Horror icon and B-movie legend Vincent Price died 20 years ago this week at the age of 82.
The Missouri-born actor (best known for his trademark pencil-thin moustache, deep voice, and mellifluous style of speaking) made his mark on Hollywood with horror classics like “House of Wax,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” and “The Last Man on Earth.” However, younger audiences will probably recognize him more for his roles as the poetic narrator of Michael Jackson’s famous “Thriller” music video and as Edward’s creator in Tim Burton’s “Edward Scissorhands” (Price's last film role).
But for many young Canadians, Price is best known for his work on the small screen. The legendary actor was a familiar presence on TV for decades, thanks to his unlikely involvement in a little Hamilton, Ont.-produced kids show called “The Hilarious House of Frightenstein.”
The hour-long sketch comedy show followed the adventures of the vampire Count Frightenstein (Billy Van) and his castle full of ghoulish companions. In addition to educational asides and musical numbers, every episode of “Frightenstein” would open and close with an appearance by Vincent Price himself as he recited cheesy, horror-themed poetry that often related to the story at hand. Price would also appear in segments during the show to break up the action between sketches.
Originally airing in 1971 on Hamilton’s CHCH channel on Saturday mornings, "House of Frightenstein" would go on to become an early morning and after school institution in Canada and the United States over the next 25 years, thanks to syndication. All 130 episodes of “Frightenstein” were produced over a nine-month span from 1971 to 1972. Price himself reportedly shot all of his segments (around 400 in total) in one four-day session and was paid around $13,000 for his work. The horror movie actor, who was mostly retired from Hollywood by then, was said to have taken part in “Frightenstein” because he wanted to make something for children and saw the monster-themed show as a way to do that.
With its odd but memorable cast of characters, weird early 1970s vibe, hilariously low production values -- and, of course, Vincent Price -- “The Hilarious House of Frightenstein” is definitely a Canadian classic. The strange little TV series owes a great deal of its longevity to Price, whose involvement in the show, which otherwise might have faded into obscurity, helped it reach a much wider audience and eventually cult status.
Despite a film career that spanned nearly sixty years, multiple generations of Canadian kids will remember Price primarily for his silly, spooky, and delightfully over-the-top "Hilarious House of Frightenstein" character.