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

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SILVER SCENES IS HOSTING THE UNIVERSAL BLOGATHON! SO I THOUGHT I’D BRING OUT THE UNIVERSAL TELEVISION PRODUCTION OF BORIS KARLOFF’S ANTHOLOGY… LET ME ASSURE YOU, IT’S A THRILLER!!! VISIT SILVER SCENES AND CHECK OUT ALL THE WONDERFUL CONTRIBUTIONS TO THIS HALLOWEEN CELEBRATION!

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)

boris intro parasite mansion

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
Boris intro Hayfork and Bill-Hook
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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Thriller with Boris Karloff: 14 Episodes in Brief

1)The Purple Room-airdate October 25,1960-Rip Torn inherits Black Oak Mansion from his recently deceased uncle, but with one condition;he must live in the house for one full year. Patricia Barry and Richard Anderson (The Night Strangler , The Six Million Dollar Man) play his cousins who lure him into spending one night in the haunted Purple Room! Black Oak Mansion makes use of Universal’s Psycho house.

2) Fingers Of Fear-aired Feb 21 1961-This disturbing and psychologically progressive episode deals with a child killer.It opens with a stark and chilling scene of an elementary school teacher chasing a ball (bouncing balls are usually foreboding of an impending shock! )from the playground only to discover the body of a mutilated little girl in the shrubs. The police start looking for an overweight brutish man, and a mentally ill man fitting the description starts to fear that he will be arrested for the crime. This starts a series of events that are filmed with a taut and thoughtful narrative until the shocking climax where the real murderer is caught. The final scene is quite disturbing when the killer violently attacks a doll, thinking it is a little girl. Directed by Jules Bricken, but could have been filmed by Sam Fuller. Highly recommend Fuller’s The Naked Kiss.

3)The Ordeal of Dr Cordell airdate March 7 1961-A doctor, Frank Cordell, played by Robert Vaughn ( The Man From U.N.C.L.E)trying to find the cure for nerve gas accidentally stumbles onto a chemical vapor that stirs a murderous uncontrollable rage in him, every time he hears a bell. This episode taps into Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 short story The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde as Cordell modulates between these dueling personalities.

4) Parasite Mansion airdate April 25 1961-Pippa Scott plays a woman who wrecks her car, then gets shot at and faints only to awaken in an old dark house inhabited by an extremely strange family that are beset by the fear of a family “secret” in the form of violence that has plagued their home and family for three generations. Poltergeists,telekinesis,stigmata,alcoholism, insanity, backwoods vengeance and family dysfunction all play themselves out at the hands of Granny brilliantly acted by the incredible Jeanette Nolan, Beverly Washburn as Lollie ( Spider Baby ).Written by Donald S. Sanford and directed by Herschel Daugherty.

5) Mr George airdate May 9 1961-After a little girl loses both her parents, she is left in the care of her last remaining relatives, a sociopathic provincial trio who plan to kill her for her inheritance. But the child has a special guardian, a ghost named Mr George who is watching out for her safety at every turn.Written by Sanford, and directed by Ida Lupino. Virginia Gregg, Howard Freeman and Lillian Bronson as Adelaide the simple minded sister apropos of a Tennessee Williams character. The musical dynamic to this episode in particular is it’s own character within the plot. it seems to guide the narrative masterfully through a childlike lens.

6) Terror In Teakwood airdate May 16 1961-A concert pianist obsessed with being the greatest living pianist, takes extreme measures to improve his abilities.Guy Rolfe (Mr Sardonicus) plays Vladimir Vicek the tormented musician who goes to drastic and unholy ends to achieve greatness.Hazel Court plays Leonie his beautiful wife. Directed by Paul Henreid. Bette Davis’s love interest and doctor in Now Voyager. Perhaps my favorite film of the great Ms Davis! The theme is very reminiscent of The Hands Of Orlac . Also stars Charles Aidman.

7) What Beckoning Ghost airdate September 18 1961-Judith Evelyn plays Mildred Beaumont, a woman, yet another concert pianist, recovering from a heart attack,goes downstairs one night hearing a funeral dirge, and has a vision of her own dead body lying in repose in an open coffin.She faints and upon awakening is told by her husband and sister that she has started having memory lapses and hallucinations. Are they trying to drive her crazy or to her grave? Written by Donald Sanford from a story by Harold Lawlor first published in Weird Tales (July 1948) and directed by Ida Lupino. photo right Reggie Nalder from Terror in Teakwood.

8) The Premature Burial airdate October 2 1961-loosely based on Poe’s story, Sidney Blackmer (Roman Castavet the patriarchal warlock in Rosemary’s Baby ) plays a cataleptic man who suffers a seizure and is mistakenly buried alive. His doctor friend Boris Karloff breaks into the crypt and saves his life. After being revived by the galvanic battery! Blackmer becomes obsessed with this never happening again. However his young wife Patricia Medina and her artist lover Scott Marlowe are more interested in his inheritance. This episode has a wonderfully morbid tone to it.

9) The Weird Taylor airdate October 16 1961-Writer Robert Bloch brings this macabre story to life directed by Herschel Daugherty.

An abusive husband and bitter man, a tailor is asked to make a special suit of clothes for a wealthy man. The tailor doesn’t know that the man has accidentally caused his son’s death during one of his black mass rituals.The father’s only goal now is to bring his son back to life and having paid one million dollars for a rare book on sorcery which has the formula for creating a suit that if worn can bring back the dead!.George Macready is wonderful as the mournfully obsessed father.Henry Jones is Erik Conrad the angry tailor who doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into.

10) God Grante That She Lye Stille airdate October 23 1961-In 1661 a woman is burned at the stake for being a witch. She swears that her spirit will avenge her death. 300 years later,a girl descendant from the witch returns to her ancestral home and begins having to fight off the ghost of the witch who is now trying to possess her very body and soul! Henry Daniell plays Vicar Weatherford the descendant of the man who burned the witch 300 years prior.

11)Masquerade airdate Oct 30 1961-A young couple, a writer and his droll wife are on their honeymoon down south after being caught in a thunderstorm, stop at a house to seek shelter. This episode is laced with a lyrical quality and much campy humor.What they find, is a bizarre family led by John Carradine ( love him!) Jed Carta who taunts the couple with local stories about the Henshaw Vampire. Is the family a family of vampires?cannibals or just a bunch of psychopaths who kill wayward visitors for their valuables?Tom Poston as Charlie Denham, and Elizabeth Montgomery (Bewitched)as Roz Denham.The banter between the cast is so enjoyable. Pictured here John Carradine as Jed Carta sharpening his butcher’s knife.

12)The Return Of Andrew Bentley airdate Dec 11 1961-in 1900’s Ellis and Sheila Corbett arrive at the home of his Uncle Amos an occult enthusiast, who reveals that he is dying and plans on leaving everything to them as long as they remain in the house, never to leave and to keep vigil on his crypt in order to protect his eternal slumber from the mysterious Andrew Bentley and his minion demon that follows him around like a ghoulish pet.Written by Richard Matheson and directed by John Newland who also plays Ellis. Antoinette Bower is Sheila and Reggie Nalder is Andrew Bentley. Nalder is another actor with a very distinct face.

13)The Remarkable Mrs Hawk airdate Dec 19 1961-Mrs Hawk runs a pig farm. Best hogs in the county.She also goes through handy men like Kleenex. They all seem to disappear without a trace. When the last hired hand to go missing, it stirs curiosity in his friends,so they set out to investigate the goings on. Turns out that the lady is the Greek Goddess Circe who is masterful at turning men into swine! John Carradine plays “Jason” Longfellow, Paul Newlan as Sheriff ” Ulysses” Willetts and Jo Van Fleet as the remarkable Mrs Hawk. Directed by John Brahm and written by Donald S Sanford. The original script http://www.geocities.com/emruf7/hawk.htm

14) The Storm airdate January 22 1962-Nancy Kelly ( The Bad Seed’s mother ) as Janet Wilson after finding the body of a dead woman in the trunk in her cellar, is then stalked by a killer during one terrible stormy night! Directed by Herschel Daugherty.

A few other of my favorite episodes are~Dialogues With Death, Well Of Doom ,The Last of The Summervilles , Hay Fork and Bill-Hook, What Beckoning Ghost,A Wig for Ms Devore and The Closed Cabinet!