Earlier this week, we announced that Amazon was investing in a reboot of the Sid & Marty Krofft series Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. To recap:
Sid & Marty Krofft present Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, a live action show for children ages 6 to 11, is centered on two brothers, Johnny and Scotty, who along with their cousin Robyn befriend Sigmund, a friendly young sea-monster who escapes from his old life and his comically dysfunctional brothers Slurp and Blurp. Now, using a Clubhouse as their hiding place, the gang must keep Sigmund safe from an ambitious sea-monster hunter Captain Barnabas (David Arquette).
I compared the original Sigmund and the Sea Monsters to the fictitious TV show and creepypasta Candle Cove (the topic of Syfy’s Channel Zero Season 1); both shows are populated by nautical-themed puppet-monsters and both have seriously eerie undertones. Sigmund was just one of several Saturday morning programs created by Sid & Marty Krofft, and just about all of them created dark netherworlds entertained and unsettled me as a child of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The themes of many Krofft shows involved children who had been kidnapped, stranded, and/or lost in alternate dimensions from which they’re unable to return. Most featured real kids surrounded by life-sized puppets, without any parental adult figures. They all featured antagonists who seemed intent on capturing these kids—sometimes for the purposes of murder and cannibalism! Is it any wonder, then, that a few of the Kroft creation still haunt my subconscious, like nightmares I woke from a lifetime ago?
Below are a few of my favorite Sid & Marty Krofft shows—which also happen to be the ones that inspired equal parts enthrallment and trauma. Have a read and let us know in the Comments section if you remember any of these surreal, ultra-creepy creations!
H.R. Pufnstuf (Launched 1969)
Official Synopsis: The adventures of a boy trapped in a fantastic land with a dragon friend and a witch enemy.
The first Sid & Marty Krofft production remains unnerving to this day, having amassed a cult following that consists almost exclusively of adults who watched the show as kids. H.R. Pufnstuf stars 11-year-old Jimmy (played by teenage actor Jack Wild) who finds himself shipwrecked on Living Island (where everything is alive); he’s relentlessly dogged by the malevolent Wilhelmina W. Witchiepoo (played by Billie Hayes). His main ally is a human-sized dragon named H.R. Pufnstuf (voiced by the show’s writer Lennie Weinrib) who does his best to keep Witchiepoo at bay. Try as he might, and despite multiple attempts, Jimmy is never able to find his way home again.
Lidsville (Launched 1971)
Official Synopsis: A boy finds himself trapped in a land populated by living hat-people which is ruled by a crotchety magician.
Young Mark (Butch Patrick) ended up in the parallel universe of Lidsville after falling into Merlo the Magician’s (Charles Nelson Reilly) enchanted hat. All of the residents of Lidsville are, you guessed it—living hats! Mark is pursued by a magician named Horatio J. HooDoo (also played by Charles Nelson Reilly in a magician’s costume and make-up). Though befriended by the society of living hats, Mark is also trapped; though he tries, he never makes it home again. The fact that a “lid” was slang for an ounce of marijuana in the 1970s, had many assuming Lidsville was a tribute to counter-culture, but the puppeteers Krofft deny ever using drugs while creating their shows.
Land of the Lost (Launched 1974) (Featured Image)
Official Synopsis: A family is thrown back in time and must survive in a dinosaur dominated land.
Marshall, Will, and Holly
On a routine expedition
Met the greatest earthquake ever known…
As a child, Land of the Lost was my definition of horror: Exciting and terrifying. The story of a family trapped in an alternate universe that resembles a Paleolithic Earth is arguably the most “adult” of all of the Krofft’s kids’ shows. In addition to an unnerving trio of harry homonyms, the human trio in Land of the Lost must content with a pair of dueling tyrannosauruses, and a race of hissing reptilian humanoids called the Sleestak who sport huge, unblinking black eyes. As opposed to the puppet-centric shows produced by the Kroffts, Land of the Lost elicited a palpable sense of urgency, as survival felt genuinely uncertain.
Dr. Shrinker (Launched 1976)
Official Synopsis: Three teens are shrunk to six inches in height by a mad scientist.
Dr. Shrinker was a 15-minute reoccurring segment that aired as part of The Krofft Supershow, which launched in 1976. It featured trio of teens who end up crash-landing an airplane on a deserted island. The only inhabitants are the titular mad scientist (Jay Robinson) and his diminutive lab assistant Hugo (Billy Barty). The evil duo tests their prize invention, a shrink ray, on the kids, turning them into “Shrinkies” who stand only a few inches tall. In an attempt to evade Dr. Shrinker and Hugo, the kids must battle spiders, cats, and other perils as they attempt to reverse the effects of the shrink ray. Each episode was nearly identical, as Dr. Shrinker himself once lamented: “I chase the Shrinkies. I catch the Shrinkies. The Shrinkies escape. It’s a vicious cycle and it’s driving me mad!”
Sigmund and the Sea Monsters (Launched 1973)
Official Synopsis: Sigmund is a sea monster. He’s also a tremendous embarrassment to his family because, unlike a normal sea monster, Sigmund has no desire to scare anybody. He runs away from home rather than scare people, and meets up with Johnny and Scott. The three become best friends and Johnny and Scott keep Sigmund in their clubhouse. Johnny and Scott spend their time alternately (A) keeping Sigmund from being kidnapped by his family and (B) keeping him a secret from everyone else.
The previously mentioned Sigmund and the Sea Monsters was less intense than the other Krofft shows on this list, mostly due to the fact that the kids Johnny (Johnny Whitaker) and Scott Stuart (Scott Kolden) weren’t kidnapped or shipwrecked—they’re just on vacation. Also, the titular sea monster Sigmund is unique for his kindness, seeking to create bonds of friendship as opposed to scaring people. Still, the life-sized puppets of Sigmund and his dysfunctional family of monsters are chilling—almost Cthulhu-esque! The 1970’s was definitely a trippy time to be a kid!