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
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.
• "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.
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.