Kids' television today is a fuck-ing disgrace. Kids have no idea the carnival of delight they missed out on simply by being born about a decade and a half too late.Recently, I found a crappy old DC Comics Presents from 1982 in my parent's basement. I don't know why I had it -- I always hated Superman.
It was horrible. The story was tripe, the art totally shitty. But about two-thirds of the way through there was an ad for the Saturday morning lineup on a certain Amerikan network.
It blew my mind, the glut of cartoons kiddies like me had back then. There was SuperFriends, Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids and Scooby-Doo. (I also seem to recall animated versions of Richie Rich, Casper, Pac-Man, Frogger, Q*bert and both Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. (What the fuck ever happened to Junior?)
Back then, Canadians also seemed to care more about making their own weird shows to entertain their children. I still have nightmares about that clown on Big Top Talent to this day.
And who can say we weren't scarred by the sexual chemistry between Moose and Lisa Ruddy on You Can't Do That On Television?
But did any show disturb and delight more than The Hilarious House Of Frightenstein, starring the late, great Billy Van?
Frightenstein was a fast-paced mishmash of Laugh-In, Hee Haw and the original Sonny And Cher Show (on which Billy Van was a regular), complete with psychedelic interludes.
Van played the show as if it were an ensemble sketch comedy. It wasn't until I watched it tripped out on acid at the age of 14 that I realized the Count, Grizelda, the Oracle, the Librarian and others were all played by Van himself.
Somehow the acute perception offered by LSD allowed me to see some sort of parallel mania in the eyes of all those characters that I hadn't noticed before. I spent my entire trip that night watching episode after episode on VHS, taped by my friend Andy.
(Andy, meanwhile, spent his entire trip down in the basement thinking he was talking to his friend Mike who had moved to Moosonee.)
I noticed then that the show was funnier than I'd remembered it. Somehow it was more adult. There were references that kids wouldn't get and that I was now starting to understand.
One of Grizelda's recurring bits was to tell some pop culture icon of the time -- Barbra Streisand and Margaret Trudeau among them -- to "eat your heart out." It didn't occur to me at the time that Grizelda was serious about doing just that.
I watched with both fascination and revulsion. Frightenstein was more frightening than I'd remembered it, although it could have been the acid. I suspect that such an openly horrifying show would have trouble getting by today's PC patrol.
Even as I write this today, in my 20s, the Librarian gives me a weird feeling, making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
The dude, despite all the scripts protesting that he didn't scare you "this time" but would "next time," is truly unnerving.
Frightenstein was only produced for one season, but has been aired all over North America for years in reruns. Production ran for nine months, with Van playing each character for a few weeks in various sketches and the bits then spliced together afterward.
Vincent Price's memorable cameos were apparently done in only a few days.
The show doesn't look like it could have cost much even then, yet it was so effective through its writing, energy and performances that every person I speak to who remembers it at all seems to recall it fondly.
Sadly, after Van's death on Wednesday, January 8, at age 68, after a long career in both the U.S. and Canada, the little maggots of today may never get a chance to see this gloriously ridiculous show.
Frightenstein's producer and creator, Rafael Markowitz, recently ordered the master tapes destroyed after its run on Showcase.
There are rumours on the Net of other tapes in circulation, but at the moment The Hilarious House Of Frightenstein is permanently cancelled. Scary. Very scary.