A&E // 1973 // 667 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // October 5th, 2006
The cold hand of the '70s horror classic beckons...
Though not well known by American audiences, prolific writer/producer Brian Clemens is the celebrated figure behind some of the best loved British TV series of the 1960s and 70s, including Danger Man, The Avengers and The Professionals. In the midst of cranking out scripts for another pair of small screen spy thrillers, The Persuaders and The Protectors, Clemens temporarily left the world of international skullduggery behind to focus on Thriller. This new, shot-on-video anthology program promised suspense and excitement in the tradition of Alfred Hitchcock's most nefarious nail-biters.
Long available in the UK, this new DVD set collects the first ten episodes of the show for the first time in Region 1. Though A&E has packaged this release in a lurid box that tries to pass it off as a Hammer House of Horror-style series, the supernatural elements of Thriller are, in fact, quite limited. This show specialized in drawing room psychological dramas: whodunits, police procedurals and serial killer stories. The craggy-face ghoul on the cover does not appear, nary a drop of blood is dropped, and any paranormal plot twists are merely discussed (when they're present at all).
The ten, 65-minute episodes are:
* "Lady Killer"
Barbara Feldon stars as an American tourist who falls for a widowed English suitor (Robert Powell, Asylum) only to discover that it's a cruel set-up. Because she is a virtual double for his still-living wife, Powell's character plans to kill her so the couple can get their hands on the insurance money. Good performances by Feldon and Powell make this an interesting debut episode, though it's rather talky, and the "twist" ending is a complete let down. 7/10
English theatre couple John Carson and Joanna Dunham move to a crumbling manor and discover a skeleton buried in the basement. A medium tells them that the spirit of the killer remains in the house, still searching for the money he was originally after. As a ghost story, this wholly predicable tale fails at setting up any kind of atmosphere, coasting on the performances of its stars to buoy an uninteresting and hackneyed script. Carson is good for the most part, but I noticed some bicuspid marks on the scenery when he appears to be possessed by the killer halfway through. 6/10
* "Someone at the Top of the Stairs"
One of the best episodes on the set and one of the only exercises here to pull off some real suspenseful moments, "Someone at the Top of the Stairs" is a Village of the Damned-styled conspiracy thriller about a pair of college girls, played by Donna Mills and Judy Carne, who rent a room in a spooky manor and sense something is not right. The ending is, again, an implausibly silly trifle, but it does keep the viewer guessing to the very final scene. 8/10
* "An Echo of Theresa"
Brian Clemens is obviously a fan of The Manchurian Candidate, because this clunky episode plays out like the classic 1960s film was recast with John Steed. Brainwashing is the order of the day when an American businessman (Paul Burke) visits London and acts erratically whenever he sees a newspaper. It feels like a pilot for a spin-off about the show's P.I., Mr. Earp (Dinsdale Landen), and Clemens reveals in his intro that this assumption wouldn't be too far off. The ending is one of the worst yet, a stupid and inconsequential spin that invalidates much that came before it. 6/10
* "The Colour of Blood"
This episode stars Norman Eshley as the Carnation Killer, a serial murderer who escapes jail and is mistaken for the heir to a small fortune by a young, vulnerable lawyer's assistant (Katharine Schofield). Continuing in the police procedural vein, "The Colour of Blood" is fairly tedious going until it offers a second twist on the story, when it's revealed that the assistant and her boyfriend planned to kill the beneficiary for his inheritance. Eshley's one-note performance is a disappointment, though, and it's never really explained why he always wears a carnation in his lapel except as an overwrought dramatic device. 7/10
* "Murder in Mind"
The familiar, Les Diabolique premise weighs down this uninspiring entry in the series, as Zena Walker struggles to make things work as a woman afraid her mystery novelist husband (Richard Johnson) is planning to murder her. Donald Gee is good as an investigating police officer called in to solve things, but in the end, there's just too much drawing room intrigue, and not enough interesting twists to save this installment. 5/10
* "A Place to Die"
More British conspiracy thrills when a doctor, Bryan Marshall, moves to a small country village and notices that the inhabitants are infatuated with his wife, played by Alexandra Hay. A completely underwhelming episode short on thrills and creativity, "A Place to Die" marks the lowest point of Thriller's first season. By the time it's revealed that the village is dabbling in witchcraft, you may have already tuned out. 4/10
* "File It Under Fear"
A whodunit mystery of sorts about a series of killings that lead police to the local library, "File It Under Fear" is a rather interesting yarn that combines some of the elements seen in previous episodes to great effect. British character actors Maureen Lipman, John Le Mesurier, Richard Pendry, and Richard O'Callaghan give this episode a definite boost, and make it one of the more enjoyable-and even thrilling-entries on the set. 8/10
* "The Eyes Have It"
This well-remembered episode about a trio of political assassins hiding out in a school for the blind is passable, but it's slow and talky, squandering a few opportunities for suspense. Not surprisingly, the sight-impaired students manage to band together and overcome the killers despite their handicap. This one just doesn't work as well as it should, despite a fun opening credits sequence. 6/10
* "Spell of Evil"
The final episode of the season involves a wealthy widower (Edward De Souza) who is plagued by malevolent spirits and believes it's the work of a witch (Diane Cilento). Another round of solid performance keeps this one from falling apart, and there are a few interesting twists along the way to refresh audience interest, though once again the final scenes are a distinct disappointment. An average episode, at best. 7/10
A&E appears to have ported over the R2 Carlton transfers of Thriller for this release. Because the show was shot on video, it has a cheap feel to it and glaring lighting which sometimes kills the tension. Not a lot of clean-up work has been done, but there are few artifacts and source defects to contend with. It looks fine, for the most part. Likewise, a no-frills mono soundtrack gets the job done and little more. The jarring, atonal score sounds pretty good, though. As for extras, Brian Clemens appears before each episode to provide an introduction, talking about his idea and throwing in some trivia. The fourth disc in the set features interviews with Clemens, along with directors Shaun O'Riordan and John Cooper that provide some interesting context for British suspense buffs.
Unfortunately, Thriller never really lives up to its potential -- never mind its title. While the premises are usually fairly gripping, the execution rarely works. These episodes are extremely stagy and overly familiar, and the twist endings are almost uniformly disappointing. Not that this matters very much. A hefty price tag for these 10 episodes ensures that only established fans will be interested in taking Thriller: The Complete Season One home.
Review content copyright © 2006 Paul Corupe; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 667 Minutes
Release Year: 1973
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Interviews with Brian Clemens, Shaun O'Riordan, and John Cooper
* Episode introductions by Brian Clemens