Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Hilarious House of Frightenstein

I can't believe that Halloween is just one day away! Before you know it, we'll be right smack dab in the middle of November, thinking about just how busy the next couple of months will be as we make preparations for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and for those of you living in the United States, Thanksgiving! It's going to be a busy time of year for everyone (I know that for me, I have a lot of things happening at we inch closer and closer to 2014), but this blog will be there every step of the way.

So, today is October 30, and it happens to be a Wednesday, so you know what that means? It's time for another edition of Whatever Wednesday, the day in which we leave the fate of the blog in the hands of one of six potential murderers.

Well, the murder suspects in the board game Clue (or Cluedo if you happen to be in the United Kingdom), that is.

Just to refresh your memories, here's what each Clue suspect card means. As you know, each character is matched up with a theme day in the blog (minus the Tuesday Timeline, that is).

MISS SCARLET - Sunday JukeboxCOLONEL MUSTARD - Monday MatineeMRS. WHITE - Saturday Smorgasbord Wks. 3-5 (Cartoons, Comics, Books)MR. GREEN - Saturday Smorgasbord Wks. 1-2 (Toys, Games, Video Games)MRS. PEACOCK - Friday Night On TelevisionPROFESSOR PLUM - Thursday Diary

Okay, so let's dig into our bag of tricks and see which topic will be up for discussion today...

Now, this is very interesting. We've drawn the MRS. WHITEcard. So, this means that we'll be talking about a cartoon, kids show, comic book series, or book series.

And, I'll be honest with you. I'm actually happy to see the maid of Boddy Manor, or whatever the name of the mansion is that appears in the Clue game. Does anyone actually know what it is? I don't seem to recall. All I know is that Mr. Boddy is the murder victim, and that there are two secret passageways that connect to the four corners of the mansion.

Which would be fine if we were discussing the board game Clue, but we are not.

No, in all seriousness, we're going to be talking about a television series that filmed entirely in Canada and was syndicated all across Canada and parts of the United States beginning in the early 1970s. And, before I go into the discussion period of this television show, I wanted to tell you a personal memory about this show (that I still remember all these years later), and also how much love I have for this very program.

Okay, so picture this scenario. Imagine being a young boy (I'd say maybe kindergarten aged) being absolutely sick as a dog. I don't exactly remember what I had, but I do think that it was some sort of stomach bug, or a flu. All I really remember about that particular time was that I was feeling incredibly sick and I kept throwing up every hour on the hour. I also remember that I couldn't sleep at all because my stomach kept cramping up. And believe me...anyone who has ever had the stomach flu knows exactly how uncomfortable it can feel. So, for whatever reason, I remember being up at four-thirty in the morning...which was a time that I had never seen before as a small child.

Now, to my mom's credit, she stayed up with me to make sure that I was feeling better. She made me lie down on the living room sofa with a bucket next to me (in case I had the urge to throw up again), and she would give me a big glass of ginger ale to drink in order to help my stomach feel a little better. I remember that being sick was really the only time that I ever wanted to drink ginger ale because I disliked it any other day! Trust me, I lived off ginger ale for the first week and a half after my gall bladder removal.

Now, one other thing that my mom did to try and make me feel better was to turn on the television, but unfortunately at four-thirty in the morning, there wasn't a whole lot on...especially during the mid-1980s without basic cable. And, considering that my family did not have a VCR back in those days, it was like trying to find a needle in a haystack when it came to trying to find a show I liked to watch at that time. At that time, the television stations that didn't offer that test pattern screen were airing really old exercise programs or infomercials. I couldn't even watch TVOntario because it didn't start airing their shows until at least six or seven.

But then as my mom flicked the dial (yes, we had a television that did NOT have a remote control in the mid-1980s) and the television landed on channel thirteen (the last channel on the dial), we hit the jackpot.

At that time, channel thirteen was our CTV affiliate. It was actually CJOH-TV which is based in Ottawa, Ontario - now called CTV One, and it was a television station in which at least 60% of its content was Canadian.

And as it so happened, CJOH-TV aired a particular television series at the five o'clock in the morning slot that for whatever reason I fell in love with. Of course, Mom was really uneasy about leaving the television on the channel, as some of the main characters of the program were monsters from horror movies. But for whatever reason, I sat there glued to the television screen, watching it with joy and excitement in my eyes. There was just something about the program that I liked. Sure, it looked creepy, but it was more funny than anything. And even though I was too young to really decipher what they were saying to each other, I still got a kick out of watching it. Watching that show kind of distracted me enough to not complain about my upset stomach, and I actually started to feel better and went back to sleep after the show ended.

The sad thing about it was that up until a few years ago, I didn't know what the show was actually called. I had only seen the one episode of it, and that was when I was sick from the flu and high on ginger ale at the age of five or six. All that I remembered about the show was that the show's main characters were a vampire and a guy named Igor. And, I also remembered that the opening of the show had flashes of purple lightning and a really interesting theme song played entirely on a synthesizer of sorts. But the name was something that I couldn't remember.

That is until I saw the show airing on the Space Channel at the age of thirty and it took me back to that one day that I was feeling sick and watching television at five in the morning and feeling better.

So, what's the show?

It's this one. The Hilarious House of Frightenstein!

At the time I discovered this show, I was only a small fry and was sick with the flu. When I rediscovered it as an adult (without the flu), I loved it even more. And what I found shocking was that the show debuted a full ten years before I was born! And, here I was thinking that it was a new show when I watched it. Of course, back in those days, the fact that it aired in an early morning slot was a dead giveaway that the show wasn't exactly new. But again, I was a kid who was trying to beat the flu. What did I know?

The show was actually pretty unique in a sense. Normally when shows go into production, they film each block of episodes in seasons. For kids cartoons, a season consists of thirteen shows. For sitcoms, the episodes usually have twenty-two. And primetime drama shows can have as many as thirty episodes a season.

Well, would you believe that every single episode of "The Hilarious House of Frightenstein" was filmed in 1971...over a period of nine months? That's one hundred and thirty episodes filmed during the same calendar year! Only daytime soap operas churn out more episodes a year.

The show was filmed at the CHCH-TV studios in Hamilton, Ontario, and what was unique about the show was that it was designed without a specific target audience in mind. The show had sketch comedy, which appealed to adults and teenagers, but at the same time featured educational content, so that children could get something out of the show too.

The idea came about from showrunner Riff Markowitz, who had a rather ingenious brainstorming idea. No need for boardroom meetings when a simple bowl of spaghetti and glass of champagne was all you needed. Matching business with the comforts of home. I like it!

The show plot was quite simple. The main character of the show was a vampire named Count Frightenstein (played by the late Billy Van), the thirteenth son of the legendary Count Dracula himself. But it wasn't all fun and games for the Count. He was actually serving a sentence of banishment to be served inside Castle Frightenstein in Frankenstone, Canada. But why was he being punished? Well, it was because he could not bring Brucie J. Monster to life.

Mind you, he had assistance from his large in size, but small in common sense assistant Igor (Fishka Rais), and a three foot tall mini Count (Guy Big). But try as he might, he just could not figure out a way to bring life back to Brucie. The concept eventually became the main plot point of the show.

Oh, and Vincent Price was a cast member too! I know! THE Vincent Price! Shocking, isn't it?

TRIVIA: Reportedly, Vincent Price accepted the role in a heartbeat, longing to be a part of a children's television show. And to say that Price worked extremely hard to honour his commitment to the show would be an absolute understatement. He filmed approximately four hundred segments for the a time frame of just FOUR DAYS!!! But when you consider that he was paid thirteen thousand dollars for those four days of work (and given that $13,000 was a LOT of money in the early 1970s), I'd say it was a nice chunk of change.

But another person who worked really hard on the show was Billy Van himself. Don't think that the Count was the ONLY character he played. He also assumed the role of the following characters (except one).

THE WOLFMAN- A werewolf disc jockey who would incorporate Top 40 music into each show as the wolfman and Igor danced to the music. And back in the 1970s, when copyright laws were more or less non-existent, The Wolfman could play records by Sly and the Family Stone, Three Dog Night, The Archies, and any other group or artist who had a top 40 hit between 1967 and 1971! Sadly, in the subsequent reruns of the show over the years, these segments have been edited out, but here's one clip I found above featuring "Mama Told Me (Not To Come)" by Three Dog Night.

THE GRAMMAR SLAMMER- Long before Grammar Nazis began invading Facebook and Twitter, the Grammar Slammer would often challenge Igor to a grammar bee of sorts. If he passed, Igor would remain happy. If Igor failed, a giant purple monster named Bammer would bop him. Have a look above!

THE PROFESSOR- The Professor was an American export (played by Julius Sumner Miller) who would teach the residents of Frightenstein Castle all about chemistry, physics, and biology. He made learning about science fun long before Bill Nye and Beakman's World came along!

BWANA CLYDE BATTY- Ever wanted to know more about nature and animals? This character was the one to ask. He would answer your questions faster than you could say ooga booga!

NOTE: Billy Van loved performing as Bwana Clyde Batty because it allowed him to do his Michael Caine impersonation!

GRIZELDA, THE GHASTLY GOURMET - Although the amount of time it took Billy Van to get all the make-up on for Grizelda was insane, Van certainly brought the best of himself in the role. This witch - who had such a healthy ego to her that she felt she was more attractive than Goldie Hawn - made all sorts of brews, concoctions, and potions inside of her giant cauldron...only she never really quite figured out the joys of cooking. Every single dish proved to be a disaster. Have a look.

I could go on and on really. I love this show so much. But all good things come to an end, so I thought that I would end this blog with the legendary Vincent Price signing off.

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