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"The castle lights are growing dim..."

Unless you grew up in Canada in the 70s through to the 90s, chances are you've never heard of The Hilarious House Of Frightenstein. Does that mean you missed out on a great bit of TV history? Er, no, but it was fun anyway.

Frightenstein ran for one season in 1971 on an Ontario independent station, and it subsequently ran on various Canadian channels until the late 90s. It was an hour-long comedy variety show for kids that took place at Castle Frightenstein in the village of Frankenstone. There, Count Frightenstein (Billy Van), a green-skinned vampire, had been banished from Transylvania until he can bring his monster Brucie (looking just like the Boris Karloff version of Frankenstein's creation) back to life.


Confused? Good.

Billy Van, an amiable singer and comedian, played the majority of the characters in various blackout sketches. He was joined by Fishka Rais, a very large, bald actor who played the Count's assistant named, of course, Igor. There was also a little person named Alan Hoffman who went by the stage name Guy Big and played a diminutive clone of the Count. Various sub-Henson puppets rounded out the cast, while Professor Julius Sumner Miller (an actual physicist) demonstrated science experiments.

Segments included Van as The Oracle (an "Oriental Mystic" who read horoscopes and sounded more like Peter Lorre than a person from any known Asian country), Bwana Clyde Batty (a stereotypical British explorer), Grizelda The Ghastly Gourmet (a witch hosting a cooking show) and Dr. Petvet, who showed Igor various animals.

But the two best segments were The Librarian and The Wolfman. The Librarian was an impossibly old character who would try to scare the audience with one of the stories from his cobwebbed library, but which turn out to be a nursery rhyme or innocuous fairy tale. The Wolfman was a DJ modelled on Wolfman Jack who would play a then-current song (performance rights? What performance rights?) and dance around in front of a psychedelic light show.

Adding a sense of legitimacy to the proceeds (and providing a link to horror history) was none other than Vincent Price, who would ham it up on the castle set introducing each segment with a bit of doggerel. (each show would end with Price, candle in hand, intoning the truly creepy closing poem...

It was all stupid, stupid stuff full of bad puns that were old 20 years before it first aired, and cheap, repetitive jokes that elicited groans. It was often culturally insensitive in the way that many pre-Sesame Street kids' shows were (Sesame Street debuted in 1969, but its full influence hadn't been felt). But it was goofy fun for kids for whom the classic horror movie characters had become cuddly friends rather than terrifying monsters. Like The Addams Family and The Munsters, it showed that horror could be funny.

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