Archive for August 24th, 2017

by Sam Juliano

The sixty-seven episodes of Boris Karloff’s Thriller, a one-hour horror anthology that ran on network television for two seasons from 1960-62, were later syndicated and for a number of years were a staple on the popular Sci-Fi Channel.  E bay subsequently supported the bootleg sales of various sets that included some of the better know episodes, and in the late 90’s Universal released six shows to VHS and laserdisc, with the LD quality so layered and luminous that some to this day argue it is still incomparable and superior to the DVD set.  While Universal moved forward at a snail’s pace releasing individual seasons of Alfred Hitchcock Presents throughout the first decade of the new millennium, they steadfastly stayed clear of bringing Thriller to DVD, in large measure because the sales on VHS and LD were reportedly very weak.  Still, Universal has long been tagged with a reputation of indifference when it comes to their classic television holdings, and they opted to lease the series to Image Entertainment who subsequently released all the episodes with generous extras in an August, 2010 box set that can now be had inexpensively.  Image followed up the comprehensive box two years later with a single disc Thriller: Fan Favorites, which offered up ten of the very best episodes of the series on a single disc aimed at tempting neophytes with the larger purchase.

Horror maven Stephen King famously declared in his volume Danse Macabre, that “Thriller is the best horror series ever put on television” and he has stood behind that position in subsequent interviews.  The truth is that Boris Karloff’s Thriller was initially a mystery-police procedural  hybrid that didn’t take hold with viewers until the show’s producers decided to focus on Gothic and expressionist horror after the first half of Season 1 failed to attract the ratings needed to continue at NBC.  To be sure the shows that appeared from the beginning did not gain an audience, and a new producer William Frye was brought in to permanently, indeed radically, alter the show’s focus.  The first episode Frye produced was “The Purple Room,” aired on October 25, 1960.  A ghost story set in a mansion believed to be haunted, it was Thriller’s first horror entry, and was moodily directed by Douglas Heyes and shot by Bud Thackeray.  Though Frye decided to go forward with a few non-horror entries that were still in preparation (the excellent “The Watcher” came up next) it was clear to studio executives that the series needed to develop new horror screenplays. After a few more hybrid episodes aired to low ratings, Thriller showcased two of it’s best horror episodes ever: The Cheaters and The Hungry Glass. A few more undistinguished mysteries and then the show wisely went exclusively with the scare quotient till it’s untimely cancellation before the send of the second season.  None other than Alfred Hitchcock himself was a major reason why the network opted to close down the Thriller shop, though years later is was quoted to have deeply regretted his intervention.  Hitch was known to be competitive during the time his own television shows were airing – Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchchcock Hour and the success of Thriller was an affront to his ego.  Thriller’s great success in Gothic horror was what Hitch strove for in his hour-long show, if not quite so pointedly in his more sardonic half-hour enterprise.  Though Karloff – a horror film icon- maintained a degree of clout with the industry, he has not especially made his mark in television where the master of suspense was a towering and powerful figure.  Despite high ratings Thriller was cancelled.  Though other networks could have picked it up, this did not ultimately come to pass, and the show fell by the wayside.  Yet the show’s legacy is a stellar lot of horror masterpieces, a half dozen of which I’ve examined below in comprehensive terms.  They are among my absolute favorite episodes of Thriller, but not specifically, nor numerically my top choices.  At the end of this long essay I have compliled my list for such purpose.  I’ve also provided three you tube links for shows that newcomers are especially urged to watch. (more…)

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