Appellate Judge Tom Becker wrote this review in Manila.
"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 Purple Room"
• "The Girl With a Secret"
• "The Hungry Glass"
• "The Cheaters"
• "The Ordeal of Dr. Cordell"
• "Trio for Terror"
• "Parasite Mansion"
• "Pigeons From Hell"
• "The Weird Tailor"
• "The Closed Cabinet"
• "The Remarkable Mrs. Hawk"
• "Portrait Without a Face"
• "La Strega"
• "The Storm"
• "A Wig for Miss Devore"
• "The Incredible Dr. Markesan"
• "Flowers of Evil"
• "Man of Mystery"
• "The Specialists"
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.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
• Episode Commentaries
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