Newly launched Toronto-based prodco Headspinner Productions has acquired the rights to create new shows and media based on The Hilarious House of Frightenstein, a subversive Canadian sketch comedy series for kids from the ’70s.
The deal—Headspinner’s first rights acquisition—gives the company full rights to the 130 x one-hour series including all assets, audio, original screenplays, and most licensing and merchandising. The original series was produced in its entirety over nine months in 1971 out of Hamilton, Ontario-based independent TV station CHCH. Corus Entertainment’s YTV and now defunct Drive-In Classics also aired the program, as did many other independent Canadian, American and international channels.
The rights were acquired for an undisclosed amount from the show’s original producer, Mitch Markowitz, who will serve in the same capacity on a new version of the live-action show with Headspinner co-founders Michelle Melanson and Ken Cuperus, and Canadian actor Sandy Jobin-Bevans (Greenfields, Annedroids) as co-producers. Cuperus and Jobin-Bevans will also showrun.
Headspinner is currently seeking broadcast partners and is looking for Canada Media Fund support to help create a bible, pilot script and short demo. Development activities will also include an animated series and a 50th anniversary special for 2021.
The original Hilarious House of Frightenstein was created, written, produced and directed by Markowitz’s brother, New York-born TV and theater producer Riff Markowitz (Party Game), who assigned the rights to Mitch Markowitz on April 1, 2016. Set in Castle Frightenstein in Frankenstone, Canada, Hilarious House revolved around pizza-loving protagonist Count Frightenstein—the 13th son of Count Dracula—and his attempts to bring his Frankenstein-like creation, Brucie J. Monster, back to life.
Multi-talented comedic actor Billy Van, who died in 2003, played most of the characters on the show including Frightenstein, chef Grizelda the Ghastly Gourmet, radio DJ Wolfman, and many more. Late horror legend Vincent Price was also featured in the program, having signed on because he was interested in reaching a kids audience. The actor, who was featured in the opening and closing of each episode and introduced some sketches within the show, shot his segments (nearly 400 of them) in only four days.
The series, which added educational elements and puppetry, also starred Mitch Markowitz as Super Hippy, alongside other characters played by Guy Big, Fishka Rais and Julius Sumner Miller.
For husband-and-wife duo Melanson and Cuperus, the acquisition was not an easy task, but equally a dream come true.
“Securing the rights was not easy, because most of the people that were part of the property have since passed. But once we got to know Mitch personally and launched Headspinner, we convinced him we were the right fit in terms of rebooting the franchise for a new generation,” says Melanson, who co-founded Headspinner last month after stepping down as president of Boat Rocker’s Radical Sheep. “We all grew up with the show, especially if you were from the Toronto area. It was a staple in our home and for Ken, who grew up in Winnipeg, the series was a massive part of his childhood as well,” she says.
According to Cuperus, whose credits include The Stanley Dynamic (co-creator) and Mr. Young (producer), the new version of the show will be more of a half-sketch, half-sitcom type of production starring kids and adults.
“The old show was more like Mister Rogers in that it talked directly to the audience, whereas kids will be a big part of the new show. Every actor will play one character, to allow more cross-over between characters,” says Cuperus. “The idea for the reboot is that the castle is really expensive to maintain, so it opens up as a theme park attraction or a themed inn for tourists.”
Aimed at kids ages eight to 12 and families, Melanson expects the new series will attract a big co-viewing audience. “We really want to bring in the co-viewing aspect, because there are grandparents and parents who grew up on the show,” she says.
While the show will be a reboot, Cuperus notes that Headspinner plans to celebrate the legacy of the original. “We may include a hall of murals where all the old characters would be represented in such a way that it would be interactive with sound clips from the old show,” he says. “We also want to find a modern equivalent of Vincent Price to lead us into the episodes. The character won’t be quite as prevalent as Price was, but we want someone to honor that type of role. Alice Cooper, for one, is a massive fan of the show and has reached out to Mitch on several occasions, so he’s high on our list.”
Headspinner’s acquisition comes amid an uptick of live-action and animated supernatural/horror shows for kids and families, including new productions like Cartoon Network Latin America’s Terror in Doomsville from Rocket Cartoons, Boomerang’s Bunnicula and the DHX/CBBC series Creeped Out.