Saturday, September 04, 2010

CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT REJOICE! BORIS KARLOFF'S THRILLER IS FINALLY ON DVD!The TV show Stephen King referred to as the best horror series ever put on TV is now out on a 14 disc dvd box set containing all 67 episodes of the schizophrenic but classic series. Run do not walk to buy a copy. Sell your first born if you can't afford it. You're young you can make another one.
For those of you shockingly not in the know, Boris Karloff's THRILLER ran from 1960-1962 on NBC. When I say it was schizophrenic it's because the format see-sawed oddly back and forth between straight crime episodes and horror episodes. This probably accounts for the show only lasting two seasons since one never knew what kind of episode one was going to get. While the horror episodes were of a generally high quality, the crime programmes were of a more pedestrian and much-less-interesting quality. As the story goes, director/writer Douglas Heyes may or may not have been asked by producer William Frye why the ratings for the first season were less than spectacular and Heyes may or may not have replied (opinions of the principals are divided in this): "Well, it's called Boris Karloff's Thriller . . . not Richard Widmark's Thriller". People expect horror when they tune in and they got crime dramas. So the decision was made to start doing horror. Unfortunately, about half of the entire series still included crime dramas while the other half were horror episodes. If they had moved to horror completely, the show probably would've lasted longer.
So, in aid of overwhelmed THRILLER-watchers, I thought I would provide a list of episode which I think are worthwhile. This is a purely subjective list, you understand but, on the whole, it does resemble the general consensus of THRILLER fans as to which episodes are good and thems which ain't. Be warned, however, that several episodes you might think will be on my list are not: for instance, 2 of the episodes starring Boris Karloff in an acting part instead of just as host ("THE PREDICTION" and "LAST OF THE SOMMERVILLES") are excluded simply because they ain't that good.
  • WORSE THAN MURDER (Ep. 3) - an early crime episode which usually gets trashed by fans. However, the single reason to watch is the delightfully nasty portrayal of Constance Ford whose trashy, murderous dame is a joy to behold!
  • THE PURPLE ROOM (Ep. 7) - This is the first "horror" episode and it's pretty good. Nice ghostly happenings in a haunted house.An impossibly young Rip Torn stars with Richard Anderson (Oscar Goldman of THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN and THE BIONIC WOMAN).
  • THE CHEATERS (Ep. 15) - Generally considered one of the top 5 best episodes ever. An alchemist makes a pair of demonic spectacles which are found by a succession of modern-day people. The glasses give the wearer the ability to read other people's thoughts. And woe to anyone who wears them while looking at themselves in a mirror. The great character actor Henry Daniell appears briefly as the alchemist and a young Jack (THE FOUR SEASONS) Weston appears as a snivelling little rat-faced git.
  • THE HUNGRY GLASS (Ep. 16) - My vote as the best THRILLER ever. This one usually falls at Number 2 in Thriller fan polls. Classic ghost story involving mirrors. Stars the Shat along with Russell (IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE) Johnson (who baby boomers probably know best as the Professor on GILLIGAN'S ISLAND), Joanna Heyes (wife of writer/director Douglas Heyes) and Elizabeth Allan (who will appear with the Shat later on in THE GRIM REAPER).
  • HAY-FORK AND BILL-HOOK (Ep. 20) - A fairly good spooky episode with a lot of atmosphere and a lot of witch talk, druid standing stones, fog and a murderer ripping people apart with sharp farm implements. Wonderful Alan Napier (yeah yeah Alfred the butler in the 60's camp TV show BATMAN) and Audrey Dalton (of MR. SARDONICUS as well as seen acting alongside Boris Karloff in the THRILLER episode "THE PREDICTION") are in this one.
  • WELL OF DOOM (Ep. 23) - This delirious horror episode stars Henry Daniell in a major part this time as a wack-job who kidnaps people along with his sidekick Richard (EEGAH) Kiel and tosses them in his dungeon of horrors. Ronald (SHERLOCK HOLMES) Howard also stars.
  • TRIO FOR TERROR (Ep. 25) - As you might suspect, this hour program features three stories: including a short adaptation of Wilkie Collins' A TERRIBLY STRANGE BED. This episode is one of many directed by Ida Lupino.
  • PAPA BENJAMIN (Ep. 26) - A rather nice voodoo story which may seem familiar to you when you realize that the story was also filmed as one of the episodes in the 1965 Amicus film DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS. Plot concerns a musician who steals an ancient voodoo tune to include in his own composition. But the voodoo gods are vengeful. John Ireland stars.
  • LATE DATE (Ep. 27) - another of the non-supernatural Thrillers but I really like this one not only because it was very faithfully adapted from a Cornel Woolrich short story but also because I love it's sweaty, sleazy atmosphere. A man kills his wife and his brother decides to dispose of the body while the killer establishes an alibi. The beach house setting is extremely unusual for a THRILLER episode but it really works. A nice pulp feeling permeates the story. Larry Pennell (Kemosabe in BUBBA HO-TEP) and Edward Platt (The Chief from GET SMART) star.
  • YOURS TRULY, JACK THE RIPPER (Ep. 28) - Not as wonderful as everybody says it is but still a nicely done Jack the Ripper episode from the Robert Bloch original short story and directed by Ray Milland. John Williams (of DIAL M FOR MURDER) stars.
  • THE DEVIL'S TICKET (Ep. 29) - a nice spooker featuring an artist who sells his soul to the devil. Macdonald Carey and John (KRONOS) Emery star.
  • PARASITE MANSION (Ep. 30) - basically a psycho-hillbilly-family story which also includes some CARRIE-like telekinesis. Beverly Washburn (of the cult fave SPIDER BABY) appears as well as the marvelous Jeanette Nolan in one of several evil witchy performances in this series.
  • THE TERROR IN TEAKWOOD (Ep. 32) - your basic "crawling hand" story but a really good one. A musical variation of MAD LOVE where a concert pianist grafts the hands of a piano virtuoso onto his own wrists. Quite chilling. Guy (MR. SARDONICUS) Rolfe and scream queen Hazel Court (of CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, etc. etc.) star.
  • THE PRISONER IN THE MIRROR (Ep. 33) - similar to the "haunted mirror" section of the classic British 1945 omnibus film DEAD OF NIGHT. Also similar to the David Warner sequence in the Amicus film FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE. Diabolical Count Cagliostro is imprisoned inside a mirror and evilly influences anyone who owns the object. Henry Daniell plays the Count while Lloyd (THE DUNWICH HORROR) Bochner, Marion (HAPPY DAYS) Ross, David (TALES OF TERROR) Frankham and Frieda (RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE) Inescort round out the cast.
  • DARK LEGACY (Ep. 35) - Harry Towne (of several TWILIGHT ZONEs) plays the dual role of a dying sorceror and the relative to whom he leaves his magical grimoire. Not the best episode but there are some good creepy moments; some of which remind one of the tone of NIGHT OF THE DEMON. Alan Napier also stars.
  • PIGEONS FROM HELL (Ep. 36) - Many consider this to be the best THRILLER ever. Two brothers break down and spend the night in a dilapidated Southern mansion. In the middle of the night, one brother awakens to find the other brother missing . . . until his brother reappears walking towards him with an axe buried in his head. Brandon (SHANE) DeWilde stars.
  • THE GRIM REAPER (Ep. 37) - A quite nice spookfest involving a painting of the Grim Reaper which drips blood. The Shat is back along with his HUNGRY GLASS co-star Elizabeth Allan, Robert (THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD) Cornthwaite and GILLIGAN'S ISLAND's Mrs. Howell Natalie Schafer.


  • THE PREMATURE BURIAL (Ep. 3) - This is another episode in which Boris Karloff appears in an acting role. Again, not one of the best but a quite good (if extremely loose) adaptation of the Edgar Allan Poe story. Sidney (ROSEMARY'S BABY) Blackmer also appears.
  • THE WEIRD TAILOR (Ep. 4) - The oft-filmed story of a man whose son has been killed. The father finds a book of spells which give directions on how to make a suit which will bring the corpse back to life. George (GILDA) Macready stars.
  • GOD GRANTE THAT SHE LYE STILLE (Ep. 5) - Another spooky castle episode which, while no classic, has some nice creepy moments. The cast includes Ronald (SHERLOCK HOLMES) Howard (Leslie Howard's son), Henry (THE BODY SNATCHER) Daniell and Victor (WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE) Buono.
  • MASQUERADE (Ep. 6) - One of my favourite episodes. This one is actually very VERY funny - which usually doesn't work in a horror show - but this time it works brilliantly. A young couple seek shelter for the night in an old spooky house which they are convinced contains a family of vampires. The young couple are Tom (NEWHART) Poston and Elizabeth (BEWITCHED) Montgomery and the head of the "vampire clan" is John Carradine. Poston and Montgomery are given dry, witty dialogue and each performs it with relish. Carradine, of course, has a wicked twinkle in his eye and appears to be having the time of his life. One of the best episodes.
  • A THIRD FOR PINOCHLE (Ep. 9) - this is one of the non-supernatural crime shows with a difference: it's really a comedy. A lot of the usual exquisite Thriller lighting in this one. Edward Andrews plays a nebbish who wants to bump off his wife but the two nosy old ladies next door keep spying on him. Andrews' performance makes the whole thing extremely watchable as he is a delight in a rare starring role (one of 3 he was to have in the THRILLER series).
  • THE CLOSED CABINET (Ep. 10) - yet another of the old spooky castle episodes. This one has a terrific beginning as an abused wife stabs her monstrous husband while he sleeps then kills herself after hiding the murder weapon. After centuries, no one has yet discovered the hiding place and your basic curse hangs over the castle. Again, not a classic but nicely creepy. David (TALES OF TERROR) Frankham appears once again. Ida Lupino directs.
  • DIALOGUES WITH DEATH (Ep. 11) - another episode with Boris acting. This episode has two separate stories and Boris acts in each one of them. First as a morgue attendant who can talk to the dead and second as an antebellum Southern gent. Other cast members include Estelle Winwood, William Schallert and Ed Nelson (who appeared earlier in THE CHEATERS).
  • THE RETURN OF ANDREW BENTLEY (Ep. 12) - a very Lovecraftian episode (which isn't surprising since it's from an August Derleth story). An old sorceror kills himself after his nephew promises to live in the magician's house and never leave it. A very nice special-effects-created demonic apparition lurks about as well. John Newland (of TV's ONE STEP BEYOND) and Reggie (SALEM'S LOT) Nalder appear. Oddly, this is the only THRILLER Richard Matheson ever wrote.
  • THE REMARKABLE MRS. HAWK (Ep. 13) - a darkly humourous retelling of the Circe legend. Mrs. Hawk is a farm woman who just happens to be a reincarnation of the witch Circe who turns men into pigs. Jo Van Fleet and John Carradine star.
  • PORTRAIT WITHOUT A FACE (Ep. 14) - a strange hybrid episode which starts out supernatural horror, then appears to switch to straight crime drama and then veers back into supernatural horror again. A painter is killed when a mysterious archer shoots an arrow into his head through a skylight. After the painter's death, however, a blank canvas suddenly starts to be filled in with the scene of the murder - and it's in the unmistakeable style of the late painter. John (ONE STEP BEYOND) Newland, Jane (OUT OF THE PAST) Greer and Robert (12 ANGRY MEN) Webber star.
  • AN ATTRACTIVE FAMILY (Ep. 15) - another very darkly humourous involving a murderous family of fiends. Cast includes Otto (DRACULA'S DAUGHTER) Kruger, Richard (HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL) Long, Leo G. (TARANTULA) Carroll and Joyce (THE MATCH GAME) Builifant.
  • WAXWORKS (Ep. 16) - you were waiting for the wax museum episode of THRILLER, weren't you? Well here it is. Nicely atmospheric. Cast includes Oskar (MR. SARDONICUS) Homolka, Martin (THE FLESH EATERS) Kosleck and Ron Ely of TV's TARZAN show.
  • LA STREGA (Ep. 17) - another of the best episodes. This is a marvelous witch tale which takes place in Italy (la strega is Italian for "witch"). A superb cast features Ursula (DR. NO) Andress, Alejandro Rey, silent screen star Ramon Navarro and another superb performance by Jeanette Nolan as one of the best cackling witches you'll ever see! Beautifully directed by Ida Lupino; watch for the delirious witches dance.
  • THE STORM (Ep. 18) - this is one of the crime episode which nevertheless is greatly atmospheric and absorbing. A woman finds herself menaced by a possible lunatic in an isolated house during a torrential rain storm. Nancy Kelly stars.
  • THE HOLLOW WATCHER (Ep. 20) - this one is not particularly great but its a scary scarecrow story and, as such, has some nice spooky moments. Audrey (MR. SARDONICUS) appears once again along with Warren (RIDE WITH THE DEVIL) Oates.
  • THE INCREDIBLE DOKTOR MARKESAN (Ep. 22) - generally regarded as one of the top 5 THRILLER episodes and definitely the last "classic" episode of the series. Boris Karloff stars once again as the eponymous doctor who appears to be a reanimated corpse. Strangely, this is the one and only episode directed by Robert Florey. BEWITCHED's Dick York also stars.
  • THE LETHAL LADIES (Ep. 29) - not a particularly strong episode but just fun enough to warrant it's inclusion on my list. This is another episode which consists of two stories -- crime/murder mysteries without any supernatural horror elements -- which find two timid souls reaching their breaking points. Cast includes Howard (HIGH ANXIETY) Morris. This final episode on my list of worthies was also directed by Ida Lupino.

1 comment:

Ollie said...

Thanks for the write-ups and recommendations. We started with a couple of recommended episodes, and are now trying to watch them in order to cover the rest. Your specific comments give us target episodes in case we tumble into a Dull stretch.