In 1971, Riff Mankowitz and a group of friends developed an idea for a children’s television show that not only tapped into their love of the Universal monsters, but was also quite original and educational. Then independent TV channel, CHCH in Hamilton, Ontario, would go on to produce Mankowits’s show, The Hilarious House of Frightenstein, an hour long sketch comedy show that would go on to become a syndicated property in both Canada and the US, and churned out 130 episodes before ending its run.
Frightenstein showcased kid friendly variations of the Universal monster archetypes: A vampire trying, and constantly failing, to reanimmate a Frankenstein’s Monster named “Brucie”. The Count’s ever loyal side-kick, Igor, would always bumbling and fumble through the scenes, creating a very Abbot and Costello dynamic.
What made this show was that it was clearly aimed at children. The segments and sketches appealed to a wide level of interests. They were filled with humour, more so than scares, and all had some sort of purpose or lesson to walk away from. Many of the characters on the show were played by one actor, Billy Van. His degree of performance was extraordinary, creating a different personality for each of the Universal monsters he portrayed.
Some of my favourite sketches included The Wolfman (Billy Van) playing a DJ who would spin popular songs from the 70s back then. The Professor (Julius Sumner Miller) who would perform experiments in the style of Bill Nye. I think it was this segment that sparked an early interest in science for me. I think the one part that stands out for me though is the appearance throughout the show made by Vincent Price. Price had the honour of reciting the opening monologue/credits that set up the show, and provided some poetic bumpers to introduce each new segment. His voice and presence added some creepiness to the show, but it was the poetic moments that I remember fondly.
Sadly, trying to find copies of the show is difficult at best. Some web sites are trying to preserve what’s left of the shows. If you do find them, I think that even though the effects and some of the elements looked dated, it still is a quality piece of programming even children can enjoy today. Here are some clips I have found that may spark your own interest in them. Enjoy.