The Hilarious House of Frightenstein

The Hilarious House of Frightenstein

infobox television
show_name = The Hilarious House of Frightenstein

caption = Title card for the show
format = Sketch comedy
camera = Single camera
runtime = ~48 minutes
creator = Billy Van
executive_producer =
starring = Billy Van
Fishka Rais
Guy Big
Mitch Markowitz
Vincent Price
Julius Sumner Miller
country = Canada
network = CHCH
first_aired = 1971
last_aired =
num_episodes = 130
website =
imdb_id =0066670|

"The Hilarious House of Frightenstein" was a Canadian children's television series which was produced by Hamilton, Ontario's independent station CHCH in 1971.cite web| title = CH TV Hamilton History| url=| accessdate = 2007-01-29] It was syndicated to television stations across Canada and the United States and occasionally still appears today in some TV markets. In Canada, the series is currently airing on Space, TV Land Canada, Drive-In Classics and MTV2. In the United States, TBA.

A quirky sketch comedy series, the show's cast included Billy Van, Fishka Rais, Guy Big, Mitch Markowitz, Vincent Price and Julius Sumner Miller. Van, in fact, played the vast majority of the characters.

All 130 episodes of the series were made in one single nine-month span of time starting in 1971, and the scenes with Price and Miller were all filmed within one summer.


The production started with Markowitz envisioning the initial 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.

Previously CHCH had broadcast two other Markowitz shows: "The Randy Dandy Show" for children, starring Rafael Markowitz as Randy Dandy, who sold soda pop and potato chips on the side; and "The Ed Allen Show", an exercise program. CHCH OK'ed the production of "Frightenstein" to take advantage of their station's new ability to reach into the Toronto market for advertising dollars.

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.

Theme song

Both the opening and closing credits were accompanied by a musical composition played entirely on a Moog synthesizer and written by Harry Breuer, Gary Carol 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".


The chief character, Count Frightenstein (Van), was the thirteenth son of Count Dracula and was exiled to Castle Frightenstein in Frankenstone, Canada for failing to revive Brucie J. Monster, a Frankenstein-like monster. Assisted by Igor (Rais), an overweight incompetent, and a three-foot-tall mini-Count (Big), each episode followed the Count’s efforts to revive Brucie and featured comedy skits. Each episode opened and closed with an appearance by the venerable horror star Vincent Price as he recited intentionally silly poetry with toy skulls and shrunken heads in the background. Price also did introductions for segments within the show.

Fishka Rais, who played the character Igor was an accomplished jazz singer from South Africa.

Other characters on the show included:

* The Wolfman - A werewolf DJ 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 or Sly and the Family Stone (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. Due to licensing issues, the musical numbers are no longer shown on reruns.

The psychedelic background was 'discovered' by the CHCH crew who revealed it to Markowitz, who put it in the show. The effect was video feedback produced by pointing the studio video camera at a studio video monitor. Markowitz added the blue screen and another feedback camera to create the layered effect.

* The Grammar Slammer - The Grammar Slammer was the disembodied voice (of Joe Torbay) 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 - U.S. physicist Professor Julius Sumner Miller, a veteran of the "Mickey Mouse Club" (where he was known as Professor Wonderful), provided science lessons on such things as thermal expansion and the cartesian diver.

When Julius Sumner Miller first arrived from California at Pearson International Airport to begin the drive to CHCH in Hamilton, he refused to ride with Markowitz in the Cadillac limo in favour of riding with his science equipment in a station wagon driven by Markowitz's assistant John Greco. The two cars left the airport together but the station wagon was soon separated from the limo and Sumner Miller was now headed for London, Ontario rather than Hamilton. It was early summer and Sumner Miller had a short-sleeve shirt on coming from California. Eventually his driver realized his error and headed south toward Hamilton by farm roads making Sumner Miller nervous. Sumner Miller was more upset when he was driven into a freak snow storm. Eventually they arrived safely at the CHCH television station in Hamilton.

* Bwana Clyde Batty - A British explorer who teaches about wild animals on "Zany Zoo". His catchphrase is "ooga booga!"

* Grizelda, the Ghastly Gourmet - A witch who provides a parody of television cooking shows, 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 iron cauldron was a real one borrowed from a tiny farm museum north of Toronto. It was set up with dry ice for the 'boiling' effect. Grizelda was very vain, often comparing her "beauty" to that of famous women of the era, including Goldie Hawn and Margaret Trudeau.

Griselda's make-up took hours to put on and Van would work long hours to make the most of the make-up every shooting day. As the day wore on into night Van became increasingly punchy providing hours of out-take laughs for the crew at the CHCH studio.

* 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. He would occasionally hit on a stuffed golden eagle perched near his chair.

* The Maharishi - A Hindu guru who shares bits of mystically inscrutable wisdom. A large bag of flowers (dyed Carnations) would then fall atop his head afterward.

* The Oracle - A mystic who reads out horoscopes, invariably knocking over and breaking his crystal ball in the process. He then answers questions supposedly sent in from viewers.

* 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.

* The Midget Count - Played by Guy Big, this is a three-foot tall clone of The Count.

Guy was originally slated to play the main role as the Count but his speaking voice would not hold out for more than a few hours. Billy Van was playing his part in "Party Game", another of Markowitz's shows, and he was called in to audition for the role of the Count and was hired for the lead role where his various talents were more fully revealed.

Puppets (played by Joe Torbay) included:

* Harvey Wallbanger - The postmaster of Castle Frightenstein's "dead letter office", this puppet appears 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.

Other minor or interstitial characters:

* Super Hippy - Played by Mitchell Markowitz (Rafeal Markowitz's younger brother), this hippie in a superhero costume 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 Grammar Slammer Bammer - A large purple puppet who would correct character's poor grammar.

* The Singing Soldier - A palace guard (played by Van) who gets a cream pie thrown in his face whenever he sings.

* The Mosquito - Played by Mitchell Markowitz, the producer's younger brother, the mosquito always tells a bad joke about insects before biting a human foot.

*The Gorilla - A person dressed in a gorilla costume would walk out of a jungle set and invariably try to scare whomever he was looking at. In every segment however he would be thwarted by a golf ball that would hit him square in the head, causing him to keel over. He often tried to avoid the golf balls, in one instance by holding up a parasol.

The Gorilla was played by Paul Shultz who also worked in the prop department.

DVD releases

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 17th, 2006, Alliance Atlantis Home Video in Canada released a 3-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 (and it is doubtful that it ever will be cleared, since Michael Jackson owns the rights), so the opening was altered with new music by The Tijuana Bibles from Toronto, and Billy Van's voice was re-dubbed by another Toronto voice actor (Van died in 2003). As per recent airings in Canada on the cable networks Drive-In Classics and Space, the main Frightenstein theme is also a re-recording, due to licencing restrictions by Morning Music, Ltd.

Critical Mass Releasing Inc. of Toronto has released the series in 2006 for broadcast on CHUM Television stations. []

A second set of 9 episodes will be released by Critical Mass in late 2008.

Memorable quotes

* 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 today. 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!

* 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.


External links

* [ Site]
* []

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