Horror Hotel 1.12 (unknown title)

As the 1970s wore on, and NBC remained deep in third place on Saturday mornings, the network threw a bizarre Hail Mary and sort of poached The Krofft Supershow from ABC. I’ve always wondered about this, and why the Kroffts switched networks, changed up the format, and crashed and burned so badly. For two seasons, their umbrella program had been hosted by Kaptain Kool and the Kongs. Now it was a more traditional variety program, hosted by the Bay City Rollers, and was a huge failure. The Krofft Superstar Hour only aired for eight weeks. Coughing up blood in the ratings, the network pulled the show and edited the remaining five installments down to a half-hour program called The Bay City Rollers Show. Even those bombed and the show was off their schedule by Christmas.

Even stranger, there was absolutely no merchandising for the two new programs within it: Horror Hotel and Lost Island. Not a View-Master, not a coloring book, not a lunch box. The two shows didn’t even have opening credits with the fun theme tunes that all their previous series had. When most of the Kroffts’ programs were repackaged for syndication, these were not included. When four or five episodes from most of their programs were released on VHS in the mid-eighties, these weren’t among them. Columbia House ignored them, and so did the celebrated repeats in the mid-90s on the Family Channel. Exactly one installment of Horror Hotel has been released on DVD. It’s included as a bonus feature on this 2011 collection of H.R. Pufnstuf.

Even today, with IMDB, Wikipedia, and that Live Action ’70s Kid Vid page that still has frames (it’s cool, we all get busy), the Superstar Hour is still determinedly obscure, in part because there are almost no decent, high-resolution images available. Thanks to the Bay City Rollers’ active fanbase, nth-generation washed-out bootlegs of some of the episodes have survived on VHS, allowing us to catch glimpses on YouTube. The show was directed by Jack Regas, and written by Mark Evanier, Lorne Frohman, and Rowby Goren. Only eight of the Lost Island segments ever aired before the show was retooled. The remaining five were never broadcast.

Horror Hotel reimagines Witchiepoo as the owner of a crummy hotel, with Orville, Seymour, Stupid Bat, and Dr. Blinky as her staff. Hoo Doo, the villain from Lidsville who is played by Paul Gale here, is a cantankerous permanent resident. Guest characters are usually played by Jay Robinson, Louise DuArt, and Mickey McMeel.

Lost Island is even more bizarre, but I’ll cover that separately in a footnote / comment.

And there’s one more weird oddity from this production. You remember that in the seventies and early eighties, the networks would have Friday night preview shows for their new Saturday morning lineups? NBC’s 1978 showcase is effectively a bonus episode of this series, entitled The Bay City Rollers Meet the Saturday Superstars. It brought along Erik Estrada from CHiPs and Joe Namath from The Waverly Wonders as guests. Namath also appeared in an additional episode of Horror Hotel, which, although it was probably taped last, was shown as the very first episode. The bootleg of this special that’s been floating around YouTube for a few years is missing the first half of the Horror Hotel spot, among other things; evidently the original taper of this copy was not interested in the parts that didn’t have the Rollers in it. The complete version is, I can attest, pretty darn funny. It’s on one of about twenty-five VHS tapes I still own. Sadly, I have not had a VCR in years.

Counting the Namath episode as the first of fourteen, then, assuming that the date on the YouTube bootleg of this full episode of The Bay City Rollers Show is correct (Nov. 18 1978), this episode of Hotel should be the twelfth broadcast. Like many of the others, Robinson and DuArt appear as one-off characters.

Horror Hotel was never going to win any awards, but the whole show is, thanks to Billie Hayes’ amazing energy, just bizarrely dynamic for a sitcom with only one principal set, and I really regret missing it as a child, because its dopey, kid-friendly shenanigans are packed with the kind of lovably dumb jokes that elementary school-aged kids absolutely adore. Cut loose from the power struggle and danger of H.R. Pufnstuf, Witchiepoo actually made a very funny good guy in this, trying to run a hotel and simultaneously be a star, with four incompetent monsters on the staff and her one grouchy, demanding permanent guest. Watch this nonsense with a kid of knock-knock joke age, and that kid will clutch his sides from laughing so hard.

Our son adored this. He giggled and laughed all through the thing, interjecting “Horror Hotel? They should have called this Silly Hotel!” as the characters went through one of those corridor scenes so beloved of seventies Saturday mornings. (He’s seen it a time or two on The Ghost Busters, of course.) Sure, it’s dopey, but for a show pitched at five year-olds, it’s a downright triumph, and I really hope that a few more episodes emerge from the Kroffts’ vault before we all get too old.

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2 Comments

Filed under horror hotel, krofft

2 responses to “Horror Hotel 1.12 (unknown title)

  1. A little more background: so there were fourteen Horror Hotel episodes, all of which are believed to have been broadcast and one of which has been released. There were thirteen Lost Island episodes, only eight of which were ever screened. No episodes of Island have ever been released on home video. The only one that I ever saw on the bootleg VHS circuit is the same one that you can see on YouTube: the first, which was shown on the September 9th Krofft Superstar Hour.

    In Lost Island, H.R. Pufnstuf, Sigmund the Sea Monster (played by Billy Barty), Weenie the Genie (Billie Hayes), and a girl named Barbie (Louise DuArt) are sort of trapped on a… well, lost island, but Pufnstuf has his name on his house, so it’s not that lost. They’re opposed by a very curious duo. They’re played by Jay Robinson and Billy Barty, but they are not Dr. Shrinker and Hugo, but rather Dr. Deathray and Otto. Enik and the Sleestak are also present, but they live in the City of the Doomed, rather than the Lost City, which is guarded by two “dragons” that look exactly like Big Alice and Grumpy. (The studio sets are all new, but the long-shot exteriors are all recycled miniature footage from Land of the Lost.) Enik, here, is the king of the Sleestak, who have been hiding in suspended animation after a war with barbarian humans. The actors playing the Sleestak, most bizarrely of all, lurch around like comedy robots or something. There’s also a puppet “spirit of the island” voiced by Walker Edmiston.

    Lost Island certainly isn’t good, but it’s extraordinarily strange. I can’t help but think it’s a huge shame that the only episode that has resurfaced as a bootleg is also the only episode that I ever saw as a kid. I remembered it fairly clearly over the years before landing that VHS copy around 1996. I wish more episodes had surfaced, but then again, there are a whole lot more Bay City Rollers fans who wish that their beloved band’s performances from those first eight shows had survived, too. I wish them all the luck in the world in one day uncovering more of this lost program.

  2. For posterity, here’s the contents of the ten Columbia House World of Sid & Marty Krofft volumes:

    Volume 1:
    HR Pufnstuf: The Magic Path
    The Bugaloos: Firefly, Light My Fire
    Dr. Shrinker The SAND Document (pts 1 and 2)
    Sigmund and the Sea Monsters: The Monster Who Came To Dinner
    Far Out Space Nuts: Tower of Tagot

    Volume 2:

    HR Pufnstuf: The Wheely Bird
    Lidsville: World in a Hat
    Electra Woman and Dyna Girl: The Spider Lady (pts 1 and 2)
    Sigmund and the Sea Monsters: Puppy Love
    The Lost Saucer: 894X, I Love You

    Volume 3:

    HR Pufnstuf: Show Biz Witch
    The Bugaloos: The Great Voice Robbery
    Wonderbug: Go West
    Sigmund and the Sea Monsters: Frankenstein Drops In
    Far Out Space Nuts: Secrets of the Hexagon
    Wonderbug: Schlepnapped

    Volume 4:

    HR Pufnstuf: The Mechanical Boy
    Lidsville: Show Me the Way to Go Home
    Electra Woman and Dyna Girl: Glitter Rock (pts 1 and 2)
    Sigmund and the Sea Monsters: Happy Birthdaze
    Far Out Space Nuts: Captain Torque, Space Pirate

    Volume 5:

    HR Pufnstuf: The Stand-In
    The Bugaloos: Our House Is Our Hassle
    Magic Mongo: The Surfing Contest (pts 1 and 2)
    Sigmund and the Sea Monsters: unknown episode (possibly Happy Birthdaze again?)
    Far Out Space Nuts: Robots of Pod

    Volume 6:

    HR Pufnstuf: The Golden Key
    Lidsville: Fly Now, Vacuum Later
    Electra Woman and Dyna Girl (unknown, pts 1 and 2)
    Sigmund and the Sea Monsters: The Nasty Nephew
    The Lost Saucer: My Fair Robot

    Volume 7:

    HR Pufnstuf: The Birthday Party
    The Bugaloos: Courage Come Home
    Dr. Shrinker: Shake Up
    Sigmund and the Sea Monsters: Monster Rock Festival
    Far Out Space Nuts: unknown episode (possibly Robots of Pod again?)
    Dr. Shrinker: The Shrinkie Sale

    Volume 8:

    HR Pufnstuf: Box Kite Caper
    Lidsville: Weenie, Weenie, Where’s Our Genie?
    Electra Woman and Dyna Girl: Return of the Sorcerer (pts 1 and 2)
    Sigmund and the Sea Monsters: Ghoul School Days
    The Lost Saucer: Transylvania 2300

    Volume 9:

    HR Pufnstuf: You Can’t Have Your Cake
    The Bugaloos: The Love Bugaloos
    Bigfoot and Wildboy: The Sonic Projector (pts 1 and 2)
    Sigmund and the Sea Monsters: Curfew
    Far Out Space Nuts: Vanishing Aliens Mystery

    Volume 10:

    HR Pufnstuf: The Horse With the Golden Throat
    Lidsville: Let’s Hear It For Wizzo
    Electra Woman and Dyna Girl: The Pharaoh (pts 1 and 2)
    Sigmund and the Sea Monsters: Sweet Mama Redocorates
    Lost Saucer: Beautiful Downtown Atlantis

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