Monday, October 29, 2018

This….is a Thriller

I am proud and pleased to present a guest post from author and historian WTM, who has spent a lot of time watching classic TV this fall. 


“As sure as my name is Boris Karloff, this… is a THRILLER!
- Boris Karloff, Thriller tagline

As a child of the 1960’s, I was fortunate enough at the tender age of eight to be present for a milestone in television history when, on September 13th, 1960, a new hour-long NBC anthology series premiered. Titled Thriller (aka Boris Karloff's Thriller), it was hosted by legendary horrormeister Boris Karloff.



In seventy years of commercial television history, no other program has ever so effectively realized the enormous potential of cinematic horror. That this black and white hour of weekly television so perfectly captured the unimagined terror and literacy of some of the greatest works in modern horror literature is an enduring testament to the power and legacy of Boris Karloff's Thriller. Sadly, the world of weekly commercial television has seen nothing approaching the quality and integrity of this nightmarish series either before or since its remarkable, gothic inception.

The above sentiments notwithstanding, Thriller originally presented little more than quite ordinary tales on crime and mystery, the content and format (including a host and his opening narration) being in apparent imitation of the popular contemporary program Alfred Hitchcock Presents.  However, it soon became a showcase for gothic horror stories, many of which were based on works by authors who were the greatest writers in the genre, such as Edgar Allan Poe, Cornell Woolrich, Robert Bloch, Robert E. Howard, Richard Matheson, and Charlotte Armstrong.

As would also occur later during the 1960’s with the gothic daytime television series Dark Shadows, Thriller’s producers quickly came to realize that television viewers of that era had a pronounced taste for horror and the supernatural, as opposed to mere mystery and crime drama, and there came a sea change in Thriller as a result. Suddenly, instead of mere mystery and ‘cops and robbers’ intrigue, there soon appeared a host of zombies, witches, demons, vampires, ghosts, ghouls, sorcerers, voodoo practitioners, and other unworldly beings and things, with a much greater thematic emphasis on supernatural horror.

The effect was astounding. Thriller quickly became one of the first, if not the first, ‘must-see TV’ programs of the 1960’s, and it has since garnered a cult following that is active to this day. Small wonder, with the arresting imagery seen on this television series, examples being:

* a dead man walking down stairs, brandishing the bloody hatchet that killed him
* the view from a moving child's swing that has just been used to kill a man
* a man morphing into a living skeleton with glowing eye sockets
* a possessed woman who has bitten the heads off of her pet birds
* the stark realization that one is, quite literally, a monster
* a melting wax statue revealing a skeleton within
* a sorcerer’s decomposing corpse being burned
* a laughing skeleton morphing into a corpse
* disembodied hands that move and kill
* a mirror swallowing a woman
* tormented zombies in a crypt
* Psycho-type human remains
* a genuine medusa's head

On the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), fan Ron Panarotti describes Thriller as follows:
Thriller is simply the best horror program ever done on TV - better than The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone, One Step Beyond, Night Gallery, Tales From the Darkside, Tales from the Crypt, etc. It's a shame this classic only ran two seasons; it deserved far better.
The show took time to find its niche, and maybe this accounts for its premature demise. But once the show came into its own, nothing else could touch it.

The show obviously owed a lot to the legacy of E.C. Comics, and the better episodes include The Hungry Glass, Pigeons From Hell, The Cheaters, A Wig for Miss Devore, and The Incredible Doktor Markesan. The series often gave us intelligently written stories and, just as important, frequently succeeded in truly frightening its viewers.

Mr. Panarotti’s praise is well-placed; indeed, in his non-fiction book on horror, Danse Macabre, contemporary horror author Stephen King calls Thriller "the best horror series ever put on TV".

However, as with most television series, there are numerous episodes that do not measure up to the rest, including a few actual clunkers. These are generally those episodes that were produced at the beginning of Thriller’s first season. In Thriller’s defense, however, it must be said at once that the Hollywood writers' strike of 1960 was probably the main reason that the early scripts weren't living up to the name of the series. When compared with today's graphically gory productions such as HBO’s Tales From the Crypt (ironically, based upon the same E.C. comics that had in part inspired Thriller), Thriller might seem to be quite tame to modern audiences, but overall, the show has withstood the test of time and can, even today, still inspire chills and goose bumps, as we see here in a testimonial from another satisfied customer on the IMDb:

Recently I saw a Thriller episode on video entitled The Premature Burial and man, even at age 30 plus, it scared the pants off of me and made the goosebumps rise!

I used to watch Thriller regularly as a child and many of the episodes scared the bejesus out of me too. I distinctly remember watching one such episode, The Hungry Glass, from the safety of behind the couch. Yet, this was also solid Family Fare - “the family that was afraid together stayed together” - and my father liked the program as much as his adolescent son did.

The most memorable Thriller episode from my childhood would have to be Waxworks. This particular episode had it all for a young boy who found Thriller, well, thrilling: a spooky opening sequence that quickly becomes the stuff of nightmares, ear-piercing screams, a quite startling and dramatic introduction by Karloff (see above), a wax museum of horrors, bizarre and bloody murders, necromancy, implied necrophilia, exotic and beautiful women, altercations, guns, a fire, and a skeleton. What's not to like?

And it’s not just me, either; Ripperologist Magazine editor Eduardo Zinna offers the following, excerpted from a Thriller discussion that we once had on jtrforums.com:
I remember Thriller from way back when. They were scary - no doubt about it. I still remember vividly Boris Karloff playing a doctor who brought his colleagues back from the dead to force them to apologise for not having recognised his genius; I remember John Carradine playing a hillbilly vampire; I remember a fat, bald character actor with a five o'clock shadow who played an executioner that has been poisoned trying to get across Paris in time to guillotine a condemned man; I remember Pigeons from Hell; I remember A Wig for Miss Devore; I remember Boris Karloff in The Premature Burial; I remember a dummy that came alive, and a host of others. I remember all right.
Although Thriller’s forte had become supernatural horror, not all of the later episodes were of that bent. The producers covered practically all genres, and often covered several in parallel. Take humor, for instance; if you think that there can be nothing funny about someone being buried alive, then you haven’t ever seen Thriller. Categories of the genres explored, with exemplary episodes for each, are as follows:



* Irony – Guillotine
* Crime - Fingers of Fear
* Drama - Flowers of Evil
* Poignancy - Mr. George
* Intrigue – Man in a Cage
* Horror -Pigeons From Hell
* Surprise - Parasite Mansion
* Mystery - Girl with a Secret
* Humor – A Good Imagination
* Poetic justice - The Weird Tailor
* Suspense - Knock Three-One-Two
* Science Fiction – Cousin Tundifer
* Happy Ending – The Closed Cabinet
* Romance - The Bride Who Died Twice
* Creepy – The Return of Andrew Bentley
* Tragedy - God Grante That She Lye Stille

The whole Thriller experience bears some discussion here, for over time the program became more than the sum of its parts. The series was filmed in black-and-white, as were all contemporary television programs then, but, as Alfred Hitchcock proved so very well on his own television series and in Psycho, black-and-white graphics had the effect of emphasizing the message rather than the medium. That, plus the black-and-white visuals were just downright eerie when viewed at Thriller’s late evening time slot. The Thriller theme music was brief but intense and set the mood perfectly for what would usually follow. At the beginning of each hour, Boris Karloff’s somber intonations would prime and prepare the viewers for the frightful and chilling dramatizations to come. Each episode offered at least one story, with a few episodes dividing the hour between two or even three shorter stories. The music score for individual episodes was always appropriate and sometimes brilliant. Thriller’s trademark was a series of irregularly crossed lines that would appear (and disappear) incrementally in groups across the screen at the end of Karloff’s introduction, at commercial breaks, and usually at the episode’s very end, as we see here.


It wasn’t until decades later that I learned just what it was that these lines represented – the fracture lines in a shattered pane of glass, through which the viewers are looking at the proceedings. The appearance of these lines was always somewhat disquieting, but not exactly frightening (although today my wife finds them genuinely disturbing). However, they did get one’s attention, and the drama of their sudden appearance and rapid accumulation always gave one pause.

Thriller featured many "distinguished players", as Karloff was wont to refer to them, and the list of contemporary actors and actresses who made an appearance in the series is impressive indeed, familiar names from the 1960’s such as William Shatner (Star Trek), Donna Douglas (The Beverly Hillbillies), Russell Johnson (Gilligan’s Island), Mary Tyler Moore (The Dick Van Dyke Show), Ron Ely (Tarzan), Ursula Andress (Dr. No), Werner Klemperer and John Banner (Hogan’s Heroes), Dick York (Bewitched), Natalie Schaefer (Gilligan’s Island), Elizabeth Montgomery (Bewitched), Alejandro Rey (The Flying Nun), and a host of others, including, of course, Boris Karloff himself.

Boris Karloff evidently came to relish his role as series’ host and occasional 'distinguished player'; he quite obviously enjoyed himself during many of the introductions (e.g., The Grim Reaper) and some few episodes. Although he was typically dead-serious during his opening narrations, Karloff could and would frequently also display a surprisingly droll and waggish sense of humor. However, he sometimes seemed to take the proceedings personally, delivering uncharacteristically nasty lectures to the audience in a few episodes, such as after the opening grave desecration scene in The Terror in Teakwood. But, it was in the episodes themselves that Karloff really excelled. He always put on a good show, and his stellar performance in the title role of The Incredible Doktor Markesan was of Emmy award winning-caliber. In the episode Dialogues With Death (consisting of dual stories), he portrays in one segment a demented, elderly ‘Southern Colonel’ who is convinced that his visiting nephew, and the nephew's wife, are actually dead, but unwilling to accept the fact. So he and his equally demented sister do their duty by them and entomb them – alive, of course - in the family crypt. Karloff's performance throughout is a hoot and a welcome change of pace from the pure horror that was so often presented. As was also the case with Alfred Hitchcock’s contemporary television work, Thriller’s intermittent juxtaposition of horror and droll black humor proved quite effective in this and several other episodes such as A Good Imagination. Boris Karloff’s hitherto unsuspected talent for black comedy would continue to serve him well in numerous of Roger Corman’s films of the 1960’s, such as 1963’s The Raven (also notable for starring a then 26 year-old Jack Nicholson as the son of Peter Lorre).

As I began watching Thriller religiously during my formative years, I naturally learned a lot from it, so much so that these memories remain virtually intact after nearly 60 years. Borrowing a device from one of my favorite websites, www.badmovies.org, I now present:

Some of the Things I Learned From Watching Thriller

* Curiosity killed the wife too
* Be careful what you wish for
* Not all fairy tales end happily
* Never intrude on an occult ritual
* The dead are surprisingly talkative
* People really can't handle the truth.
* Old legends are always based on fact
* Doctors can be remarkably vindictive
* Dabblers in sorcery come to no good end
* Musicians take their work really seriously
* Being cuckolded really inspires one's imagination
* You never know where you might meet a vampire
* Ordinary people can cast curses that last for centuries
* Animated scarecrows and wax figures have skeletons
* Women will go to extraordinary lengths to look good
* Locked rooms are often locked for very good reasons
* 19th century France had strange capital punishment laws
* In the company of the right woman, men can be real pigs
* Never murder a magus or an artist, or try to murder a little girl
* Aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews are always after your money
* Ghosts are usually unhappy about something, but are really, really patient
* Wealthy and beautiful young women can have more problems than one might imagine
* Women have a thing for mirrors, but aren't nearly as squeamish as one would expect

And, on a more serious note,

* Good scripting can amply compensate for a low budget
* Commercial television can be genuinely frightening without being graphic

Out of 67 total Thriller episodes, there is a full spectrum ranging from the mediocre (The Big Blackout, Worse Than Murder) to the sublime (The Cheaters, The Incredible Doktor Markesan), with many stops in between. Also encompassed are multiple genres ranging from humor through horror. As such, just how does one go about doing Thriller justice when describing it to someone who was probably not even born when this series was first aired? To solve this problem, I have listed below, in no particular order, fifteen of my personal childhood favorites from the series (there are plenty of other episodes worth watching, such as The Purple Room), with appropriate commentary for each, also accompanied by illustrative screen shots captured mainly from DVD. The content summaries and images provided should serve to give the uninitiated a better idea of what Thriller was all about.

The Cheaters



An alchemist with occult connections creates a pair of spectacles that 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 and ultimately leads to madness. This is the episode where Karloff first delivers the immortal tagline, "This...is 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 for the final moments of The Cheaters are among the most nightmarish ever made for commercial television. In case you didn’t know (and you may otherwise never figure it out if not), “cheaters” is an old slang term for eyeglasses. Now the title makes sense, right?

My Most Memorable Moment:

This would have to be the episode’s climax. The last few minutes are genuinely chilling, a perfect combination of audio and visual stimuli, and the audience is left wondering about the protagonist’s ultimate fate. I surely never would have suspected that a guy could ever scream like that, though.

The Hungry Glass



A haunted cliff-house, where undead souls lurk in a collection of mirrors. Very scary special effects. Excellent performances by William Shatner and Russell Johnson. Karloff makes a grand entrance dressed in Edwardian clothing. A young Donna Douglas appears dressed up in pre-Beverly Hillbillies finery. This episode is often confused with The Prisoner in the Mirror, as both plots involve spirits inhabiting mirrors over time.

My Most Memorable Moment:

Well, the sight of a mirror swallowing a woman as seen below is memorable enough for a young boy. Watching this again over 55 years later, though, in a post-Star Trek time frame, I would have to vote for the scene of William Shatner committing suicide. I should be ashamed to say I was cheering.






Mr. George



A guardian from beyond the grave saves a young heiress from her wicked relatives. A bittersweet tale that plucks at the heart strings. Although Thriller owed much to the legacy and tradition (horror, irony, poetic justice) of the legendary E.C. horror comics of a decade earlier, there was at least one instance where the episode plot used was apparently a direct steal from them. The Thriller episode Mr. George is a very close copy of the E.C.’s Vault of Horror No. 20 story Grandma's Ghost, the primary differences being the substitution of the ghost of a male family friend (the pending stepfather) for that of the child's grandmother, and the manner in which said ghost kills off the child’s avaricious relatives.

My Most Memorable Moment:

What I remember most from this episode is the unique camera work employed in one scene, as we watch the prone, lifeless body of the girl’s uncle from the vantage point of the moving child’s swing that has just been used to kill him.

The Weird Tailor




A bereaved amateur-sorcerer father attempts to resurrect his deceased wayward son using the De Vermis Mysteriis (Mysteries of the Worm), a rare book said to have been burned with its owner centuries before. If you didn’t trust used-car salesmen before, then you sure won’t after watching this episode.

My Most Memorable Moment:




Definitely the opening scene of the occult ritual-in-progress, where the drunken ne’er-do-well son learns too late that old dad really did know what he was talking about here. But, I still get the giggles when watching the scene at the used-car lot — every time.

Pigeons From Hell




This is arguably the best known Thriller episode in the series, although it is certainly not the best of adaptations. The original story by Robert E. Howard is hard to beat - Stephen King called it "the finest short horror story of the 20th century”. The episode is dreamier than it is terrifying, with its sense of night suffocating the daylight even outside an old house. Subtle little moments such as the kerosene lantern that keeps going dim whenever it's carried upstairs are memorable indeed.

Is it just me, or does the zuvembie (shown) look more like a bag lady than the horrific voodoo creature described by Robert E. Howard? The 1930’s Weird Tales magazine short story from which this episode was adapted is now in the public domain and may be viewed here. Read it and you will understand the problems involved in adapting it to 1960’s television, which is probably why the Thriller adaptation is decidedly inferior to the original source material.

My Most Memorable Moment:

No doubt about it – like Stephen King, I found the scene of the dead man walking down the stairs in that old house, with his own blood and brains oozing down his face, truly mind-boggling. Howard knew his horror, that is for sure.

The Grim Reaper



Gruesome legend about a cursed painting so evil that whoever owns it will meet his fate by the scythe of the Grim Reaper. Thriller's first season ended not with a bang, but with a whimper (the one caught in the throat of a terrified William Shatner). Rod Serling's Night Gallery never displayed any art this sinister!

My Most Memorable Moment:

This episode has several memorable scenes, all of which involve the cursed painting, but, again, my favorite now has to be that at the end when William Shatner gets his just deserts. If not for Star Trek and Barbary Coast, not to mention his abominable singing, I might have actually felt sorry for him.

The Devil's Ticket




Robert Bloch's teleplay is salted with bits of irony and is a very enjoyable variation on the old deal-with-the-devil theme. No exaggerated make-up job here, as John Emery's voice and gestures alone are suitably satanic. MacDonald Carey plays the poor and hungry artist who pawns his soul for a decent meal. Once he has a full stomach, however, he tries to wriggle out of the contract. Definitely more humorous than horrible, with the typical Robert Bloch surprise ending to his droll screenplay.

My Most Memorable Moment:

From childhood it would have to be the hell-smoke wafting up from under the doors whenever the Devil collects his debts. Today, it is Robert Bloch’s punch line at the very end. Feminists, prepare to be outraged.

Waxworks




Wax figures coming to life in order to kill is an oft-used theme in horror, though a new twist is offered in Robert Bloch's teleplay. There is an outstanding performance by Oskar Homolka. This one has it all, folks, and is surely the most underrated of all Thrillers. And one of the most horrific.

My Most Memorable Moment:

Too many to list, as we saw in the earlier discussion. If I really have to choose a favorite, then it must be the opening sequence up to and including Karloff’s narration. My wife had to leave the room when she saw that this episode was going to open with a hatchet murder. Myself, I took it as a harbinger of great things to come.

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. The slow motion effects 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.

My Most Memorable Moment:

I remember more of the opening of this episode than anything else, with the witch cheerfully taking command of her own execution, as seen below, in a historically-accurate hanging. She’s wearing the famous wig, which makes several more appearances on other heads. And, yeah, the make-up is macabre all right.



The Incredible Doktor Markesan



Host Boris Karloff stars as a slighted professor obsessed with revenge on his peers, even though they are all now inconveniently dead. Dick York co-stars as the impoverished nephew who's none too particular about his room and board. This episode might rank as the most macabre of all Thrillers. Karloff delivers a tour-de-force performance in the title role. One of several episodes with a really, really unhappy ending.



My Most Memorable Moment:

The ending again - dramatic, horrifying, and sad. But, hey, Doktor Markesan told her not to open that door. Unforgettable visuals throughout this episode and especially at the very end. Karloff once more shows why his name had by then become synonymous with horror.

God Grante That She Lye Stille




Ghost of a vampiric witch attempts to possess the body of a descendant 300 years after being burned at the stake. Any other program would probably have lapsed into a predictable formula here, as there is a budding love interest with the dedicated family doctor, but not Thriller. Suffice to say that the episode ends with a very unhappy ending, the lesson being that not all fairy tales end happily, and the princess does not always get her prince. Refreshingly different, that is for certain. The final cemetery scene, where we see the witch’s ghost disappear back into her grave forever, is solemn and unreasonably sad.


My Most Memorable Moment:

I guess I’d have to say the scene illustrated, where we learn that the woman shown is all bloody around the mouth from having bitten the heads off of her pet birds to get at their blood, all the while in the throes of witch-possession.

Flowers of Evil




Take a class in Murder 101 at the Academy of Arvonne. A somewhat dreary period piece that really could have been better written, but definitely worth watching nonetheless. Certainly one of the scariest and most arresting opening sequences in Thriller.

My Most Memorable Moment:

The last 15 seconds of Flowers of Evil are among the most memorable of my childhood Thriller viewing – a man who has just committed suicide after a long, despairing soliloquy is in close quarters with the corpse of a woman he had murdered shortly before and two skeletons belonging to men that they had both previously murdered, all set to the most intense, eerily dramatic score that I have ever heard on television. Unforgettable.
***

The Premature Burial



Thriller's version of the classic Poe tale, which also takes a few cues from the pulp magazine Weird Tales, where Robert Bloch first cut his teeth as an author. Good performance by Karloff, who stars as the wise doctor who plays on the guilt and hysterical fears of a gold digger and her lover to see justice done. One of the more thrilling episodes.

My Most Memorable Moment:

This is one of the scarier Thriller episodes, no doubt about it, as related in the earlier excerpts quoted from the IMDb. I suppose the most memorable scene for me is the first appearance of the buried-alive husband in his flapping shroud. ‘Spooky’ doesn’t begin to cover it, and is it the real deal or not? With Thriller, either situation is equally probable.

******

The Return of Andrew Bentley



A sorcerer haunts the resting place of his rival. John Newland (host of One Step Beyond) stars as the heir selected to confront this disconcerting development. Terrence De Marney 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!  For me, this was the creepiest of all Thriller episodes, although The Incredible Doktor Markesan is a close second. Imagine trying to make a home in an old Gothic mansion with your recently dead sorcerer-uncle buried in a crypt in the cellar, knowing that some unworldly entity was going to make repeated attempts to break into the crypt in order to possess the corpse. Yeah, right; you’re really going to sleep well under those circumstances. Foreboding, creepy visuals throughout, with an uncharacteristically graphic climax.

My Most Memorable Moment:

The first confrontation with sorcerer-ghost Andrew Bentley at the door of the crypt is my most vivid memory, as it really is chilling, but the burning of his rotting corpse at the end is an eye-opener too. The latter may also be a nod to the E.C. horror comics and Old Witch artist Graham Ingles, who definitely knew his way around rotting corpses.

******


The Terror in Teakwood



An erratic, talented pianist cuts short his honeymoon in order to attend the funeral of an archrival, who could play music beyond anyone else’s ability due to his oversized hands. He bribes a caretaker to gain access to the dead man's crypt and desecrates the corpse by removing its hands. When the pianist's upcoming concert program is announced, it is seen to include a sonata written by the late rival pianist, a composition that no one else would ever be physically able to play, unless…..

My Most Memorable Moment:

Bearing in mind that this was 1961 and TV special effects were then primitive, the sight of disembodied hands moving across the floor en route to kill was still pretty impressive to a 9 year-old boy. Today, I notice that the musical performances and acting are actually quite good.




In spite of Thriller's status as the premium program of its kind (more on that shortly) and its popularity among viewers (especially among the coveted 18-35 year old male demographic), it was, unfortunately, cancelled after only two seasons. I remember being saddened and angered by this event, for Thriller was one of my favorite programs at a time of my life when I used to spend several hours a day watching television. Today, one might naturally attribute such a seemingly poor decision to mere network executive buffoonery, the type of which would definitely occur six years later when NBC cancelled another immensely popular series, Star Trek, likewise after a run of only two years. The truth of the matter, however, is one of the television industry’s dirtiest little secrets.

As was mentioned earlier, Thriller began life as an imitation of the successful program Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which since 1955 had been carried by CBS, the chief rival to Thriller’s network, NBC. Like Walt Disney, Alfred Hitchcock viewed his competition as parasites, but with an air of benign contempt. He was, after all, the acknowledged ‘Master of Suspense’, and everyone else, well, they were just second-rate imitators.

However, Alfred Hitchcock switched his affiliation to NBC at the beginning of the 1960 television season, the same season that Thriller began, and this event set the stage for what would soon become a disaster for Thriller and its production staff. Once Thriller hit its stride in the middle of its first season, and literally became slicker and better week by week, its ratings began to consistently surpass those of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. According to William Frye, the one producer most responsible for Thriller’s success, this fact was not lost on Alfred Hitchcock. As William Frye was later quoted on the matter, “Don’t think that Hitchcock and Joan Harrison (the producer of Alfred Hitchcock Presents) weren’t watching Thriller.



The end came quickly. Alfred Hitchcock, irked by Thriller’s consistent high quality and superior ratings, then issued a Machiavellian ultimatum to NBC; he wouldn’t continue unless Thriller was withdrawn for one year. This act would be tantamount to canceling Thriller outright, and Hitchcock undoubtedly knew this. The network hesitated, but as William Frye ruefully recalled, “Hitchcock’s clout at NBC was greater than Karloff’s.” The decision was made to axe the series.


As anticipated, Alfred Hitchcock Presents benefited immediately from Thriller’s demise during the 1962 television season. Now retooled and retitled The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, the series began presenting unabashed horror episodes, something that Hitchcock had always previously eschewed. William Frye observed this shameless metamorphosis with undisguised annoyance. “Not only did they begin using similar stories,” he points out, “but they started using the same directors.”

At least Star Trek received another year's reprieve when hordes of angry fans besieged NBC by mail after its cancellation was announced, demanding that the series be reinstated. Probably at least as many fans would have supported Thriller as well (remember, they knew nothing of Alfred Hitchcock’s behind-the-scenes machinations), but, unfortunately, no such organized letter-writing campaign was implemented on its behalf, and it just went gently into that good night. One might wonder why, if Thriller were so popular, that one of the other two major networks didn’t pick it up from NBC. We’ll probably never know for certain, but one can readily surmise that the television industry was as incestuous in 1962 as it is today. Surely the executives at ABC and CBS knew the true reason underlying Thriller’s surprise cancellation, and they weren’t about to run afoul of an industry heavyweight like Alfred Hitchcock. Thriller had, for all practical purposes, become radioactive, and would henceforth be doomed to syndication.

In my humble opinion, the producers of Thriller missed a golden opportunity to cash in on its popularity, when they probably could have released a Thriller feature film shortly after cancellation of the series. After all, the time was ripe for such an event; Psycho had by then recently whetted the public's appetite for psychological horror, and, quite significantly, Alfred Hitchcock had made Psycho on a shoestring budget, mainly, and most importantly, by utilizing the production crew from his own television series. Had Thriller's producers done the same thing in a timely manner, this story might well have had a different ending. Again, we’ll probably never know for certain, but it is possible, even probable, that Alfred Hitchcock foresaw the possibility of such an event and took additional measures to ensure that such a Thriller film would never be made. At least this supposition would explain why Hitchcock was so keen to hire away as many of Thriller’s creative personnel as he could, following its demise.

Personally, I find the truth behind Thriller’s cancellation disgusting, even though more than 55 years have now elapsed since the deed was done. While I will continue to admire Alfred Hitchcock’s work, I will certainly never look at Alfred Hitchcock himself in the same way again, ever. He is one Hollywood God that has been proven to have feet of clay, and this whole sordid business between he and Thriller is as anticlimactic as it gets. That one man’s bloated ego could be allowed to destroy Thriller, which had risen to the top by blazing its own trail, is as gross an injustice as has ever been perpetrated in the entertainment industry.

When Boris Karloff died in February of 1969, a memorial service was held in his honor at St. Paul's Covent Garden, known simply as the Actors' Church. A commemorative plaque was placed inside the church, containing a quotation from Andrew Marvell's Horatian ode "Upon Cromwell's Return From Ireland." It reads…
He Nothing Common Did or Mean
Upon That Memorable Scene
We shall not see his like again
A fitting epitaph for one of Karloff’s stature, it also applies equally well to Thriller, which preceded him in death by less than seven years. For, surely, we shall not see its like again either. Requiescat In Pace.

As was mentioned earlier, there are 67 Thriller episodes in all, and the complete series run is as follows. These episodes are listed in the order in which they were televised, although this is not necessarily the order in that they were produced. For your viewing pleasure, I have also provided episode rankings that are a conglomerate of my own rankings and those found in the DVD Episode Guide.

Thriller Episode Reviews - rated 1 (unremarkable) to 4 (incredible) asterisks. Click the title to watch the episode on YouTube (if available).

Season 1 (1960 - 1961)

The Twisted Image **
Child's Play *
Worse Than Murder *
The Mark of the Hand *
Rose's Last Summer *
The Guilty Men **
The Purple Room ***
The Watcher **
Girl with a Secret *
The Prediction *
The Fatal Impulse **
The Big Blackout *
Knock Three-One-Two **
Man in the Middle **
The Cheaters  ****
The Hungry Glass ****
The Poisoner **
Man in the Cage **
Choose a Victim **
Hay-Fork and Bill-hook **
The Merriweather File **
The Fingers of Fear ***
Well of Doom ***
The Ordeal of Dr. Cordell **
Trio for Terror **
Papa Benjamin *
Late Date **
Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper **
The Devil's Ticket***
Parasite Mansion ***
A Good Imagination **
Mr. George **
The Terror in Teakwood ****
The Prisoner in the Mirror ***
Dark Legacy ***
Pigeons From Hell ***
The Grim Reaper ***

Season 2 (1961 - 1962)

What Beckoning Ghost? **
Guillotine **
The Premature Burial ****
The Weird Tailor ***
God Grante That She Lye Stille ***
Masquerade **
The Last of the Sommervilles *
Letter to a Lover **
A Third for Pinochle *
The Closed Cabinet **
Dialogues with Death **
The Return of Andrew Bentley ***
The Remarkable Mrs. Hawk ***
Portrait Without a Face **
An Attractive Family ***
Waxworks ****
La Strega **
The Storm ***
A Wig For Miss Devore ***
The Hollow Watcher **
Cousin Tundifer **
The Incredible Doktor Markesan ****
Flowers of Evil **
Till Death Do Us Part **
The Bride Who Died Twice **
Kill My Love **
Man of Mystery ***
The Innocent Bystanders **
The Lethal Ladies **
The Specialists **


6 comments:

WTM said...

Good job, Miss C. And just in time for a Halloween treat. So far as I know, all of the Thriller episodes are now available through YouTube, so one can search out episodes that are not linked herein.

Anonymous said...

Welcome to Miss C's blog. Nice to see you publishing again.
- Edward

gwdMaine said...

Awesome. Thanks much for this.

WTM said...

BTW, the frontispiece image at the top, the skull with the glowing eye sockets, is from the episode The Prisoner in the Mirror. The humorous story about being buried alive is one of the dual episodes of Dialogues With Death. If you are going to watch just one episode, try Waxworks.

gwdMaine said...

No, no, no, no, no. I intend to watch them all. In order
if possible. And while I couldn't find a reference, I find
it hard to believe there's no relationship between the
cracked glass of Thriller and that of Black Mirror.

WTM said...

gwdMaine:

I'm glad to hear you say so. I've never watched Black Mirror, but they probably copied Thriller's MO shamelessly, figuring that today's viewers have never even heard of Thriller. BTW, you may be interested in this:
https://www.amazon.com/This-Thriller-Episode-Analysis-Television/dp/0786419695/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1540847631&sr=1-7&keywords=alan+warren

Sad to say, the last Thrillers were not very good; I suspect the impending cancellation was bad for morale across the board. But in its prime it had no rivals.

Best,
WTM