Image Entertainment // 1960 // 3360 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // August 31st, 2010
"As sure as my name is Boris Karloff..."
I'm not quite sure why Thriller, a mystery/horror anthology series from the early '60s, never really caught on.
It might be that it was a little late to the game, viewed perhaps as a knock off of popular, long-running anthologies The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Maybe people found the hour running time a little hard to take -- Twilight Zone and Hitchcock ran half-hour episodes for several seasons before switching the hour format, and Twilight Zone switched back after one season. Perhaps host Boris Karloff simply lacked the cred of then-hot young turk Rod Serling or "Master of Suspense" Hitchcock.
Whatever the case, Thriller ran two seasons on NBC, from 1960 to 1962. It consisted of a mere 67 episodes and had an hour run time, which might have hurt its chances for a second life in syndication, though it did turn up here and there. From what I've seen on the Internet, there are certainly people who remember it.
This set is Thriller: The Complete Series, and it contains all the episodes spread over 14 discs.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I did not watch the entire set. That would have meant sitting through 67 49-minute episodes and more than two dozen episode-length commentaries, plus various isolated music scores and promos. Instead, I checked out a random sampling: some of the ones I saw mentioned online, as well as others that seemed interesting based on the plot descriptions or guest stars.
* "The Twisted Image"
The series' first episode (perhaps its pilot), and a strong entry. Directed by veteran Arthur Hiller, and starring Leslie Nielsen and George Grizzard, this is a disturbing tale of envy and obsession.
* "The Purple Room"
Rip Torn is great as a man who must spend the night in an allegedly haunted mansion in order to collect an inheritance; good performances, some nice jolts, and a familiar set make this work.
* "The Girl With a Secret"
Silly but entertaining spy story, notable for early appearances by Cloris Leachman and Victor Buono, a nice turn by Ellen Corby as a trashy, duplicitous maid, and Rex Holman as a grinning psychopath.
* "The Hungry Glass"
William Shatner and Russell Johnson in a story of terror involving mirrors.
* "The Cheaters"
Interesting, if slightly predictable, story of an unusual pair of glasses; from a story by Robert Bloch.
* "The Ordeal of Dr. Cordell"
An OK take on Jekyll and Hyde, with Robert Vaughn as a tortured scientist and Marlo Thomas in a small role as a victim.
* "Trio for Terror"
Ida Lupino directed these creepy and clever short stories.
* "Parasite Mansion"
Well-acted but ultimately uninvolving story of a woman (Pippa Scott) who finds herself trapped in a house with a family that harbors a terrible secret.
* "Pigeons From Hell"
A horrifying story of madness and the supernatural, with Brandon De Wilde as a young man whose car breaks down outside the wrong Louisiana mansion.
* "The Weird Tailor"
Unsettling story of black magic and a tailor commissioned to make an unusual suit for a wealthy man's son. An interesting bonus on the episode gives us a "re-enactment" of an interview with the show's associate producer, Doug Benton, that was published in Fangoria in 1996, with Gary Gerani and Benton's son, Daniel.
As a rule, comedy episodes on otherwise dramatic anthologies fall flat; "Masquerade" is an exception, thanks in large part to the performances of Tom Poston, John Carradine, and Elizabeth Montgomery, and a pretty clever script in which a young couple (Poston and Montgomery) seek shelter in a broken down hotel that might be inhabited by vampires; bonus points if you recognize the hotel.
* "The Closed Cabinet"
Fun gothic puzzler about an ancient curse.
* "The Remarkable Mrs. Hawk"
Smart, funny horror story, with excellent performances by Jo Van Fleet and John Carradine, this episode uses Greek mythology as its base.
* "Portrait Without a Face"
A nifty little mystery with supernatural overtones about an artist who unmasks his killer from beyond the grave -- or does he?
* "La Strega"
Ursula Andress stars as a beautiful young woman trying to escape the clutches of her grandmother (Jeanette Nolan), a witch; well-done period horror with a solid twist at the end.
* "The Storm"
Tense but unexceptional story of a woman who makes a horrifying discovery while trapped in her home by a storm, with Nancy Kelly.
* "A Wig for Miss Devore"
Alternately funny and chilling, this story of a Hollywood has-been's disastrous comeback stars Patricia Barry and beloved character actor John Fiedler.
* "The Incredible Dr. Markesan"
Karloff stars in this creepy story of an old science professor visited by his nephew (Dick York) and his new wife; the ending is truly disturbing.
* "Flowers of Evil"
Eerie tale of beyond-the-grave vengeance starring Luciana Paluzzi and Jack Weston.
* "Man of Mystery"
Mary Tyler Moore as a woman torn between a wealthy industrialist and a poor but caring comic (William Windom). This one features a series of late-game twists and one of the most cynical endings ever committed to a show like this; Karloff makes a rare post-episode appearance to assure us that everything turned out as it should have.
* "The Specialists"
The final episode is a pretty routine cops and gangsters story that would have been better suited for The Untouchables.
I'll admit, I wasn't expecting much from Thriller. I usually find the hour-long format a bit daunting for anthology series -- it didn't work for The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents -- and some of the episodes here certainly overstay their welcome a tad.
But overall, I was impressed with what I saw. Thriller is well-produced, sharply written, and features some very good performances. The stories are engrossing and occasionally disturbing, there's a somewhat surprising level of violence, and enough irony and nastiness to keep it interesting.
Thriller started out as a series of crime dramas and mysteries, but midway through the first season, started adding tales with supernatural elements. The early, non-supernatural episodes are generally regarded as the series' weakest, though for the most part, they're still pretty entertaining, if overall unremarkable.
The horror-themed episodes are the standouts, though, and some of these rival the better episodes of The Twilight Zone. A number seem to be based on legends, folk tales, or good-old campfire stories, as well as novels and short stories. Among the credited writers are Robert Bloch (Psycho), Charles Beaumont (The Twilight Zone), Philip MacDonald (Ring of Fear), and Douglas Heyes (Kitten With a Whip); directors include Mitchell Leisen (Hold Back the Dawn), Arthur Hiller (The Americanization of Emily), Ida Lupino (The Trouble With Angels), TV stalwart John Newland (One Step Beyond), and actor-turned-director Paul Henreid. Besides the actors noted in the above plot descriptions, Thriller features appearances by Warren Oates, Fay Bainter, Mary Astor, Werner Klemperer, George Kennedy, Bruce Dern, Estelle Winwood, Phyllis Thaxter, Patricia Medina, Macdonald Carey, and a number of actors you might recognize from the "Golden Age" of TV.
Image Entertainment has done a fantastic job on this set. The episodes look terrific, overall very clean and sharp, with minimal damage. The 14 discs are housed in seven slimline cases, with plot descriptions on the back of the covers. The entire set comes in a sturdy cardboard box that prominently features a Stephen King quote that proclaims Thriller to be "The best horror series ever put on TV."
We get a whole pile of supplements; almost every episode has at least one bonus feature. Many of these are episode previews or isolated music tracks, which feature the work of composers like Jerry Goldsmith or Morton Stevens.
The best of the bonuses are the commentary tracks. Many of these are hosted by Steven Mitchell, who produced the supplements for this set. Mitchell offers background on the series and does a great job interviewing people like director Arthur Hiller and actors Richard Anderson and Beverly Washburn about their work both in general and in their respective episodes. Other commentaries are provided by writers David Schow (The Crow), Gary Gerani (Pumpkinhead), Lucy Chase Williams, and Larry Blamire (The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra), among other fans, experts, and interested parties. These commentaries are filled with insight, trivia, and general appreciation for a series that, somehow, just never made it to "legend" status.
What's missing from this set is a featurette that explores the history of Thriller and ties everything together. There's not much information on the web about Thriller, and a documentary would have been really helpful to understanding the history of the show. There's a lot of information in the commentaries, but you have to sit through more than 20 hours of them to find out everything you might want to know.
Imaginative, chilling, inventive, twisted, and stylish, Thriller deserves to be rediscovered by a new generation of horror and TV fans. Image Entertainment has delivered a terrific set that gives this classic series its due. Highly recommended.
Review content copyright © 2010 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 3360 Minutes
Release Year: 1960
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Commentaries
* Isolated Music Tracks
* Image Galleries
* Episode Guide