billy van

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!

Saturday Morning Horrors

As a kid, one of my fondest memories of Saturday mornings was sugar saturated cereal and cartoons. Spiderman, Hercules, Scooby Doo and many others.  Oh hold on… put on the brakes. No…. I actually wasn’t a fan of those cartoons. One of my brothers was obsessed with Spiderman, Rocket Robinhood and Hercules. Not I! Generally, I couldn’t stand those types of cartoons. Those cartoons were unfortunately on first Saturday mornings, then came what was more of the ‘ordinary’ delights in our household. The Hilarious House of Frightenstein and re-runs of The Addams Family, The Munsters and The Twilight Zone. Oh what a delight to hear Rod Serling’s voice first thing in the morning.

Growing up we had three… THREE channels. CKNX, CTV, CBC and eventually a fourth TVO was added. Fortunately, one of them showed more than just the typical Saturday morning fare. I may have lost my mind otherwise. I’m sure one of the programmers was a fan of the darker style of Saturday morning entertainment and somehow convinced the station manager that Morticia Addams and Grimilda were a must on a late Saturday mornings.

Occasionally on an exceptionally clear day, we would be able to get in a few New York stations and when we did… OH BOY!  We were in for a freaky treat! How I would pray for a cloudless Saturday morning.

Recently nostalgia started creeping in and I did a search for some of the shows I loved and to my delight was able to find some YouTube channels that are still showing reruns of the creature style shows such as Son of Svengoolie, Creature Features (which had a House of Frightenstein type host) and others that I was madly obsessed with.

Along with the creepy kids cartoons, there would usually be at least one show that would play vintage horror movies. I was always excited to see what shenanigans the creeptacular hosts would be up to. I loved that they would also rerun shows from the 1950s. One of my all time favourite openings is still Vampira.

We also can’t forget Elvira Mistress of the Dark. Typically a late night show, one of the channels we watched on Saturday mornings still ran her Midnight Madness.

Skip forward to today and we have spooktacular hosts such as Ivanna Cadavar from Macabre Theatre taking over the reign as the new TV Queen of the Underworld.

But…. back to Svengoolie. When we were able to get some of the upper state New York channels, I would literally have to fight my brother for control of the remote. Since we couldn’t get these stations every week, when we did, I had to take the opportuntity to see one of the best things about Saturday morning.

If we were extra lucky we would get reruns of Ghoul A Go Go (http://www.ghoulagogo.com/)

or the Count Orlaf Show.

Lucky for us today we have the internets and YouTube.  I am fortunate that I can still binge on channels and YouTube shows that encompass the need for schlocky themed, low budget, local broadcast style productions. Here are a few of my other favourites.

Mystery Science Theatre 3000

Chiller Night Theatre (this clip showing on of my favourite all time bad horror movies The Manster.

Full Horror (This channel doesn’t have a host, but has an archive of some vintages, b-horror movies.  Though the list isn’t a long one, the movies selected are some of the best, worst b-horror movies.)

Let’s not forget Shock Theatre.

Not to be confused with the original Shock Theatre from the 1970’s/80’s.

http://www.mediaprof.org/shock/

Often I think of starting my own channel. One of my partners in crime and one of my longest friendships (October Young) is also a huge fan of bad horror movies and schlock TV.  Together we have started our own production called Queens of Schlock. We are currently writing horror shorts but have often talked about  starting our own YouTube show. When I spend time watching some of my favourite YouTube channels or when we have bad horror movie nights, the inspiration to create our own show grows.  Stay tuned, you never know, that could be happening soon.

Growing up was a creepy, wondrous time of freaky Saturday morning cartoons. It might be time to restart the tradition.

What are some of your favourite bad movies, horror themed and hosted TV shows?  My next blog post will be about some of my favourite awesomely bad b-horror movies!