Saturday, June 13, 2015

Thriller, Boris Karloff

Thriller, not to be confused with Michael Jackson's album and zombie video, and Thriller Video VHS tapes, Thriller was a horror and crime suspense show that was hosted by horror master Boris Karloff, and appeared for 67 episode on NBC from 1960-1962. It featured some of the great horror writers of the day, including Richard Mateson of The Omega Man, Robert Bloch of Psycho, and Robert E. Howard. Several up and coming actors also made some of their earliest appearances on Thriller, among them Rip Torn, William Shatner, Dick York and Elizabeth Montgomery (although not in the same episode), and Leslie Nielsen. Boris Karloff appeared in som of the better known episodes himself.

Each episode began with a short en media res introduction to a shocking story, then Boris Karloff appearing on screen to set up the story and the episode's actors, then exclaiming something like "Ladies and gentlemen, this is a Thriller." Karloff appeared in five episodes of the show: "The Premature Burial," "The Last of the Sommervilles," "Dialogues With Death," "The Prediction," and "The Incredible Doctor Markesan." 

The show was filmed in black and white, and although it contained some legitimate thrills, violence was kept to a minimum. "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 Karloff introducing the "Hay-fork and Bill-Hook episode of Thriller

Thriller was produced by the same company and shot on the same sound stage as The Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and many rumors indicate Hitchcock quite resented the competition. Although no one claims Hitchcock made any direct attempt to get the show cancelled, he did enlarge his show from its original thirty minute format to one hour, which had the effect of crowding Thriller out. The show prided itself on not sticking to any one theme, mixing tales of the macabre, suspense, and melodrama with crime and detective elements, somewhat like Edgar Alan Poe. from show to show the viewer could never be sure what they would get. 

The actors took the material very seriously, almost invariably delivering top-notch performances, and the atmospheric shooting was highly skilled and advanced for the era. Boris Karloff's charm and wit showed through even in the briefest of his introductions, and his true skill as an actor of horror was evidenced in the five episodes he starred in. 

Thriller was a showcase for many aspiring writers, actors, and directors, and deserves to be remembered in the same class as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Outer Limits, and even The Twilight Zone, although all of these were certainly different types of shows.  Pin It

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