Boris Karloff’s anthology tv series: It’s a THRILLER!

Classic TV Blog Association is hosting the MeTV Summer of Classic TV Blogathon

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“I think the title leaves the stories wide open to be based on melodrama not violence or shock. They’ll be stories about people in ordinary surroundings and something happened to them. The whole thing boils down to taste. Anybody can show you a bucket of blood and say-‘This is a bucket of blood’, but not everyone can produce a skilful story”-Boris Karloff (1960)

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At the bottom of this feature you will find links to my older Thriller posts. Some of my favorite episodes- as well as 4 newly covered episodes in brief for the MeTV Summer of Classic TV Blogathon!-Masquerade,Parasite Mansion, Mr.George and The Purple Room!

From the show’s opening iconic musical score, you know something deliciously sinister is about to occur. The word THRILLER appears against a fractured white web like graphic title design quite a bit in the style of Saul Bass. The discordant piano and horn stabs of modern jazz already bring you into the inner sanctum of menacing story telling. As Boris would often say as a precursory welcome,”Let me assure you ladies and gentlemen, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff, this is a thriller.”

Boris Karloff’s Thriller was an anthology series that ran from 1960-1962. It included 60 minute B&W episodes, 67 in all, that were expected to compete with The Twilight Zone ’59-’64 and Alfred Hitchcock Presents ’55-’62.

Thriller was filmed at the same network and sound stage as Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Producer Writer & Director Douglas Benton claims though not hearing it directly that Hitchcock resented Thriller, as he considered Hubbell Robinson encroaching on his territory.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents 1955

Benton states, “Actually we weren’t doing the same thing he was, he was doing some very sophisticated ‘twist’ material. Hitchcock was doing the sort of thing that they started out to do on Thriller… We {Frye, Benton et al} came along and improved the ratings considerably and got a tremendous amount of press and Hitchcock didn’t like the competition. I don’t think he ever came out and said ‘get rid of ‘em’ but he did allow them to enlarge his show from -a half hour to an hour, and that made it more difficult for us to stay on.” {source: Boris Karloff-More Than A Monster The Authorized Biography by Stephen Jacobs}

The series was developed by Executive Producer Hubbell Robinson program director and then executive vice president at CBS who was responsible for dramatic shows like Studio One & Playhouse 90 and produced Arsenic and Old Lace (tv movie ’69) with Lillian Gish & Helen Hayes. Boy oh boy would I like to get my hands on a copy of that!

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Lillian Gish, Helen Hayes with Bob Crane rehearsing for Arsenic and Old Lace ’69

In 1959 he left CBS to start his own production company, Hubbell Robinson Productions. Robinson had said “Our only formula is to have no formula at all,” endeavoring that each week’s episode would not be like the week before, bringing viewers one hour feature pictures that were “consciously and deliberately striving for excellence. {…}Each plot will be unique, unusual.” -Robinson {source:Boris Karloff-More Than A Monster The Authorized Biography by Stephen Jacobs}

Also on board were producers William Frye, Fletcher Markle & Maxwell Shane (The Mummy’s Hand ’40, Fear in the Night ’47) who added their vision of a superior mystery & horror anthology for MCA’s Revue Studios which would conform to the trend of anthology series’ featuring a host to introduce each week’s story.

The format had somewhat ambivalent themes, leaving the show’s narrative straddling both genres of crime melodrama and tales of the macabre. But… either of these atmospheres created by some of the best writers, directors and players delivered a highly intoxicating blend of both, remaining a powerful anthology with unique dramatic flare.

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Karloff loved the title for the show, “It’s an arresting title. And it does not tie you to one type of show. You can have suspense and excitement, without getting into violence {…} There will be none of the horror cliches on this programme {…} we will deal with normal people involved in unusual situations.”

Boris Karloff was very critical of horror for the sake of horror, during Thriller’s run,“We’re in an era of insensate violence. Today it’s shock, so-called horror and revulsion. I think the idea is to excite and terrify rather than entertain. The story is muck for the sake of muck. The over emphasis of violence on screen and tv has reached the point of being utterly absurd… That’s one thing you won’t find on Thriller-violence for the sake of violence, shock for the sake of shock.”{source:Boris Karloff-More Than A Monster The Authorized Biography by Stephen Jacobs}

Dark Legacy

Boris’ prelude to Dark Legacy

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Boris Karloff presents The Hungry Glass

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Boris Karloff introduces Hay-fork and Bill-Hook

Not only was there unmistakable atmosphere to each of Thriller’s episodes, the stories themselves were lensed in a unique way that was very ahead of it’s time. The actors brought a serious attitude to their characters and the plot development, and didn’t treat them as merely short pulp stories as fodder for the tv masses. This was an intelligent show, and the presence of Boris Karloff added a charming and cerebral primacy to the show’s narration. It was like being tucked in by your remarkable grandfather who loved to tell a good spooky tale to you right before bedtime. I’ve said this plenty, I wish Boris Karloff had been my grandfather. Everyone who has ever worked with Karloff had nothing but glowing praise for the great and gentle man. He exuded a quiet grace and was the consummate professional taking every part seriously and extremely generous with his time even as he suffered from his physical limitations. Karloff had been getting on in years and his grand stature was riddled with arthritis causing his legs to bow.

Actress Audrey Dalton said this, “Just the perfect gentleman. A terribly British, wonderful wonderful man.” Actor Ed Nelson who was dying to work with Karloff said, “He was a very gentle man” Douglas Benton had said, “Boris Karloff-God, what a lovely man.”

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Karloff as Clayton Mace the phony mentalist in The Prediction

While filming The Prediction the scene at the end when he must lie down in the pool of rainy water and die, Karloff asked director John Brahm “Is this the best way for the camera?” who said, “Yes, it is but good lord you don’t have to lie there and have gutter water coursing up your britches like that!”  Karloff replied, “Oh yes I do! This is my work. I insist.” {source: Boris Karloff-More Than A Monster The Authorized Biography by Stephen Jacobs}

Every installment of the show offered us a chance to see Karloff as he enters the Thriller stage like a sage Fabulist delivering us the evening’s program with a refined articulation of philosophy and captivating story telling encapsulated in a compelling little prologue, often infused with it’s own brand of dark humor.

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When I first started blogging on The Last Drive In, I chose to focus on one of my most beloved memories, a thing of nostalgia for me, and what I consider to be one of the greatest television programs that contained not only the classic crime mystery drama, but Gothic horrors based on some of the most prolific writers of these genres back then, such as Cornell Woolrich (Rear Window ’54), Robert Bloch and August Derleth. That’s why I’m so thrilled to be talking about the show for this wonderful Blogathon!

When The Twisted Image, the series’ first episode aired on Sept.13 1960 it was not received well by critics.Considered to be gruesome fare showing a child being kidnapped by George Grizzard’s psychotic Merle Jenkins. Breaking the creators code of denying horror and shock for it’s own sake. After just six episodes NBC threatened to cancel the series and replaced Fletcher Markle with William Frye (Four Star Playhouse & General Electric Theatre).

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George Grizzard as the twisted Merle Jenkins in The Twisted Image

William Frye asked Douglas Benton to come on board as story editor, with an eye on depicting stories of both crime and horror. Maxwell Shane would envision the stories that embraced a crime narrative and William Frye would handle the horror. Benton felt the network while not able to articulate it clearly were expecting more pure horror. He also wanted to add more of a Gothic horror feel to the features, something he felt was lacking in the initial episodes that had more of a contemporary film noir vibe.

Now they had to find stories that would fit the attitude they were looking for the show. Doug Benton contacted his friends, writer Charles Beaumont (The Intruder ’62, Masque of the Red Death ’64) and Richard Matheson (The Incredible Shrinking Man, I am Legend, Duel ) who sadly died on June 23rd of this year, writing too many iconic tales to mention here.

Although Beaumont was busy with other commitments he gave Douglas Benton a very good idea. Just having cleaned out his garage, he sold a slew of Weird Tales Magazines to historian and collector Forrest J. Ackerman. Beaumont told Benton,“These stories are exactly what you need for Thriller.”

While Ackerman refused to sell his collection he did agree to lease them to Benton and delivered a box of the wonderfully creepy and macabre stories inhabited within the pages of that popular magazine. Now they only had to track down the writers and obtain the rights to these stories!

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Many of the stories were taken from Weird Tales and scripted by that magazine’s contributors such as Robert Bloch (author of the novel Psycho) who wrote one of my favorite episodes The Cheaters as well as adapting his story, The Weird Tailor and The Hungry Glass based on his short story The Hungry House. Other contributing writers were the prolific Richard Matheson, Barré Lyndon and August Derleth. Pigeons From Hell is yet another provocative story adapted from Weird Tales Magazine. This episode was directed by John Newland of One Step Beyond ’59-61 a television series consisting of half hour episodes that were purported to be based on true paranormal events.

Thriller drew much of it’s artist edge because of the directors who contributed their stylistic observations of the story telling like the ever versatile Ida Lupino. Karloff adored Lupino and considered her one of his favorites. Doug Benton recalls Lupino being quite a good story teller herself.

Ida Lupino Looking Through Movie Camera

Ida Lupino directed some of the best episodes- Last of the Summervilles, The Lethal Ladies, The Bride Who Died Twice, La Strega, The Closed Cabinet, What Beckoning Ghost? Guillotine, Mr. George and Trio for Terror

Other notable directors included Robert Florey, (The Outer Limits , Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone assistant director on Murders In The Rue Morgue 1946 & The Beast With 5 Fingers. There was John Brahm (The Lodger 1944 and Hangover Square ’45. Arthur Hiller, Lazlo Benedek, (The Wild One ’53) Herschel Daugherty, Paul Henreid, Douglas Heyes (Kitten with a Whip ’64) and Jules Bricken. All of whom had a unique visual perspective that created an overall unique vibe with creepy landscapes and theatrical lighting that fit the noir, suspense and Gothic horror canons marvelously.

So much of the overall tone of the series combined elements of film noir and classical horror. The shadowy gray toned and stark black cinematography created so much of the atmospherics for many memorable episodes in the series.

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Howard Morris locked in a vault in The Lethal Ladies directed by Ida Lupino

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Man of Mystery-one of the dinner guests–a mannequin

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Ed Nelson and Norma Crane Dialogues with Death

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Virginia Gregg as the cold heartless Edna Liggett in Mr.George

Jerry Goldsmith , Morton Stevens & Pete Rugolo wrote some of the most vivid and beautiful melodies for the series. Thriller’s musical compositions seemed to be sculpted perfectly for each particular episode underscoring the haunting and poignant quality of each story in such an evocative way. The music always felt symbiotic with the narrative and was nothing short of stunning. These are evocative melodies that tear at your heart and fit the mood of each episode, adding yet another vivid dimension to the atmospherics.

Thriller was so ahead of it’s time in terms of the serious and artful risk taking of the various directors on board, the incredibly spellbinding story telling and dialogue, inspired set & art design, experimental cinematography, dramatic performances and evocative musical scoring.

Together the confluence of all these elements contributed to a show that often pushed the boundaries of what you might expect from a 1960’s television series. It’s moody, compelling and haunting quality, have not been duplicated on any other anthology series. Somehow Thriller seemed to encapsulate it’s own Gothic methodology and mythos.

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Ottola Nesmith as Eula Lee in Pigeons From Hell

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Prisoner in the Mirror Lloyd Bochner and Patricia Michon

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The Hollow Watcher- Audrey Dalton and vengeful scarecrow

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Sarah Marshall and Murray Matheson in The Poisoner

The sets had a uniquely eerie landscape and their own vitally uncanny, bizarre and shadowy environment or starkly dramatic mise-en-scene. Not unlike the way  Val Lewton seemed to create his own unique cycle of supernaturally themed shadow plays for RKO.

Boris Karloff

Karloff starred in five episodes: The Prediction, The Premature Burial, The Last of the Somervilles, Dialogues With Death, and The Incredible Doctor Markesan.

In the first season’s episode The Prediction which aired on Nov. 22 1960 which featured Boris Karloff as a principal character, he plays Clayton Mace a phoney stage mentalist who suddenly discovers that he truly can predict events with tragic results.

The final season had the majority of Karloff’s appearances as a featured character in the story. The Premature Burial aired on Oct. 2nd 1961 where Karloff plays Dr. Thorne a doctor who discovers the grisly truth behind his cataleptic friend’s death. On Nov. 6, 1961 The Last of the Summervilles aired, Karloff once again plays a Dr. Albert Farnham in a story about family greed, deception and murder.

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Boris Karloff and Sidney Blackmer in The Premature Burial

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Boris and Martita Hunt in The Last of the Summervilles

In Dialogues with Death which aired on Dec. 4th 1962 Karloff inhabits two roles. First that of Pop Jenkins in Friend of The Dead a morgue attendant who comforts the recently deceased by talking with them. In Welcome Home he appears as the eccentric Colonel Jackson Beauregard Finchess a Southern Gentleman who lives in an antebellum mausoleum with his equally quirky sister Emily who believes she can converse with the dead (Estelle Windwood). Karloff and Estelle Winwood had worked together 40 years prior on Broadway with Bela Lugosi in 1922’s ‘The Red Poppy’ Windwood died at the age of 101 in 1984.

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Pop Jenkins Dialogues with Death

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Finally Karloff goes a bit back to his Gothic horror roots and plays the lead role as The Incredible Doktor Markesan which aired on Feb. 26 1962. Here he plays a mysterious doctor who can raise the dead. Doug Benton stepped into the producers chair for this story and ironically Karloff worked for the only time with director Robert Florey since he was replaced by James Whale for Universal’s Frankenstein ’31.

Karloff Doktor Markesan and the dead scientist

Also notable is Jack Barron’s make-up on the series, including The Incredible Doktor Markesan ~Karloff also asked old friend Jack Pierce (Frankenstein)to come and work on him at times.

The show still evokes chills, and fondness for the incredible performances by so many memorable actors, that can still cause a gestalt response in me even after having watched these episodes a hundred times over. Boris Karloff was pleased the show did not feature famous actors. “Isn’t it wonderful to use actors instead of stars.”

Doug Benton- “For the actors it was a throw back to the old days. Bill Frye always made his people feel like they were working in the biggest feature on the lot-that was another talent he had, making everybody feel like what they were doing was quality work. And it was- for television, it really was.”{source:Boris Karloff-More Than A Monster The Authorized Biography by Stephen Jacobs}

The show features some of MY all time favorite character actors in memorable roles! Look at this list of incredible players-

THRILLER had an incredible line up of serious dramatic players. Norma Crane, Leslie Nielsen, Mary Astor, Rip Torn, Patricia Barry, Richard Anderson, Martin Gabel, Cloris Leachman, Fay Bainter, Victor Buono, Audrey Dalton, Alan Caillou, Elisha Cook, Robert Lansing, Mary Tyler Moore, Beverly Garland,Warren Oates, Werner Klemperer, Harry Townes, Jack Weston, Paul Newlan, Ed Nelson, Mildred Dunnock, Phyllis Thaxter,William Shatner, Elizabeth Allen, Guy Stockwell, Susan Oliver, Nehemiah Persoff, Torin Thatcher, Marlo Thomas, Robert Vaughn, John Ireland, Pippa Scott, Jeanette Nolan, Guy Rolfe, Hazel Court, Lloyd Bochner, Brandon DeWilde, Sidney Blackmer, George Macready, Tom Poston, Constance Ford, Elizabeth Montgomery, John Carradine, Edward Andrews, Estelle Windwood, Bruce Dern, Jo Van Fleet, Jane Greer, Richard Long, Ursula Andress, Lillian Bronson, Reta Shaw, Dick York, Howard McNear, Richard Carlson, Nancy Kelly, John Fiedler, Linda Watkins, Martita Hunt, George Grizzard, Robert Middleton, Natalie Schafer, James Griffith, Bethel Leslie, Patricia Medina, Richard Chamberlain, Sarah Marshall, Conrad Nagel, Reggie Nalder, Henry Jones, Russell Johnson, Natalie Trundy, Michael Pate, Philip Carey, Kathleen Crowley, Susan Oliver, J. Pat O’Malley, Judith Evelyn, Tom Helmore, Robert Vaughn, Virginia Gregg, Scott Marlowe, Judson Pratt, Marion Ross, Antoinette Bower, Jocelyn Brando, William Windom, George Kennedy, Abraham Sofaer, Monte Markham, Patricia Breslin, Charles Aidman, Joan Tompkins, Elizabeth Allen, Vladimir Sokoloff, Ken Renard, Bruce Dern, Rosemary Murphy, Walter Burke and so many others!

Henry Daniell Well of Doom


From Well of Doom (Daniell’s make-up bares a striking resemblance to Chaney’s London After Midnight)-Henry Daniell  also graced God Grante That She Lye
Stille, The Grim Reaper, The Prisoner in the Mirror and The Cheaters
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Daniell in addition to his marvelous face, has a wonderfully theatrical voice.

Mr George

Mr. George- Virginia Gregg and Lillian Bronson

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The Weird Tailor – Sondra Blake and Hans the mannequin

Masquerade

Masquerade- John Carradine, Tom Poston and Elizabeth Montgomery

Fingers of Fear

The Fingers of Fear- Robert Middleton

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The Hungry Glass- Joanna Heyes and William Shatner

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James Griffith and Jeanette Nolan in Parasite Mansion

The Cheaters

The Cheaters- Mildred Dunnock

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What Beckoning Ghost?-Judith Evelyn

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The Storm-Nancy Kelly a chiller that acts like a stage play

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Rose’s Last Summer-an underrated episode starring the great Mary Astor

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Boris as the creepy Doktor Markesan

For the sake of the fabulous festivities surrounding the MeTV Summer of Classic Television Blogathon I’ll be covering four favorite episodes in brief (even for me) but plan on going more in depth with them later on down that Thrilling road!

4 episodes in brief–

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MASQUERADE air date Oct 30 1961

Directed by Herschel Daugherty and adapted by Donald S. Sanford from a story by Henry Kuttner

Howard E. Johnson  was responsible for the wonderful art direction and Jerry Goldsmith lends his whimsically eerie score with cinematography by Benjamin H. Kline. This is another episode that script editor Douglas Benton produced using the Bate’s Psycho ’60 house from Universal’s lot.

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This is one of the most humorous episodes mostly attributed to the tongue-in-cheek performances by John Carradine, Tom Poston and Elizabeth Montgomery. Poston & Montgomery play Charlie and Rosamond Denham on their second honeymoon down in the deep south temporarily off course from their trailer park, when they stumble onto a horrifying backwoods family living in an old decaying house advertising ‘rest here’ when they pull off the road to avoid a thunder storm.

The prolific Carradine plays Jed Carta with his usually wonderful droll delivery and Jack Lambert (The Killers ’46)plays his grandson Lem. Dorothy Neumann (The Snake Pit, Sorry, Wrong Number ’48-Otis Campbell’s wife on Andy Griffith Show) plays Ruthie Carta.

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Lem, Ruthie and Jed Carta

The Carta’s are a menacing bunch who warn the couple about the local murders and the legend of the Henshaw vampire started with Lem’s ma and pa being found dead, with her with a scream that never quite got out a face the color of white candle wax. The banter between Charlie and Ros is splendid fun to watch all the while this grotesque hillbilly family of thieves and cannibals is planning to kill them just like the other unlucky wayward travelers in the past. The fabulously Old Dark House cliché set design by Julia Heron and John McCarthy Jr. offers troublesome bats, a slaughtered hog being drained of it’s blood into a rusty bucket in the kitchen, a wheel to sharpen very large knives, bars on the windows, remote cackling from somewhere in the house. While investigating Charlie and Ros discover a deranged woman chained to the wall upstairs.

Masquerade opens with the sarcastic and wisecracking Charlie and Ros sitting inside their car while thunder and lightning prevail and torrential downpour leaks through the roof. They’re parked outside a dilapidated creepy house on the hill. The sign outside says ‘Rest Here Guest House’

Charlie doesn’t want to spend the night in that house, but Ros will perish if she doesn’t get dry and warm.

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Charlie-“Oh you’re brave now, but don’t be surprised when I bang on that old fashioned knocker and it comes off in my hand”
Ros-“Why would it do that?”
Charlie-“Dry rot… then they’ll be shuffling footsteps and the creaking door will be opened by a nasty looking old coot”
Ros-“Well I promise not to scream”
Charlie-“He’ll be so glad to see us but don’ t be surprised they’ll be a mocking gleam in his green eyes when he starts talking about the legend”
Ros-“The legend?”
Charlie-“Of the vampires that hang out around here… (Ros laughs) Not that he believes in such things… but”
Ros-“But what makes his teeth so sharp”
Charlie-“You know I think you’re actually starting to enjoy this”
Ros-“Next to travel folders I just enjoy mysteries”

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“Visitors!”

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They run up to the house, soaking wet, Charlie uses the old fashioned knocker. Ominous shuffling is heard nearing the door with the time-worn lion’s head door knocker.

Charlie and Ros are shocked to see Jed Carta (Carradine) greeting them at the door as lighting flashes behind them illuminating their expressed dismay. The old coot with inquisitive eyes that squint and ferret holds up an old lamp and says “Visitors… won’t you come in”

Adding humor to the scene, the lions head knocker falls off the door just as Charlie joked, once Carta closes it behind them. Boris Karloff enters the stage to pick up the artifact and introduce the evenings spooky story.

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“Well it would seem that Charlie is not only an imaginative writer but has another most unusual talent as well. Peopling his stories with flesh and blood characters. Or was that old man flesh and blood? Now don’t answer too quick ly this is the sort of night when all manner of unnatural creatures crawl through the dark corners of the earth. When the full moon cowers behind the storm and the wolf bane reaches out with it’s evil hungry branches (Thunder clap and lighting flash) Yes my friends… on just such a night like this, who knows what masquerade the living dead may choose. Masquerade… the name of our story…”

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“Visitors… we don’t have many visitors here”

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Ros-“Don’t you get hungry inbetween? {…} Aren’t you proud of me Charlie I told you I wouldn’t scream”

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Carta says-“Scream?”
Charlie quips, “Don’t pay any attention to her mister, she always gets a little light headed when she’s missed a meal”

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Carta- “So do I”

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“Oh well at last a kindred spirit”

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“We don’t eat our visitors we just kill ‘em and steal their money”

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“Some people around here got some mighty queer ideas… Ever hear tell of vampires…? well there’s been a sight of peculiar deaths around here lately…. only a fool would take stock in such notions”

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Charlie-“Did you notice darling he had green eyes”

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Charlie and Ros are startled when Lem enters the room with dry clothes

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“Ma’s coming down to say Howdy”

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A bat flies around the room

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Jed Carta sharpens a large butcher knife, Lem says “Let me do this one”  Lem’s told to go back shelling them peas for the stew.

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Doors are locked and bars on the window, Charlie and Ros have no way out

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“Recognize the hungry look and the green eyes”

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Charlie and Ros assume that she is Lem’s ma, but the crazed woman is Halsy Carta’s wife – it was Lem’s Ma, (Ruthie’s fancy sister- in- law ) that took a shine to Halsy. But Ruthie fixed them both.

Will Charlie and Ros escape their impending fate at the hands of the blood thirsty Carta family?

PARASITE MANSION air date April 25 1961

Directed by Herschel Daugherty, adapted by Donald S. Sanford from a story by Mary Elizabeth Counselman and an episode that script editor Douglas Benton produced.

Parasite Mansion opens on a rainy night a lovely young woman in a kerchief is misdirected by a detour off the highway sending her down an isolated road near a mysterious old house framed in by gnarled trees. Suddenly she hears shot gun fire, she screams and wrecks her car becoming unconscious. Out cold at the wheel, we see two faces appear at the passenger side window. Holding a flashlight they peer through the rain spotted glass.

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Victor-“Lil fool, told him not to touch that rifle again” Granny-“Hhm, she’s pretty, pretty little bird so far from home. But then we didn’t ask her to come snooping did we Victor”

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Granny-“Stirs your manhood Victor. That’s why you didn’t get rid of her in the swamp!”

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Pippa Scott plays Marcia Elizabeth Hunter a teacher at an all girls school (selected girls of quality) on the way to sojourn with her fiance in New Orleans. She wrecks her car after having a shot gun fired at her. While unconscious she’s carried back to a decrepit old house which looks like it was once had been a show place, inhabited by the belligerent Harrod family who are beset by the fear of a horrible ‘secret.’ A family curse that has plagued the Harrods for three generations. The supernatural curse manifests itself in a particularly violent way toward the youngest sister, Lollie (Beverly Washburn.)

James Griffith (The Killing ’56) plays the eldest brother Victor who drinks himself into oblivion out of blind rage and utter frustration with the imposing Harrod legacy he can not defend his young sister Lollie from. Victor sulks around the house with a languid posture, stupefied by years of drowning himself in corn liquor and abject fear.

Tommy Nolan plays the ornery younger brother Rennie, quick with a shot gun who only wants to keep interlopers away from the house, and prevent anyone from taking his sister Lollie away to an institution like they did to his ma.

Jeanette Nolan has been a favorite actress of mine for years now. The always wonderful Jeannette Nolan inhabits the role of crone once again playing Granny a woman who hates the Harrod men and thinks they’re all spineless. Nolan creates the epitome of the forbidding hag, pointing her boney finger, sour expression and face betrayed by time as sagacious remarks pour like honeyed barbs.

The old hag likes shiny things and calls Marcia “baggage” It appears that Marcia will be a prisoner in the house as Granny doesn’t plan on ever letting her leave for fear she’ll tell the family secret.

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Victor tells her that Rennie is a sick boy but it was an accident and she was trespassing. She’ll need to stay at least until she’s well enough. In the meantime he must tend to her ‘hurts’.

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Granny- “He’s not fit to tend a sick hog with his drinking and his hiding out here like he was a murderer. All because of the black fear”

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“You might as well get used to the smell. The Harrod men folk are swill bellies all of them!… who can blame them with the things they have to live with

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Granny-“Don’t leave your room. don’t go prowlin’ you told her. Now I guess you knowd she can’t be trusted!” Victor-“Well she’s tryin’ to escape out this madhouse, can you blame her” Granny-“You’re a fool. She won’t keep her mouth shut and you know it. She can’t leave here alive”

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Granny-“Hate?… you don’t hate a growed man whats hiding in a bottle… You tolerate him like lice and crawling things”

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Marcia offers Lollie her broach as a token of friendship but the jewelry begins to levitate in the air terrifying Lollie and startling Marcia.

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Granny sees the whole thing while standing in the doorway

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Lollie begins to get scratched by an unseen force. Is it a poltergeist or a case of Stigmata?

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Granny wants the nice shiny broach for herself. It’ll go great with her burlap house coat and wild hair style!

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“You saw it”

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“She saw… it happened while she was bribing the child with a pretty”

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Lollie sets a place for the poltergeist. Offering it a pear.

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“Oh it’s a mean one that little poltergeist.”

When Marcia sees how Lollie is menaced by this invisible force she sets out to try and solve the mystery of the Harrod curse. Victor, Rennie and Lollie are both terrified that they will come and take Lollie away believing that she is insane. Just like Victors own mother and his great Aunt Elizabeth who were also both afflicted with stigmata and plagued by the unseen violent spirit.

The story is rife with poltergeists, telekinesis, stigmata, alcoholism, insanity, backwoods vengeance and a generational family dysfunction like a disease. With art direction by Russell Kimball, set design by John McCarthy Jr. & William Stevens. Atmospheric framing by John L Russell’s cinematographer and make up by Jack Barron & hair by Florence Bush.

MR GEORGE air date May 9 1961

I love this episode directed by Ida Lupino because of it’s gentle spirit amidst the backdrop of unbridled greed and grotesque cunning. It stars Gina Gillespie (Young Blanche Hudson Baby Jane?’62) Donald S. Sanford adapted the script from a story by August Derleth.

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Adelaide, Edna and Jared Leggett worry about being kicked out with no means of support now that Priscilla is the soul heir to Uncle Albert’s inheritance.

Priscilla is a young girl who lives with her scheming relatives after she’s left an orphan, attended to by an uncaring trio who plan to kill her for her inheritance since great Uncle Albert has cut them off. But Priscilla has a special friend, a ghost named Mr. George, the man who was to marry Priscilla’s mother Elizabeth and is sworn to protect her from harm while each of the Leggett cousins try to off the child in ordinary yet maniacal ways.

The marvelous Virginia Gregg plays Edna Leggett with a vile and cold blooded sociopathic drive. Howard Freeman plays the calculating brother Jared with a subdued pompousness that makes his character just as distasteful as Edna. And Lillian Bronson is delicious as the dotty and childlike Adelaide Leggett who incessantly attends to her little gold music box bird cage, and the bird she calls William whom speaks to it. Adelaide is equally murderous when it comes to the self preservation of their comfortable lifestyle.

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“What do we know about raising children (as she plays with her little bird cage with the metallic tweet) except their noses are always needing blowing and their hands are always grubby” -Adelaide

Mr.George’s sister Laura (Joan Tompkins) wants to come and take Priscilla away from the cruel and suffocating environment and offer her a loving home. This puts the pressure on Edna to do away with the child before she takes great Uncle Albert’s fortune with her.

Jerry Goldsmith’s hauntingly poignant musical motif for Priscilla is just a delicately heartbreaking little melody mixed with his diabolical string work that evokes the devil which emerges as avarice and murderous disregard.

“Only Priscilla stands between us and half a million”-says Edna Leggett

The story opens with pretty little Priscilla in pigtails who puts on her jaunty little hat with ribbons and skips with her bouquet of flowers til she watches from the top of the stairs as her three conniving relatives begin scheming. She runs out to catch the trolley, which takes her to the cemetery. There she talks to Mr. George’s head stone. The inscription reads, George Craig Born 1859 Died 1899. She leaves a letter for him asking him to come back. And he does…

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the kindly trolley man takes Priscilla to the cemetery to visit Mr. George

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Lillian Bronson’s character is like a Tennessee Williams neurotic woman child

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the chair rocks back and forth as George watches over Priscilla while she sleeps

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George comes to Priscilla while she having tea out in the garden with her doll Celine.

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Edna and Adelaide watch Priscilla seemingly talking to an imaginary playmate

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Adelaide tells Priscilla that Mr.George is hiding in the attic

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Adelaide tries to lure Priscilla into falling into an old trunk and getting trapped thereby suffocating herself. It doesn’t quite work out as planned

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Edna catches Priscilla talking to an empty rocking chair

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Jared- “Do you suppose the child is right do you suppose he is in the house”

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Edna and Jared watch Priscilla swing and get a devilish idea

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Jared Leggett tries to swing little Priscilla so high she’ll fall to her death… it doesn’t quite work out that way

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After Jared’s funeral Edna confronts Priscilla about her strange behavior and talking with imaginary friends

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George’s sister Laura Craig wants Priscilla to come and live with her. This will ruin Edna’s plans

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Edna attaches thin chord to the top of the steps hoping Priscilla will fall down the staircase and break her neck… it doesn’t quite work out the way she planned.

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George calls to Priscilla to go out the back door

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Priscilla!!!!

THE PURPLE ROOM- air date Oct 25 1960

Written & Directed by Douglas Heyes and Bud Thackery as director of photography, music by Pete Rugolo, art direction by Howard E Johnson and set design by Julia Heron & John McCarthy Jr.

After the initial 6 episodes that were not well received, Thriller started to gain momentum with their 7th eerie installment of the series. A memorable ghost story that seems to be one of many people’s favorites.

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Boris introduces The Purple Room don't be alarmed the woman who screamed is perfectly quiet now

Boris Karloff introduces The Purple Room -“Don’t be alarmed the woman who screamed is perfectly quiet now”

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Starring Rip Torn who plays Duncan Corey, a skeptical man who inherits his brother Everett’s old Gothic mansion Black Oak (the house used in Psycho) in Baton Rouge. There is one condition on Duncan’s inheritance, that he must live in the house for one year before it can be his. However, the Will stipulates that after spending one night he may never want to see the place again. Duncan’s only interest is to dump the place for a profit.

Duncan is a superior street wise sort of guy from New York when he first meets his cousins Oliver and Rachel Judson (Richard Anderson and Patricia Barry)Duncan believes they are trying to scare him away from his inheritance by warning him about the history of the house and it’s ghosts. If he doesn’t spend the night, the entire estate will go to his cousins.

The legend of an ancestor who 100 years prior went mad after accidentally killing her sea captain husband, when he fought an eerie intruder. This creepy story took place in The Purple Room giving it it’s legendary ghostly atmosphere.

He carries a .38 and is ready for any shenanigans the couple might be planning to frighten him with over the course of that moody and taut night of eerie sights and sounds that seems to mimic the legend as it happened long ago.

The Purple Room starts out in the purple room at Black Oak, as a terrified young woman, Caroline (Joanna Heyes) sits up in her bed calling out to her husband Jeremy. She hears a horrible noise like scraping and dragging coming closer and closer. She fires her gun at the approaching  intruder.

One hundred years later, Duncan Corey is being told by lawyer Ridgewater (Alan Napier) that he’s to inherit Black Oak mansion but the will stipulates that he must live there for one year, after which he can sell the place since it’s prime real-estate. The terms- “Should you decide after one night under the roof of Black Oak, that you do not choose to take up residence the Estate will pass to our beloved cousin Rachel Judson and her husband Oliver, who have been my guests, confidants and faithful companions during these years of my life at Black Oak and who cherish it as I do”

Ridgewater warns Corey that he might not want to stay the entire night but the smug young man scoffs at him shrugging off any fear.

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The house was used in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho

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Duncan arrives at the house with his cousins. The electricity is off and the only place already made up for sleeping is the purple room. Duncan takes this as a challenge and insists on sleeping there.

Oliver warns Corey about his smugness saying it will provoke whatever supernatural presence dwelling in the house. The cocky Corey shows them his gun.

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Corey says “A nice place to visit…” Rachel finishes the statement with, “But you wouldn’t want to die here”

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Oliver says to Duncan “You mean you’re actually gonna sleep here?” Duncan tells him -” Well if you don’t keep me awake”

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Duncan shows Oliver and Rachel his .38 special

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Oliver says, “My good fellow if what is haunting this house is something human you’d be doing a favor to everyone in the district if you put a few bullets in it”

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Oliver continues-“If not you’ve done everything you can to announce your antagonism, your lack of sympathy… to them”

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Oliver- “It started right in that bed”

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Oliver tells him that the bed in the purple room belonged to the newlyweds Jeremy Ransom and his bride of 7 days, Caroline. In the middle of the night she awoke hearing footsteps. Jeremy went downstairs to investigate giving Caroline his pistol to protect herself.

Caroline waited in the terrifying darkness until she heard footsteps that didn’t sound like her husband. They were shuffling, dragging and groping, coming closer til they reached the doorway. Caroline fired the gun at the form, but when she shined the candle she began screaming in horror when we saw that she had shot Jeremy dead. When the servants found her she was stark raving mad. Jeremy had been stabbed by the prowler, the knife still in his chest, somehow he’d managed to make his way up the stairs.

Duncan shrugs off the story but Olive tells him “This place is all yours- and everything it contains” His cousins leave and he locks the door behind them.

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Later on that night Duncan hears a door close, accompanied by eerie noises. “Ah the old creaking stairs, that’s truly a creative touch… Oh but don’t you have a squeaking door surely you must have a good old squeaking door around the place”

He continues to talk, supposing it’s his scheming cousins who could hear his conversation. After he drinks some brandy he passes out as the liquor has been drugged.

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Duncan half drugged tries to light his cigarette with the candle but something keeps blowing out the flame

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Duncan catches the portrait moving to one side… he bangs on the wall cursing at Oliver and Rachel that they should have at least let him light his cigarette!

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When Duncan awakens from his drugged state he finds the locked door to the purple room wide open

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The use of shadow is striking in so many of Thriller’s episodes!

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a wonderful blend of noir and horror elements

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Once downstairs he hears strange footsteps. He is being menaced by noises and suddenly a dagger lands at his feet. Something ominous starts to emerge out of the shadows- a creepy figure in an old fashioned night shirt emerges out of the blackness with a knife in it’s chest. I’ve always loved this scene!

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He calls out to Rachel asking her to call Oliver off, “I’m not afraid of your comic opera ghost but I am afraid I’ll have to kill him”

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(The mask worn by Richard Anderson was the Phantom of the Opera mask worn by James Cagney in 1957’s Man of a Thousand Faces)

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The masked figure listens for a heart beat

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When the ghostly figure keeps getting closer, he fires his gun at it but it just keeps reaching out for Duncan, who grips his chest and collapses on the floor. The figure bends over him listening for a heartbeat then removes his mask revealing that it is Oliver Judson who calls out to Rachel telling her that Duncan has died of a heart attack.

I’ll leave the story here.-

COMING SOON! The Last of the Summervilles, The Premature Burial, The Weird Tailor, Man of Mystery, Fingers of Fear, A Wig for Miss Devore , Dialogues with Death & Trio For Terror!

LINK TO OLDER POSTS -

WHAT BECKONING GHOST?

THE INCREDIBLE DOKTOR MARKESAN

THE STORM

ROSE’S LAST SUMMER

THE REMARKABLE MRS HAWK

THE ORDEAL OF DR CORDELL

THE HOLLOW WATCHER

THE GRIM REAPER

THE CHEATERS

PIGEONS FROM HELL

THE HUNGRY GLASS

It’ been THRILLING!!!!-MonsterGirl


13 responses to “Boris Karloff’s anthology tv series: It’s a THRILLER!

  • The Movie Waffler (@themoviewaffler)

    Hey just wondering if you’re interested in contributing to our ‘1001 Overlooked Movies’ project over at The Movie Waffler? All the details are here http://www.themoviewaffler.com/2013/07/1001-overlooked-movies-call-for.html

    • monstergirl

      Hey there- I actually have seen the book around. I’d like to get my hands on a copy now that you mention it. I do have a lot going on at the moment, but the project sounds fantastic. Let me see if there’s a film I could really grab onto and do the project justice and I’ll let you know soon! Thanks for asking me- Cheers Joey PS What’s the deadline to submit ????

  • silverscreenings

    I didn’t know Boris Karloff had a show — and look at all these fabulous guest stars!

    Thanks for broadening my education, Jo! :)

    • monstergirl

      I can’t recommend Thriller enough- If the episodes that are more classical horror drive are too scary there are loads of classic crime dramas to hold your interest. I’d love to know what you think of them-

  • Rick

    Joey, this is undoubtedly the most comprehensive article I’ve read on THRILLER, a favorite show ever since I watched it with my siblings as a youth. Your post is shock full of fascinating facts, stills, and quotes! I was especially intrigued with Karloff’s comments about violence in film and TV. He pretty much described the theme of his best late-career film, TARGETS, directed by Peter Bogdanovich a few years after THRILLER. It seems like some of the THRILLER episodes focused on suspense plots and others leaned toward horror and supernatural. The latter were my favorites and you listed many of the classic bone-chilling ones: Parasite Mansion, Pigeons from Hell (reviewed previously), A Wig for Miss Devore (looking forward to your post on that one), and The Cheaters. Kudos for the excellent choice of screen captures or stills; they really convey the Gothic look of the show. Plus, like you, it’s a blast to see some of the guest stars (I recognized Martita Hunts from Hammer’s excellent BRIDES OF DRACULA). Your wonderful post makes me wonder again why THRILLER has never garnered widespread attention. Yes, it’s a big cult show and finally got a complete DVD release. But it’s not mentioned in the same breath as ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENT, TWILIGHT ZONE, and THE OUTER LIMITS–and that’s a shame!.Thanks so much for participating in the Me-TV Blogathon.

    • monstergirl

      Rick!-I am so profoundly grateful that you let me show some love to this extremely underrated tv series, during your fantastic summer Me-TV Blogathon. I’m thrilled that you enjoyed it! I enjoyed everyone’s contributions so much! Thank you for hosting such a nostalgic bash!

      It’s funny, now that you mention TARGETS, I should have made that correlation between Karloff’s personal convictions about horror and his final role in an extremely good film by Bogdanovich. So glad you’ve pointed that out, because it adds great insight to the overview of the show. Thriller did straddle both classic crime thriller using many of the noir tropes and then it would offer us a glimpse into the macabre world of Gothic horror. Those would be the stories taken from Weird Tales Magazine. I think perhaps I love this show so dearly being a fan of classical horror, for that reason.

      While I’m a HUGE fan of Hitchcock’s television programme, The Twilight Zone and in particular The Outer Limits, Thriller seemed to harness the best odd stories with a horror nature- while the others were more geared toward crime thriller, science fantasy and science morality tale. Thriller was sort of a fabulous stew of classic noir and horror both.

      Parasite Mansion and Pigeons from Hell are also my favorites. I love Jeanette Nolan, the episode is so exquisitely creepy as is Pigeons. Ottola Nesmith is marvelous even if they only use her grotesquely made up face as a hag to convey the eeriness of narcissism and fear of old women. I almost touted Martita Hunt’s role in BRIDES OF DRACULA, so glad you mentioned it here! Another actress with a marvelous face-

      I was like so many fans who waited desperately to get my hands on the DVD release. I use to have to wait up til the wee hours when they ran it on The Sci-Fi Channel, only to be bombarded with those naughty’900′ girls in a pool, telling me to pick up the phone so they could talk dirty to me. Yikes-I used to get so offended that the network assumed only teenage boys were watching the station- A lot of us girls love horror and science fiction too-The narrow mindedness boggles.

      Thanks again for being so kind and stopping by The Last Drive In to share your wisdom and your appreciation- I can’t wait til next year. I’d love to do The Fugitive with David Janssen, or as I call it- ‘The Man Who Runs Away… A lot’- Cheers Joey

  • Ivan G Shreve Jr

    I just happened to catch “Mr. George” recently…it’s one of my new favorite episodes, because of my love for all things Virginia Gregg (an incredible, amazing talent).

    Another reason why Thriller might have been beheaded by the cancellation axe is because Hubbell Robinson went back to CBS in 1962, and NBC no doubt felt there was no sense in having a program on the air produced by someone working for their rival. This was the case with another Robinson show on NBC, 87th Precinct, which was also shown the door after premiering in the fall of 1961 and was starting to get both decent ratings and good critical buzz.

    • monstergirl

      Yes-Thriller was bogged down by a lot of resentments unfortunately, the CBS rivalry being one of them. I too adore Virginia Gregg an incredible actress indeed. One of the reasons the show was sooo memorable is the performances by these people who brought the characters to life. Mr George is so profoundly moving. It could have been a feature film. I’m finding many of the Lupino directed episodes as my favs these days. I’ve never seen 87th precinct. I’m a huge fan of Naked City. Was it in the same vein? Thanks for stopping by with your wonderful insight Ivan-Cheers Joey

      • Ivan G Shreve Jr

        87th Precinct can’t quite measure up to Naked City, which remains the gold standard of cop shows, in my opinion. But it’s a better series for which it’s been given credit: Norman Fell and Gena Rowlands (in the few episodes she appeared in) were great, and every now and then they did an episode where they hit it out of the park.

      • monstergirl

        I agree about Naked City- that has some of the most compelling performances and stories to date. I love love love Gena Rowlands. Ivan- I need to track down some episodes of 87th Precinct Do you have any suggestions where I can purchase a copy of the series? Thanks so much for sharing this info with me. I always appreciate being turned onto new things. You’re a treasure-

  • Joanna (Christmas TV History)

    Wow! I don’t know much about THRILLER at all. Thanks for writing this and showing me what I’m missing. Good thing it’s airing on Me-TV!

    • monstergirl

      Hi Joanna- you’ll find a nice mix of classic crime thriller and gothic horror fare. So glad I could spark your interest. MeTV is a fantastic station- They don’t make em like they used to- Thanks for stopping by -Joey

  • The Women of Alfred Hitchock’s Hour (1962-1965) | the last drive in

    […] Eventually in order to compete with the growing market of 50 minute teleplays, like Playhouse 90, Boris Karloff’s Thriller, The Twilight Zone etc, Hitchcock changed his format to meet an hours worth of programming, still […]

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