Sunday, October 12, 2014

Third Annual October Scares, Week Two: "This One's A Thriller"

In Week 2 of Our 3rd Annual October Scares-fest we recommend some episodes from the Boris Karloff hosted anthology series, Thriller (1960-62). Though it only ran for two seasons, it’s highly regarded by many fans, including Stephen King, who praised the show in Danse Macabre, his 1981 overview of the horror genre. The series actually started out offering tales of murder & suspense, similar to Alfred Hitchcock Presents, but shifted its focus to horror during the middle of the first season. Several of the episodes, including “Pigeons From Hell,” an adaptation of a Robert E. Howard tale, and “The Grim Reaper,” are considered classics of TV terror. While the show continued to alternate between crime dramas & horror stories, it’s those scary outings for which the series is best remembered. Here are several episodes to view for a Thriller-ific night of chills!

From Season 1:
The Hungry Glass – Based on a short story by Robert Bloch, the author of Psycho, this episode stars William Shatner & Russell Johnson. That’s right, Captain Kirk of Star Trek & The Professor from Gilligan’s Island in the same show! And it also features Donna Douglas of The Beverly Hillbillies in a small but pivotal role. A young couple buys a seaside mansion for a bargain price, but get more than they bargained for when they find out the place is haunted. And why is the attic full of mirrors…and what do our characters see in them? Is there something waiting inside the glass? It’s fun to see Shatner & Johnson together, and there are some truly creepy moments in the show. Adapted from Bloch’s story by director Douglas Heyes, this is one of the best episodes of the series.

Dark Legacy is the story of Mario Asparos, a magician whose uncle dies and leaves him a book of powerful black magic spells. Mario tries to summon a demon, hoping to gain wealth & power. But when you play with dark forces, be careful what you wish for…and be ready for the price you have to pay. This episode was written by John Tomerlin & directed by John Brahm. The stars are Henry Silva (best known as a villain in a host of B movies) & character actor Harry Townes. The mist-shrouded look of this episode (a hallmark of many of Thriller’s finest hours) is a mix between film noir & horror and it adds to the story’s eerie vibe.

From Season 2:
La Strega is the story of Luana (played by Ursula Andress, the original Bond girl in Dr. No) who’s saved from drowning by a young man named Tonio. He falls in love with her, but has to contend with her grandmother, a witch who warns him to stay away from the girl, or dire consequences will result. Can Tonio & Luana stop the witch's curse and escape her evil power? This moody, effective episode was directed by actress Ida Lupino and written by Alan Caillou. It features a great performance by Jeanette Nolan as the title character, and also stars Alejandro Rey (of The Flying Nun) as Tonio. 

The Incredible Dr. MarkesanBoris Karloff, the host of the series for its entire run, appeared in five episodes of the show, including this frightening tale. Fred Bancroft (Dick York of Bewitched) and his wife visit his Uncle Konrad, who lives in a dusty old house. They ask if they can stay there while they’re looking for new jobs & a place to live. At first, Konrad tries to get them to leave, but he ends up allowing them to stay. However, he warns them that they must stay in their room at night, and not move around the place. What’s going on in the house? And why does Uncle Konrad look & act so strangely? This blood-curdling entry is based on a short story by August Derleth & Mark Schorer, and was directed by Robert Florey, who knows his way around the horror genre, having been behind the camera for the films Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) and The Beast with Five Fingers (1946). The story has a horrifying conclusion that will stay with you long after you view the episode.

Episodes of Thriller are available for viewing online on various services, and the entire series is available on DVD in a box set, Thriller: The Complete Series. There’s also a a one-disc collection of several episodes entitled Thriller: Fan Favorites. If you’re a fan of television horror, and enjoy classic series like The Twilight Zone & One Step Beyond, Thriller is worthwhile viewing. Here’s a link to a vintage promo for the series: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-PHWT68HCU. And remember, "As sure as my name is Boris Karloff....this is a Thriller!"

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