The Grim Reaper -aired (13 Jun. 1961)
Directed by Herschel Daugherty and adapted by Robert Bloch from a story by Harold Lawlor it concerns a 19th-century painting and its fatalistic legend The Grim Reaper created by a morbidly obsessed painter Henri Radin. Radin who hangs out in graveyards and paints “still lifes” at the morgue, creates this cursed painting and then proceeds to hang himself. Again, much like with “The Cheaters”, whoever the painting falls into the hands of seems to doom them to a tragic or violent death.
The wonderful Henry Daniell plays Henri Radin’s father who comes looking for his son, only to find that he’s hung himself, leaving his morbid portrait of death behind.
Boris Karloff presents the evening’s tale of terror standing in front of the infamous painting.
Fast forward to the present-day Natalie Schafer “Lovie Howell” from Gilligan’s Island plays famous mystery writer Beatrice Graves who has a penchant for the dramatic, drives a hearse, and lives at Grave’s End, a Charles Adams-style mansion she uses for publicity. She purchases the cursed painting in order to garner some attention from the press. She also has a preference for lecherous husbands and has now married her 6th, a smarmy actor Gerald Keller (Scott Merrill) 20 years younger who is constantly chasing her after Bea’s lovely secretary Dorothy Lyndon (Elizabeth Allen) who looks like a Hitchcock blonde in this episode.
William Shatner plays Bea’s nephew Paul Graves who reads about his eccentric aunt obtaining the cursed painting. He arrives hoping to convince her that she’s in mortal danger, having made the fatal error of bringing this cursed monstrosity into her home.
In actuality Paul is plotting to kill her and blame her death on the painting~ His eccentric Aunt Bea is a lush who waves him away as if swatting a fly and dismisses him for being “the world’s oldest eagle scout.” In reality, Paul is setting everyone up using the legend of Radin’s painting to cover his murderous plans to become the recipient of Beatrice Grave’s inheritance until the painting decides to hold court and wield its bloody justice with its scythe. There are some authentically chilling aspects to this episode. The subject of Stigmata is injected into the plot, as part of the legend holds that the painting bleeds whenever someone has been chosen to die. Dorothy understands Stigmata to be a religious phenomena Paul tells her “No it’s not a religious painting unless the man who painted worshiped death”
Natalie Schafer is wonderful as Aunt Bea modulating between being a sympathetically fragile, sensually self-destructive, and tragic character then she emerges as vitriolic and sulfurous as the great Medusa quite imposing as a figure of the Monstrous Feminine.
Many of Thriller’s female characterizations were very complex and well-developed. Medusa as an archetype has historically been seen as the archetype of “the nasty mother” Bea Graves having wed a man young enough to be her son. While Medusa symbolizes sovereign female wisdom and female mysteries Bea being a “mystery’ writer, understands her predicament and walks into the flames of desire anyway. She is universal Creativity and Destruction in eternal Transformation. She rips away our mortal illusions. Bea has no illusion that her husband loves anything more than her millions but she desires him anyway. In this case, Bea knows that she is on a self-destructive path and seems to embrace it willingly. “To me, death is no more than a business partner.”
We never see the actual Reaper step out of the painting, in the way he was used in the literal sense in Fritz Lang’s 1925 masterpiece Metropolis where you see him step forward swinging his scythe. With this episode’s adaptation of the myth, It’s the sound and glimpse of his scythe cutting through the air in volatile swipes that create the slashing, nightmarish effect.
“In English lore, death is often given the name the “Grim Reaper” and shown as a skeletal figure carrying a large scythe, and wearing a midnight black gown, robe or cloak with a hood, or sometimes a white burial shroud Usually when portrayed in the black-hooded gown, his face is not to be seen, but is a mere shadow beneath the hood.”
In some cases, the Grim Reaper is able to actually cause the victim’s death, leading to tales that he can be bribed, tricked, or outwitted in order to retain one’s life. Other beliefs hold that the Spectre of Death is only a psychopomp, serving only to sever the last tie from the soul to the body and guide the deceased to the next world and having no control over the fact of their death. image at bottom ; dance of death. psychopomps”
The origins of the Grim Reaper go back far into the past and he was known by many names. In old Celtic folklore, he was known as L’Ankou, sometimes called Father Time. To the Greeks he was known as Cronus and the Romans called him Saturn.
Don’t be grim, I’ll be back with more Thrilling episodes! MonsterGirl
7 thoughts on “The Grim Reaper [Essay on Thriller with Boris Karloff] “To me death is no more than a business partner””
Nice review. The only thing I can criticize is that it is Medea, not Medusa, who is the archetypical “nasty mother.” Medea killed her children out of anger and revenge against their father (Jason of the Argonauts). Medusa was a childless and mateless monster, one of the 3 Gorgon sisters whose hideous faces could literally turn men to stone. The Medusa character does have a role in another Thriller episode, “Trio For Terror.”
That was a typo! Thanks for pointing it out to me. I cringed a little when I saw the comment because I knew that, and merely made an error in writing it. Thanks for letting me know. I have too many thoughts in my brain, and sometimes they collide!-Joey
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