Queen of Schlock! Oh Canada! Billy Van

Did you know that The Billy Van Singers performed the theme song for 1967’s Spider-Man? You know the one, it’s that earworm that gets stuck in your head… and… you… can… never… get… it…. out! Even just mentioning the show, triggers it. I thought it would be fun to start the blog post this way, so you can all join in on my torture. You are welcome!

Now you are likely wondering why I have that song stuck in my head. It isn’t because I’ve been watching the cartoon. I not so secretly dislike it, along with The Mighty Hercules. As a child, the reruns ran on one of three channels we got and my brother was obsessed with them and even to the point where he would have a meltdown if he couldn’t watch them. The cartoons also annoyed me. But… that isn’t why we are here today. Today, I want to talk about someone and a program that brought me great joy. Billy Van and The Hilarious House of Frightenstein.

I lovingly remember Billy Van from shows such as Sonny and Cher, Bizarre (with another favourite John Byner) and Bits and Bytes, but, it was Hilarious House of Fightenstein that had the most impact on me. As a creative kid, I loved that he played almost all of the characters on the show (with the exception of Igor (Fishka Rais) and Mini-Count (Guy Big), The Professor (Julius Sumner Miller), Super Hippy (Mitch Markowitz), Harvey Wallbanger (Joe Torbay), and of courses the host Vincent Price) and I often imagined how much fun it must have been to go to work everyday.

If you aren’t familiar with The Hilarious House of Frightenein, let me give you a bit of background. The Hilarious House of Frightenstein was the brilliant creation of Billy Van. The show was shot in a studio in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada in 1971 and there are 130 episodes. Most will remember the host, Vincent Price, but it is truly Billy Van who made the show into the wonderful sixty minutes of entertainment that it was. If you grew up in Ontario the 1970s and 1980s, the show ran in reruns consistently. I’m certain I’m not the only one who remembers it fondly, or were inspired by the show. I think Grizelda will always be my favourite character. I dreamed of making potions with her.

This show and Billy Van helped to spark creative inspiration in myself and many others. I’m certain that many filmmakers born in Ontario, can say that Billy Van and his wonderful show set them on their path. Stacy Case was so inspired by Billy Van, that he co-wrote a book (with Greg Oliver) and created the Billy Van Museum. What are your fond memories of Billy Van and The Hilarious House of Frightenstein?

Coming back around to my opening few sentences; Billy Van was an incredibly talented person. He started his career as a teenager with his four brothers as a singing act called the Van Evera Brothers. Eventually, he left the brother group and dropped Evera from his name, eventually forming Billy Van Four. He then went on to create the Billy Van Singers (the band that did the Spiderman cartoon theme song). He also appeared in many Canadian variety television shows. I really, really miss variety television shows. As Billy continued to hone his skills, he landed the CBC show Nightcap. This would make him a household name and put him onto that path, that brought him to The Hilarious House of Frightenstein and so many of his other successes. As with actors in the silent and pre-code era’s they needed to be able to do it all and Billy Van truly could. He will also continue to be my inspiration to strive to be a better creative.

A little extra tidbit. Deadly Grounds sells the official Hilarious House of Frightenstein coffee. I have a bag and don’t want to open it so I can keep it pristine! Please also support The Billy Van Museum.

Each month I run a b-movie night called Killer B Cinema. Join Lizzie Violet & Zoltan Du Lac for a monthly evening of b-moves from the 1950s to 1990s! There will also be trivia with prizes & much more! Please follow us on Instagram and Facebook!

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