in mid-sentence, with how he thinks a sentence will end. It’s in the most random ways that has nothing to do with what the topic is about. The Count ends up repeating what Gronk interjects and begins to slowly get frustrated with the interruptions. In the end, the Count asks Gronk what he’s learned from the book and Gronk is never on point. It’s one of the funniest segments on the show.
This little guy slowly descends onto the same foot every time. He tells jokes that I never understood as a child and still scratch my head about when I hear them these days. In the end, he always declares “lunch time” as he hurls his proboscis into the foot.
This guy is the Castle’s mailman, er, mail creature. Sometimes the Count shows up to see if there is any mail for him. Harvey teases him most of the time and tells the Count there is nothing, which results in the Count almost breaking down into tears. Thankfully there’s at least one letter for the Count to read and respond to. If the Count doesn’t show up for mail, Grizelda will show up and read some fan mail or answer some “viewer” questions.
The Count always thought he was funny and cleaver by purposely saying Harvey’s last name incorrectly, to which Harvey would reply, “No. It’s WALLLLLBANGER!”
The Bammer (and the Grammar Slammer)
The Bammer is the minion of the Grammar Slammer – a booming voice who always catches Igor using grammar improperly. Igor has a chance to redeem himself my correcting the sentence he said wrong while the Bammer is beside him anxiously awaiting to beat the crap out of Igor for his grammar crimes.
While the years have passed, this show still holds a special place in my heart. I loved it as a child and can appreciate the campiness and the humour as an adult. All the master tapes have supposedly been destroyed so there’s no chance of it ever airing in syndication again, but the show stays alive online and through tape/dvd copies (both legitimate and bootlegs). There are still more characters and parts of the show that I haven’t mentioned, so I encourage you to take time to go over to Frightenstein.com for more reading. If you’ve never seen the show, do yourself a favour and give it a try.