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This Is a Thriller: Site for vintage horror & nuggets series collectors.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

THRILLER episode guide + reviews

Boris Karloff's THRILLER

THRILLER guide + capsule reviews

67 -1 hour long eps.

Originally broadcast: September 13, 1960 to April 30,
1962 - NBC/Revue (Universal)

Executive Producer: Hubbel Robinson

Producers: Fletcher Markle (the earliest shows); William
Frye and Maxwell Shane (later shows).

Associate Producer: Douglas Benton (Weird Tales consultant)

Story Consultant: James P. Cavanagh

Music: Pete Rugolo, Jerry Goldsmith, Morton Stevens

Host: Boris Karloff

Thriller compares favorably to its contemporaries Alfred
Hitchcock Presents, Way Out, Great Ghost Tales, One Step Beyond and Twilight
Zone. These anthologies are no less than the direct successors to the great
live drama anthologies of TV's golden age such as Kraft Theater and Playhouse
Many of the episodes from all four series were directed by luminaries
such as John Newland, Douglas Heyes and John Brahm. Weird Tales, America's
longest running pulp sci-fi/terror magazine, was used eighteen times as
source material for the teleplays. Stephen King has referred to Thriller
as the best horror series ever aired.

THRILLER Episode Reviews - rated 1 (unremarkable) up to 4 (incredible) asterisks

First Season:

The Twisted Image

THRILLER pilot - the 1st episode.

Boris Karloff begins as host. Starring Leslie Nielsen and George Grizzard.
A pair of pathological temps seek permanent positions. George Grizzard is excellent as the mail clerk with delusions of grandeur. Leslie Nielsen gives a fine prformance as the manager who suddenly finds his button down life inexplicably shattered.
The crack'd mirror seen at the denoument symbolizes Grizzard's split personality.
It also reiterates the jagged lines of Thriller's logo (designed
by Jerome Gould) - a motif which reflects the criss-crossing of genre nature of the series. Mirrors are in a fair number of gothic Thrillers, as seen in The Cheaters, The Hungry Glass, Prisoner In The Mirror,
Last Of The Sommervilles, La Strega, and A Wig For Miss Devore. **

Worse Than Murder

An embittered widow seeks revenge on her mother in-law.
A gutsy, hard-boiled performance from Constance Ford. Cleveland Amory panned
this segment as being "worse than murder" in his TV guide column.
Hubbel Robinson had said that the writers' strike was the main reason the
early scripts weren't living up to the name of the series. Therefore, only
those requiring a complete Thriller collection need Mark Of The
Hand, Rose's Last Summer (the best of these 3 early Thrillers perhaps) or Child's Play. One nod each!

The Guilty Men

Good performance from Everett Sloane as a former mobster who tries to go straight. Average TV crime suspense story for its day. *

The Purple Room

Milestone episode for several reasons. The man who was
instrumental in jump-starting Thriller debuted with this weird mystery:
William Frye. Richard Anderson and Rip Torn are both excellent.

The first segment to criss-cross suspense with the supernatural. The
audience is left guessing as to whether or not there had been an actual
haunting. Rip Torn gives a great cynical performance as an heir determined
not to be frightened out of his inheritance. The Purple Room was written
and directed by Douglas Heyes, noted for directing several eerie Twilight
Zones: And When The Sky Was Opened, Elegy, The Howling Man, The Invaders,
The Eye Of The Beholder. ***

The Watcher

First Thriller directorial effort by John Brahm, who also
scored favorable reviews with his fine efforts for Twilight Zone (Mirror
Image, Shadow Play, The Four Of Us Are Dying) Hitchcock Presents and such
films as The Lodger. Some nice kids are stalked by a born-again homicidal
maniac. Watch for the scene described (inaccurately) by author Stephen King:
"I still have fond memories of a guy being squeezed to death beneath
a service-station car lift in a Thriller episode." **

Girl With A Secret

Despite the talents of Twilight Zone writer Charles
Beaumont and a good cast including Victor Buono (as the sinister Carolik),
only occasionally interesting to look at, notably due to the various on-
location long shots unusual for Thriller. Otherwise an unexciting story
of secret agents, stolen brief cases and the like. *

The Prediction

First of Karloff's starring roles on Thriller, playing
a psychic whose fake predictions start becoming unpredictable. Result:
his stage act becomes annoying, not at all entertaining, especially to those
he insists will die violently. Trippy visual effects (dissolves) occur whenever
"Mace the Mentalist" starts losing it. Unfortunately, as Alan
Warren (author of This Is A Thriller) points out, The Prediction is itself
predictable. *

The Fatal Impulse

As always, Elisha Cook is fun to watch, and here he
plays a mad bomber loose in the city. What more could you ask for? How about
Mary Tyler Moore's first appearance on Thriller! **

The Big Blackout

Features Paul Newlan (The Cheaters). as an alcoholic who fears he may have committed murder during a binge. I blacked out during this one. "Hangover," one of the best Alfred Hitchcock
Hour segments, dealt with "blackouts" far better. For completists

Knock Three-One-Two

A taut crime/suspense episode. Warren Oates (Outer Limits, Lost in Space, Stoney Burke and star of the 1973 movie Dillinger) as a psycho killer, his co-star Joe Maross plays a compulsive gambler desperate to try anything to raise cash to pay a debt to the mob.

Man In The Middle

Werner Klemperer (Col. Klink of Hogan's Heroes) as
a ruthless kidnapper. Comedian Mort Sahl is an unlikely hero caught up in
a kidnap scheme. A few interesting moments.

The Cheaters

Story by Robert Bloch, teleplay by Donald Sanford. A brilliant though evil alchemist creates a pair of spectacles which possess a peculiar power: Looking through the glasses reveals the truth underneath the masks and lies people hide behind, but there are risks involved. The hallucinatory side effect brought on by the acute perception of infidelities has a tendency to influence the wearer to react without restraint.

The chilling teaser begins with Henry
Daniell's brief appearance as mad Dr. Van Prinn and segues into
Karloff's inspired introduction. This is when Boris first delivers the immortal tag-line, " a THRILLER!" At last, the waiting was over. Viewers were about to experience something truly extraordinary. Finally the series would quit treading water. . There are some slow moments in the middle perhaps, but don't get too comfortable!

The visual effects created by Jack Barron for the final moments of The Cheaters are among the most nightmarish ever made for TV.****
The Cheaters first appeared in the November 1947 Weird Tales.

The Hungry Glass

A haunted cliff-house almost makes The Purple Room
look inviting! Undead souls lurk in mirrors. Very scary special effects.
Excellent performance by William Shatner. Karloff makes a grand entrance
dressed in Edwardian clothing. Donna Douglas appears dressed up in pre-Beverly
Hillbillies finery. Douglas heyes directed and adapted Robert Bloch's "The Hungry House"****

The Poisoner

Late 1800's period piece about an art collector tortured
by others' lack of good taste. To alleviate his frustrations, he poisons
them in a most efficacious manner, and defaces a painting of his wife with
crossed lines similar to the Thriller titles. **

Man In the Cage

Intrigue involving heroin smugglers in distant Tangiers.
Diana Millay (a Dark Shadows regular) co-stars. *

The Merriweather File

Betrayed wife allows husband to die for her crime.
Very good direction by John Brahm (THE LODGER, Twilight Zone and an innovator of the the German expressionist/film-noir
style). **

Choose A Victim

Pretty Susan Oliver as a slumming heiress, fast-talking
Larry Blyden as an upwardly-mobile beach bum and Billy Barty as a tough
little carnie barker. Vaughn Taylor as the intended victim. **

Hay-Fork And Bill Hook

Druid incantations and ritual murder
make for an especially bizarre teaser, although after Karloff's intro we're reduced to being scared by a little black mutt, hardly the quigley hound of yore. Ironically, when aired on the SCI-FI channel,
the prologue was deleted entirely. Just as well Sci-Fi no longer airs the series, since they tend to favor the classics cut to ribbons. **

Fingers Of Fear

Child-murderer lures little girls with a talking doll.
One of the stronger psycho/crime episodes. Thankfully the onscreen violence
is committed on a doll. **

Well Of Doom

Tour de force performance given by Henry Daniell, looking great in make-up similar to Lon Chaney's in London After Midnight. Great
atmosphere, particularly scenes of fog enshrouded moors where a demonic
duo (Daniell + Richard "Jaws" Kiel) use strange methods to kill Torin Thatcher (veteran villain in fantasy films such as Golden Voyage of Sinbad and Jack the Giant Killer as well as TV science fiction series Lost in Space and other Irwin Allen produced shows.)
They imprison the heir (played by Ronald Howard, who co-stars in the excellent ghost story film Queen of Spades) of the remote estate in the Well ***

The Ordeal Of Dr. Cordell

Brilliant scientist goes into a frenzy whenever bells ring. Stars (pre-Napoleon Solo) Robert Vaughn as the psycho killer.

Dizzy dissolves look like the ones used on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. 3
years later. **

Trio For Terror

3 tales of suspense. The first is the best and the weirdest of the 3. Terrence de Marney (Return Of Andrew Bentley) as a Magi who returns from the dead. The other 2 tales are "A Very Strange Bed" and "The Mask of Medusa", and while the cast in each tries hard, the endings miss the boat. Boris plays himself watching the goings on in a19th century London pub where the cast wanders in and each tale begins from there. Ida Lupino's first direction of a THRILLER. **

Papa Benjamin

Voodoo curse brings a down-beat ending for a plagiarizing musician. Jazzy and atmospheric. Later recycled in the British anthology film, Dr. Terror's House of Horrors. *

Late Date

Fighting against time, a fast-thinking man sweats bullets
trying desperately to prevent his older brother (Ed Platt--the "Chief"
on Get Smart) from being caught for a justifiable homicide. **

Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper

Robert Bloch's novella adapted by Barre Lyndon blends the unsettling modus operandi of the Ripper with just the right amount of light touches. Noteworthy score by Jerry
Goldsmith, reminiscent of his catchy List of Adrian Messenger (1963) theme music. **

The Devil's Ticket

Robert Bloch's updated teleplay is adapted from his original short story which first appeared in Weird Tales September 1944. His script is salted with bits of irony, and it holds up as a very enjoyable variation on the deal-with-the-devil theme. No exaggerated make-up job here, as in TWILIGHT ZONE's "Howling Man". John Emery's voice and gestures alone are suitably satanic. MacDonald Carey plays (Outer Limits "The Special One") the poor and hungry artist who hocks his soul for a decent meal. Once he has a full stomach, he decides to wiggle out of the contract. ****

Parasite Mansion

A woman is imprisoned in a ramshackle manor where evil prevails. Her tenuous escape route leads up creaky, spiderweb covered stairs to another prisoner in a far worse predicament, being tormented by an invisible demon. ***

A Good Imagination

Edward Andrews is thoroughly amusing as a cheated
on husband who cleverly punishes his wife and her two lovers. Typically
droll Bloch teleplay. **

Mr. George

A guardian from beyond saves a child from her wicked relatives. A bittersweet tale that plucks the heart strings.

Terror In Teakwood

Egocentric musician steals the hands from the corpse
of his arch rival. Karloff's intro is especially nasty, the desecration
scene having already set the tone. Guy Rolfe (Mr. Sardonicus), Reggie Nalder
(Salem's Lot), and Hazel Court (Man Who Cheated Death) turn in top-notch
performances. After shooting the teaser, inspired by Reggie Nalder's scene, the crew broke
into applause. ***

Prisoner In The Mirror

Undead master of the black arts possesses the living in order to hypnotize and then strangle his companions when the conversation grows the least bit dull. Society isn't redeemed, and no one is spared. Refreshing lack of morals. Possibly Lloyd Bochner (Twilight Zone "To Serve Man"; William Castle's The Night Walker)at his very best, Henry Daniell is chillingly suave. ***

Dark Legacy

A sorcerer leaves his nephew an accursed book on the black
arts. On-target dual performance by Harry Townes (The Cheaters) and Henry
Silva (Outer Limits; The Manchurian Candidate). Superb score by Jerry Goldsmith. ***

Pigeons From Hell

Story by Robert E. Howard first appeared in Weird Tales May 1938, Howard is one of the best writers in that unique magazine; best known for creating the CONAN saga. The teleplay is John Kneubuhl's adaptation.

Starring Brandon DeWilde, who remains forever young having reached fame as the boy in SHANE; he also did well as the lead in the notorious Hitchcock Presents episode "The Sorcerer's Apprentice". Sadly killed in a car crash at age 30... the same age as Robert E. Howard who committed suicide when only 30.

"Pigeons from Hell" is arguably the best known THRILLER episode in the series. The original story is hard to beat, and the episode is dreamy rather than terrifying. Yet it has grown on me over the years, with it's sense of night suffocating the daylight even outside the house.
Subtle little moments such as the kerosene lantern that keeps going dim whenever it's
carried upstairs are memorable indeed. ****

The Grim Reaper

Gruesome legend about a painting proves to be true.
Thriller's first season ended not with a bang, but with a whimper (William Shatner's).
Rod Serling's Night Gallery never displayed any art quite this sinister. Here it is in full color!
Several viewers of the original broadcast have sworn they saw the Grim Reaper appear on screen, in motion. Even Robert Bloch claimed the scene existed, then later cut for syndication. There is a scene in Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS (1925), where The Grim Reaper walks forward, swinging the scythe! ***

Second Season:

What Beckoning Ghost?

A woman is craftily frightened to death by her
cheating spouse. Of course Thriller fans know that the dead rarely rest
peacefully! This episode, Guillotine, and The Lethal Ladies were shown at
the Pacific Film Archive in August 1992 as part of an Ida Lupino festival.
She directed all three episodes, and also directed Twilight Zone's "The
Masks." ****


Poisoned pancakes are consumed by a nevertheless punctual executioner. Quick cuts between the events provide ironic twists throughout.

Fine adaptation of a story by Cornell Woolrich. Similar to an episode from
the 1949 series Starring Boris Karloff entitled "Five Golden Guineas."

The Premature Burial

Thriller's version (by D. Hayes) of the classic
Poe tale which also takes a few cues from Clark Ashton Smith's Weird Tales
entry "The Second Internment." Boris Karloff stars as the wise
doctor who plays on the hysterical fears of a golddigger and her lover.

The Weird Tailor

Bereaved father attempts to resurrect his son using
the Mysteries of the Worm, a rare book said to have been burned with its
owners years ago! The story was adapted again in the all-Bloch anthology
film Asylum (1972) which starred Peter Cushing as the father and Barry Morse
as the tailor. Thriller's version is the better one. ***

God Grant That She Lye Stille

Ghost of a vampire witch possesses the
body of a descendant. Henry Daniell plays the vicar whose ancestor long
ago burned the witch at the stake. Victor Buono has a brief part. Not everyone
lives happily ever after! **


Honeymooning young couple (Elizabeth Montgomery - Bewitched star, and Tom Poston - Old Dark House, William Castle's version and Castle's Zotz) takes refuge at an old hotel (the
Psycho house once again) when caught in a storm. An old woman is heard laughing
insanely in the attic though the raggedly-clothed innkeeper (John Carradine)
denies anything is amiss. Originally aired on October 30, 1961, the Halloween-eve
debut of this segment was more than appropriate.**

The Last Of The Summervilles

Murder and treachery hasten an inheritance.
Karloff is amusing as the clever Dr. Farnham, and Martita Hunt (Brides Of
Dracula) as the eccentric aunt has the best scene when she's electrocuted
in the bathtub. *

Letter To A Lover

Blackmail attempt leads to murder and layers of deception.
Donald Sanford's ("The Cheaters") excellent teleplay is an undervalued
gem. **

A Third For Pinochle

Snoop sisters regularly spy on their henpecked
neighbor, which fits neatly into his plans to murder his wife. Edward Andrews
gives an amusing performance, though the episode's humor is somewhat screwball.

The Closed Cabinet

A ghost wanders the halls with knife in hand, and
only by solving a three-hundred-year-old riddle can the curse be lifted
and peace be restored. Atmospheric direction by Ida Lupino.**

Dialogues With Death

Two tales involving the dead or dying who are quite communicative. Karloff, in both segments, turns in lively performances.

The Return of Andrew Bentley

Original story by August Derleth and Mark Shorer first appeared in Weird Tales, September 1933; teleplay by Richard Matheson. Matheson felt his teleplay was interpreted too morbidly, but undoubtedly most fans
of the series don't mind at all! A sorcerer haunts the resting place of his rival.

Directed by John (host of One Step Beyond) Newland, who also stars as the
heir selected to confront this terrifying development. Antoinette Bower (Waxworks) plays his wife. The demon is played by Tom Hennesy. The late Andrew Bentley is portrayed by one of the masters, Reggie Nalder, who
praised Bowers' acting abilities, as well as calling Newland "a fairly
good director." John Newland (host and director of One Step Beyond) also directed
the classic segment Pigeons From Hell! Terrence De Marney (Trio For Terror)
is also superb, playing Bentley's arch-rival in the black arts. Don't miss
his wild solo on pipe organ that ends on a rather sour note! ***

The Remarkable Mrs. Hawk

A mysterious woman enjoys the company of men, even when they behave like pigs. The moving picture (gif) above is from the opening scene where step by step she takes over the mind of soon to be in living in hog heaven Bruce Dern. John Carradine co-
stars with Jo Van Fleet.***

Portrait Without A Face

A murderer is gradually revealed by a rather
unusual method: an artist completes his final painting posthumously, gradually
revealing his killer's identity. Not a bad little suspense segment, with
a touch of the supernatural to remind us we're watching Thriller. **

An Attractive Family

Kin-folk calmly kill off insured relatives for monetary gain. The eerie prologue gives little hint of the black humor to follow. *


Story by Robert Bloch first appeared in the January 1939 issue of Weird Tales. Wax figures coming to life in order to kill is oft-used though a new twist on the theme is offerred in Robert Bloch's teleplay adaptation. Good performances by Oscar Homolka (Mr. Sardonicus) and Martin Kosleck (The Flesh Eaters). With Ron Ely, TV's Tarzan. Peter Lorre was considered for the lead role. **

La Strega

Our favorite old witch Jeanette Nolan ("Aunt Ada",
"Granny Hart", "Granny") is back at her old haunt of
fear, stirring up a ghastly brew. Ursula Andress, in top physical form rounds
out this romantic tale of lovers fleeing from a terrifying curse. ***

The Storm

Alone in a remote house, a woman attempts logic to overcome her fear that a serial killer is in the house. One of the better non-supernatural entries. **

A Wig For Miss Devore

A witch's wig made from the hairs of victims transforms frumpy has-beens into ravishing beauties in seconds. And vice versa, but of course! Masterfully macabre make-up by Jack Barron. The slo-mo fx are unusual and interesting, subtle and unsettling though low budget. With more subdued lighting those claws might have been a lot creepier. Good cast and a snappy script keep things rolling.***

The Hollow Watcher

Scarecrow comes to life to exact revenge on adulterers deserving of punishment. ("Come get your whuppin'!") Backwoods legends are a great source for spooky stories, such as Twilight Zone's classic Earl Hammer Jr.-scripted episodes. Third season Zone director William Claxton turned in his only Thriller effort with this one. **

Cousin Tundifer

Amusing time warp effects were achieved with the simplest of props:
A rug unfurls across the hardwood floor by itself, and a fireplace ignites in a flash, as music cues to the dated ditty "Narcissus", actually a popular novelty number around the turn of the old century.
Fans of Bonzo Dog Band may recognize the tune, it was adapted for one of their satiric throwback tracks in the late '60s.
By stepping into the parlour of the Tundifer's fully restored Victorian mansion, time rolls back100 years, at least for the Tundifers, but only the non-endowed younger cousin (played by the ever amusing Edward Andrews) discovers the time warp exists. He plans to make clever use of the warp to take control of the the family fortune being frittered away by his eccentric cousin (Vaughn Taylor). **

The Incredible Doktor Markesan

Karloff is directed by Robert Florey in the title role as the slighted professor obsessed with class reunions. Dick York (Bewitched) co-stars as the nephew who's not too particular about his room and board. His wife is ready to bolt but eventually fits right in.

Old man Markesan, despite being past his prime, is hell bent on keeping all his faculties up to snuff for late night weakest link marathons.

Read the original Derleth-Shorer story, as there are subtle elements beyond the fx capabilities and certainly budget restraints of the time. The telefilm as it is might rank as the most grim of all Thriller segments, yet isn't as morbid as it might otherwise have been. Numerous test shots offer glimpses of eerie footage which didn't make the final cut. Thanks to Robert Florey's wife, intriguing scenes of what else might have happened between Dr. Markesan and Molly (Carolyn Kearney) before Fred (Dick York) returns managed to survive. The outtake pictures included here are among several scenes not used in the final edit. ****

Flowers of Evil

Beaudelaire this isn't. Slow going with maybe one good scene of a laughing corpse morphing into a skeleton.

Till Death Do Us Part

Go West, young undertaker! Henry "The Weird
Tailor" Jones gets his turn at droll humor in this light-hearted Bloch crime comedy of errors. **

The Bride Who Died Twice

Poetic tale of a fatal romance. Desperate to
escape an evil despot and his henchmen, a young woman feigns suicide and
flees with her lover (Robert "Time Tunnel" Colbert). Acting chores are mopped up by the
villains (Joe de Santis and Carl Donn) during the effective torture scenes.
Directed by Ida Lupino. This was the final episode produced for Thriller;
the broadcast order differed from the production numbers. **

Kill My Love

Another entertaining crime/suspense segment.
A father knows best how to protect his son: by bumping family and friends off. His conscience bothers him when he decides to kill his son. Veteran B-movie actor Richard Carlson (Creature From the Black Lagoon, The Maze, Tormented) hams it up. Solid script, if a bit incestuous.
by "The Cheaters" Donald Sanford. **

Man Of Mystery

Ruthless tycoon hides behind fictitious corporate identity
in order to savor beautiful women vicariously, until the inevitable point
when he steps out from behind the curtain. Neat little suspense yarn, penned
by Robert Bloch (tongue-in-cheek throughout), with an apropos return by
our host. Thriller's black humor segments easily outclass Rod Serling's
wretched comedy Twilight Zone episodes, and come very close to the better-known
Hitchcock Presents. Great early acting from Emmy award-winning Mary Tyler
Moore - she even sings an entire song. **

The Innocent Bystanders

Loosely based on the (Body Snatchers) infamous
Burke and Hare grave robbing case history. Great Karloff intro, also watch
out for George Kennedy playing his meanest-ever role as an impromptu corpse
deliverer. This was the last of the 1st run terror segments. Summer reruns
and a mid-60's syndication run would be the last hurrah for this often-excellent
series. *

The Lethal Ladies

Superb Karloff intro, not to be missed, followed by
a double-header (two tales of revenge) directed by the first lady of film
noir, Ida Lupino. **

The Specialists

An experimental pilot for an unsold series somewhat similar to Mission Impossible. Interesting. Good music score. *

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