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.

boris karloff thriller

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}

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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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The Fantastically Huge World of Mr. B.I.G: Bert I. Gordon – An Intermission with special guest blogger GoreGirl!

Bert I. Gordon is just TOO BIG to do in one short post. Hell, I never really do anything in a small way as by now you’ve come to know my style. The fabulous, hysterical, well-informed and outrageously amusing GoreGirl of Goregirl’s Dungeon one of THE BEST blog sites around, has given me the great honor of gracing The Last Drive-In with her enjoyable take of Mr. B.I.G. I thought it would be a perfect segue or Intermission between Part I and Part II of this special feature on the man who brought us giant sized menaces and campy diversions. So without any further ramblings from yours truly, I hand the stage over to the fantastical GoreGirl with her:

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THE ABC’s Of  B.I.G.

Back in July 2009 I did a feature called The Coop of Cthulhu: Five Horror Films that Feature Chickens where I cited Bert I. Gordon’s Food of the Gods. When you are the new kid on the block in the world of blogging it takes some time to get yourself noticed; you are just a drop in an ocean as big as the world. It took a while before I received a comment of any kind, but the most exciting thing that happened to me that first year was receiving a comment from Mr. Gordon on the aforementioned post. When Jo asked me if I would like to contribute something for a feature she was doing on Bert I. Gordon I jumped at the chance. I was long overdue to cover some of the director’s work. In preparation for the feature I read his autobiography The Amazing Colossal Worlds of Mr. B.I.G. His nickname Mr. B.I.G. not only represents his name; Bert Ira Gordon but his love for giant creatures. Your lesson today is to learn your B.I.G. ABCs…

A is for Attack of the Puppet People. Attack of the Puppet People was made in 1958. Starring John Agar, John Hoyt and June Kenney; it is the story of a lonely doll-maker who creates a machine that shrinks people. His tiny prisoners inevitably attempt to escape their strange situation. Attack of the Puppet People has been a favourite since childhood. Born well after the film was released I enjoyed the 50s monster movies on Sunday afternoon television and than on video in the early 80s. There were countless films from the 50s with giant creatures in all shapes and sizes but very few had a premise with tiny creatures/people. The idea of which filled my childhood imagination with wonder. I would often daydream about shrinking my tattle-telling little sister.

John Hoyt Attack of The Puppet People

Attack of The Puppet People by the phone

B is for Beginning of the End. Beginning of the End was made in 1957. Starring Peter Graves and Peggy Castle; it is the story of a journalist who has discovered a species of giant grasshoppers created at an experimental state-run farm. She attempts to make her discovery public despite a government/military cover-up. Mr. Gordon discovered the difficulties of working with live grasshoppers; you can’t really teach a grasshopper to “act” and you cannot prevent them from eating each other either!

Beginning of the End

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Beginning of the End lobby card

C is for The Cyclops. The Cyclops was made in 1957. Starring James Craig, Gloria Talbott, Lon Chaney Jr., Tom Drake and Duncan Parker; it is the story of Susan Winters who has financed a trip to Mexico to search for her fiancÈ Bruce whose plane went down three years previous. She arranges a small four seat plane and hires pilot Lee Brand. Accompanying Susan is Bruceís closest friend Russ Bradford and Martin Melville who hopes to find uranium. The quartet finds more than they bargain for when they discover the area is inhabited by giant animals. And that is not the only surprise that awaits the group. Although most of The Cyclops was made in and around Los Angeles, Gordon decided he would film several reels of footage in Tijuana to add in to the final product. Unfortunately while there he was arrested and his camera and film confiscated. Gordon avoided jail time by paying the arresting officer off but his film was exposed before it was returned to him, rendering it unusable.

The Cyclops lobby card

The Cyclops

The Cyclops

D is for Kirk Douglas. Bert I. Gordon was hired by a Japanese Ad Agency to do a series of commercials with Kirk Douglas. The commercials, intended strictly for a Japanese audience were for a coffee product and were filmed in Kirk Douglas’ Beverly Hills home.

Kirk Douglas drinking coffee

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E is for Earth Vs. the Spider. Earth Vs. the Spider was made in 1958. Starring Ed Kemmer, June Kenney and Eugene Persson; it is the story of a giant spider found in a cave that is killed and brought to the gymnasium of the local high school to await a team of researchers. The creature as it turns out is not deceased and is revived by rock music! The giant spider wreaks havoc on the small town. Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico was the perfect location shoot for Gordon’s Earth Vs. the Spider but there was one problem; he was not permitted to light the Caverns in any way. Apparently light fosters the growth of organisms that would destroy the cavern’s surfaces. Unable to film on location, he shot photographs to use as background plates.

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Earth vs The Spider lobby card

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F is for Food of the Gods. The Food of the Gods was made in 1976. Starring Marjoe Gortner, Pamela Franklin, Ida Lupino, Belinda Balaski and Ralph Meeker; it is loosely based on H.G. Wellsís book of the same name. A meteorite crashes near a small farm that causes a liquid to ooze from the ground. Some rats drink the liquid which causes them to grow to huge proportions. A group of various visitors including a man and his pregnant wife are forced to fight for their lives against the giant rats and a host of other giant creatures. The Food of the Gods was filmed on Bowen Island in British Columbia! Not only made in the motherland but in the province I live in. A former boyfriend’s family had a cottage on beautiful Bowen Island which I visited several times. Gordon built several miniature sets and hired several “rat-trainers” for the shoot. Windstorms and snowstorms made shooting difficult but the always inventive Gordon simply wrote a snowstorm into the story.

Food of the Gods Ida Lupino lobby card

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G is for Grand Prix. The Food of the Gods was awarded the Grand Prix du Festival International Du Paris Fantastique 1977 (Fantasporto).

Food of the Gods rats and volkswagons

H is for How to Succeed with (the Opposite) Sex. How to succeed with Sex was made in 1970. Starring Zack Taylor, Mary Jane Carpenter and Bambi Allen; it is the story of Jack desperate to get his lovely fiancÈe in bed before their wedding day and her refusal inspires him to purchase a book on seducing women. I have not seen Gordon’s foray into sexploitation so I really can not comment except to say; it appears from what I’ve read that there are no giant creatures in this film.

How to Succeed with Sex

How to Succeed with Sex lobby card

I is for The International Film Festival of Catalonia. Mr. Gordon’s career was honored in 1998 at The International Film Festival of Catalonia in Stiges Spain where thirteen of his titles were shown.

J is for Leroy Johnson. Stuntman and actor Leroy Johnson appeared in Gordon’s 1962 film The Magic Sword as Sir Ulrich of Germany. Needless to say the man performed his own stunts in pretty much every role in which he was cast.

Leroy Johnson stuntman

K is for King Dinosaur. King Dinosaur was made in 1955. Although Serpent Island is listed as his first feature film in his autobiography; IMDB lists King Dinosaur as his first. A new planet called Nova is discovered in the solar system and two couples are sent to explore it. The planet is inhabited by creatures great and small including the titular creature. Made on a micro-budget King Dinosaurís simple effects were particularly troublesome. The iguanas were uncooperative cast members who refused to move. Gordon went to the local library to read up on Iguanas and found out that they go into a hibernation state in temperatures lower than 120 degrees. A few bathroom heaters fixed the problem and got the little actors moving.

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King Dinosaur

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L is for Ida Lupino. The lovely and talented Ida Lupino was featured in Gordon’s Food of the Gods as Mrs. Skinner; one of the last films she did before retiring from acting. Mrs. Skinner is the owner of the farm where a meteor landed that caused the animals of the area to grow to massive proportions. Poor Mrs. Skinner’s husband is eaten by giant rats!

Ida Lupino

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M is for Magic Sword. Magic Sword was made in 1962. Starring Basil Rathbone, Estelle Winwood and Gary Lockwood; it is the story of George the son of a sorcerer who tricks his mother in order to conjure up a suit of armor, a horse and a magic sword. George sets out to save the princess who has been kidnapped by the evil Lodac. The princess is being guarded by a two-headed fire-breathing dragon! Gordon stepped aside on the effects in The Magic Sword and let Fox’s art department create the film’s two headed fire-breathing dragon. Gordon preferred that real fire was used instead of being added in the optical lab. While the creature was not as large as it appeared in the film, it was still one of the largest creatures to appear in one of Gordon’s films and required two men to operate its movements.

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the delightfully wonderful Estelle Winwood in The Magic Sword

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The Magic Sword lobby card

Bert on the set of The Magic Sword

N is for Necromancy. Necromancy (aka The Witching) was made in 1972. Starring Orson Welles, Pamela Franklin, Lee Purcell and Michael Ontkean; it is the story of a witches’ coven in the town of Lilith headed by Warlock Mr. Cato. The local radio station in the town where Gordon filmed coincidently had the call letters CATO; perhaps a little black magic at play here? Okay probably not.

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Pamela Frankin necromancy

Necromancy nightime grave

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O is for Michael Ontkean. Michael Ontkean best known and beloved by me for his role as Sheriff Harry S. Truman in Twin Peaks appeared in Gordon’s 1972 film Necromancy as Frank Brandon.

Michael Ontkean

P is for Picture Mommy Dead. Picture Mommy Dead was made in 1966. Starring Don Ameche, Martha Hyer, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Susan Gordon (her fourth appearance in a Gordon film); is the story of Susan who has recently come home after spending time in an asylum where she was recovering from the shock of her mother’s fiery death. Now living with her father and his new wife whose greedy intentions are less than noble. Picture Mommy Dead is the best film in Gordon’s resume and a real unappreciated gem with great performances. Hedy Lamarr was initially cast as Susan’s mother Jessica but was arrested the week before filming for shoplifting. Zsa Zsa Gabor was cast instead.

Picture Mommy lobby card Don Ameche Zsa zsa

Susan Gordon

Martha and Susan

Picture Mommy Dead portrait Zsa Zsa

Q is for Faith Quabius. Faith Quabius appears in Gordon’s 1973 film The Mad Bomber as Martha; a personal favourite Gordon film of mine. Although Ms. Quabius has an itsy bitsy resume her last name starts with “Q”.

Faith Quabius in The Mad Bomber
Faith Quabius in The Mad Bomber
Faith Quabius Soylent Green with Edgar G Robinson
Faith Quabius Soylent Green with Edgar G Robinson

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Chuck Connors as The Mad Bomber “You just littered… now pick it up”

R is for Rathbone. The great Basil Rathbone played the evil wizard Lodac in Gordon’s 1962 film The Magic Sword. Although officially born in South Africa, Rathbone was raised in England. The Magic Sword was released in England under the title St. George and the 7 Curses and would receive a curious rating from the censors in England; a film that was intended to be for general audiences. The film had a problematic and almost non-existent run in the country.

Basil Rathbone

Basil Rathbone in The Magic Sword
the great Basil Rathbone in The Magic Sword

S is for Satan’s Princess. Satan’s Princess was made in 1990. Starring Robert Forster, Lydie Denier and Caren Kaye; is the story of an ex-cop hired for a missing persons case whose clues all lead back to the sensual Nicole and a satanic cult. Satan’s Princess is Bert I. Gordon’s last film to date. Generally speaking Gordon uses closed sets and limited crew for sex/nude scenes but on the request of his lead actress Lydie Denier her husband was permitted to watch her perform a scene where she takes part in a Lesbian orgy.

Satan's Princess

T is for Tormented. Tormented was made in 1960. Starring Richard Carlson, Susan Gordon, Lugene Sanders and Joe Turkel; it is the story of a man tormented by his dead lover, whom he could have saved but chose not to so he could marry another. Gordon is always working with a tight budget and schedule and often has to get creative to capture the shot he needs. In the case of Tormented a lighthouse was an important part of the plot, but it was not in the budget to travel with his cast and crew. Gordon simply shot footage of his ideal lighthouse in Salem, Massachusetts and melded it with his California footage. The magic of movies!

Tormented Richard Carlson

Tormented lobby card

Tormented Juli

U is for University of Illinois. Bert I. Gordon was the special guest at the University of Illinois’ 20th Annual Insect Fear Film Festival February 15, 2003.

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V is for Village of the Giants. Village of the Giants was made in 1965. Starring Tommy Kirk, Johnny Crawford, Ron Howard, Joe Turkel, Beau Bridges and Joy Harmon; is the story of a group of teenagers who steal the concoction of a brainiac kid that makes things grow to huge proportions. The teenagers ingest the goo and terrorize their community! This movie is a ton of fun and was Gordon’s first picture with AVCO Embassy. Look out for the adorable Toni Basil who was in charge of the film’s dance numbers!

Village of the Giants

Village of The Giants lobby card

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W is for War of the Colossal Beast. War of the Colossal Beast was made in 1958. Starring Sally Fraser, Roger Pace, and Duncan Parkin; it is the sequel to Gordon’s The Amazing Colossal Man (1957). After the events of the first film a series of food truck robberies tip authorities off to the possibility that the Colossal Man is still living. After discovering him in a remote Mexican mountain range they drug and transport him back to America where he escapes and wreaks havoc. Although the horrifically mutated Col. Glenn Manning is the primary focus of War of the Colossal Beast; the character speaks just one word in the film “Joyce” his sister’s name.

War of the Colossal Beast Lobby Card

War of the Colossal beast

X is for Xenonarc Lamp. This has absolutely nothing to do specifically with Bert I. Gordon, but I couldn’t find anything else for X. An Xenonarc Lamp is a high-intensity lighting device used in motion picture projection and eye surgery. Mr. Gordon was a film fan from an early age. At six his mother would drop him off at the local theatre and pick him up in time for dinner. He became friendly with the people who ran the theatre and was even allowed to sit in the projection booth and watch them change the reels. Sometimes if the reels broke during a film they would even let young Burt fix them; he learned to do this simply by observing. Gordon is a director through and through and cites the type of cameras he used often throughout his biography so this seemed like an appropriate “X” word.

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A XenonArc Lamp… very cool… go figure

Y is for Yacht; which Mr. Gordon planned to buy after he moved to Hollywood to become a filmmaker.

The SS Minnow Yacht of Gilligan's Island fame
The SS Minnow Yacht of Gilligan’s Island fame

Z is for Zsa Zsa Gabor. Okay, officially this should be under “G” but come on we all know Zsa Zsa by her first name don’t we?! Zsa Zsa plays Jessica Flagmore Shelley in Picture Mommy Dead; the deceased mother of Susan Shelley whose horribly death by fire caused little Susan to spend time in a mental institution. Zsa Zsa celebrated her birthday on the set of Picture Mommy Dead.

Zsa in pink

Zsa Zsa Gabor

*information for this post was taken from Bert I. Gordon’s IMDB page and his autobiography The Amazing Colossal Worlds of Mr. B.I.G. You can buy his book at his official website http://www.bertigordon.com

http://www.bertigordon.com/
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0330026/?ref_=tt_ov_dr

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That’s it for now. Hope you enjoyed this amazingly fantastical tour of the alphabet as seen through the eyes of the GREAT GoreGirl...

Grab yourselves some Mild Duds and sit tight, I’ll be back with Part II of The Fantastically Huge World of Mr. B.I.G. Bert I Gordon

Love ya all in the hugest way… MonsterGirl