BORIS KARLOFF’S THRILLER (1960-1962): EPISODE GUIDE AND REVIEWS, PART FOUR

Part I of “Boris Karloff’s Thriller” episode guide is here, part II is here, and part III is here.

“God Grante That She Lye Stille” (directed by Herschel Daugherty and written by Robert Hardy Andrews) has series composer Jerry Goldsmith matching a rousing score to a well-worn plot about a wicked witch named Elspeth Clewer (Sarah Marshall) who is burned at the stake and places a curse upon her lineage, vowing to come back in another Clewer. 300 years later Margaret Clewer (Marshall)  apparently has just the right curves and… no prizes for guessing this plot, which is reminiscent of ‘s Black Sunday (1960). Marshall is physically reminiscent of Barbara Steele, but stamps the role with her own charisma. Henry Daniell gives a typically steely performance as the local vicar and Victor Buono, per the norm, invests his cameo with gusto. It’s well-lit with impressive ghost FX and sets, which makes for quite the grand guignol episode, despite its conventional narrative.

“Masquerade” (directed by Herschel Daugherty and written by Donald S. Sanford) has familiar actors Elizabeth  Montgomery and John Carradine in another Old Dark House thriller that begins on a dark and stormy night. Charlie (Tom Poston) and Rosamond  (Montgomery) Denham, celebrating their second honeymoon, depart their southern trailer park (!), get lost in the rain, and come upon the old Carta place. Carta patriarch Jed (Carradine) gives them shelter and… well, the old Carta place just happens to have bats flying around, the corpse of a hog hanging upside down (with a bucket collecting its blood), bars on the windows, secret passages, a rather large number of stuffed birds, and the psychotic old woman Ruthie (Dorothy Neumann) chained to a wall. She begs the honeymooning couple to free her, which they of course do. Ruthie’s first victim is Jed’s eccentric grandson Lem (Jack Lambert), which leads to the discovery that the Carta clan are cannibalistic vampires. “Masquerade” recalls elements of Terence Fisher‘s Brides Of Dracula and ‘s Psycho, and may be something of a precursor to 1967’s Spider Baby.  “Masquerade” is not as good as any of those, however. Although the plot is now overly familiar, it revels in black comedy, and is bookended by an over the top intro by Karloff and a daffy “twist” ending. Another plus is the acerbic Montgomery and a scene stealing, creepy Carradine giving charmingly riotous performances.

Still from "Boris Karloff's Thriller," "The Last of the Sommervilles"“The Last of the Sommervilles” (directed by , written by Ida and Richard Lupino) is elevated by Karloff’s supporting performance as the amorous Dr. Farnham, who looks like a forgotten cousin of the Three Stooges and steals every scene he is in, clearly enjoying a different kind of role. Martita Hunt (best known for her performances of Miss Havisham in David Lean’s superlative Great Expectations and Baroness Meinster in Brides of Dracula) is almost equally good as the eccentric Aunt Cecilia, whose fortune everyone is after. Naturally, her kin (who include the eternally underrated Phyllis Thaxter) are tired of waiting for her to die, which means that a barbaric (albeit mostly off-screen) murder lies ahead. Karloff’s closing host duties find him still in character for a giddy send-off. The Lupinos are equally in their niche with this dark-hued comedic romp.

The best thing about “Letter to a Lover” (directed by Herschel Daugherty and written by Donald S. Sanford) is Karloff’s intro, which finds him impaling an illustration of a human body with a scalpel. Astonishingly, given the talent involved, this crime melodrama is as bad as the first season’s “Mark of the Hand.” Dr. Evans is murdered and someone is responsible. Could it be Sylvia (Ann Todd), Donald (Felix Deebank) or Andrew (Murray Matheson)? That’s about all you can take away from this jumbled plot, which proves that no team is infallible. Only Karloff escapes embarrassment, because even he must have known this one was a bomb—he doesn’t make a single reference to the title, which is a “Thriller” first.

It can only go up from the previous entry, and does with “A Third for Pinochle” (directed by Herschel Daugherty and written by Mark Hanna and Boris Sobelman). Henpecked hubby Maynard Thispin (Edward Andrews) finally rids himself of an abusive, older, rich wife (Ann Shoemaker) so he can be free to enjoy life with a younger mistress. Unfortunately for Maynard, the peeping Tom, crazy Pennaroyd sisters (Doro Merande and June Walker) have been spying on him. Actually, they merely wanted a third hand for pinochle and, well they happen to be murderesses themselves (having knocked off their brother with a clever to the skull), and it all plays out as if Hitchcock directed Arsenic and Old Lace in his later years. This episode even ends like an “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” with Karloff doing a  tongue-in-cheek wrap. It’s amusingly black, but hardly a prime thriller.

“The Closed Cabinet” (directed by Ida Lupino, written by Jess Carneol and Kay Lenard) takes us back to some much needed Gothic mayhem. Lupino’s direction is typically stylish, production values meet the high standard set by the series, and there’s even a compelling lead performance from Olive Sturgess (an often-wasted actress best known for B-westerns and ‘s The Raven). However, it’s the writing that falters, being both predictable and pedestrian, making one wish the producers had hired Robert Bloch to write the entire season. It’s yet another yarn about a 300-year-old curse laid on Lady Beatrice Mervyn (Patricia Manning) after she murders her misogynistic husband. Unfortunately, Beatrice has a mother-in-law from hell who produces the curse, resulting in a specter who cannot find peace until a descendant discovers the secret of the closed cabinet. Evie Bishop (Sturgess) is the lucky recipient of said curse. She’s akin to a Hammer horror babe of the week, cavorting with Beatrice’s ghost, wielding a big knife and… sure enough, opening the closed cabinet. The end result is a handsome, but hollow, Gothic package.

The plural reference in the title “Dialogues with Death” (directed by Herschel Daugherty and written by Robert Arthur) is apt. This episode is a tale of two tales by Robert Arthur from his pre-existing short stories (he also wrote for “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” and it shows). Additionally, it stars Karloff in dual roles (and also hosting, of course). In “Friend of the Dead” Karloff plays the kindly morgue attendant Pop Jenkins who converses with his customers (no, not the living relatives) and provides comfort for them in the afterlife.  A meddlesome reporter (Ed Nelson) uses Pop’s supernatural ability to confront the murderer of a recent victim, and will be meeting Pop again quite soon. It’s a sharp, tongue-in-cheek play off of Karloff’s image of a certain monster more at ease with the dead than the living, and the actor responds with a nicely understated performance.  Karloff is more extroverted as Colonel Jackson Beauregard Finchess in “Welcome Home.”  Daniel (Neslon again) and Nell Le Jean are a fugitive couple on the run who stop at the decaying southern Gothic mansion of Uncle Jackson and Aunt Emily (Estelle Winwood) to claim an inheritance. Winwood is as scene-stealingly daffy as Karloff. The preordained outcome is apparent from the introduction, so it’s not about a “surprise twist,” which we almost come to expect from this television genre. Rather, with merry gallows humor, it is another verification that the dead are more interesting than the living—but then, Ernest Thesiger already told us so.

With the talent involved, “The Return of Andrew Bentley” (directed by John Newland with his per-the-norm dead seriousness, which befits the script by Richard Matheson) is another episode with a classic reputation. It’s certainly pitched in chic goth overdrive, with Newland also playing the lead role of Ellis Corbett, nephew of the late magician Amos Wilder (Terence De Marney, who would work again with Karloff in 1965’s Die, Monster Die). Prior to his passing, Amos solicited a vow from Ellis to protect his spirit and estate from evil forces, which brings in necromancer antagonist Andrew Bentley (Reggie Nalder, who appeared in Season 1’s “Terror in Teakwood” and would later impress as the Nosferatu character in the television miniseries “Salem’s Lot”). Nalder, always an interesting character actor, is underused, and despite steeping in Gothic seasoning, the narrative is subdued and shaded, which has its pluses and minuses. There is an extended, silent vignette which Newland expertly directs (he’s less distinctive as an actor). Only the script, which is an adaptation, not Matheson’s own, prevents this episode from fully owning up to its pedigree. While like Season 1’s “Pigeons From Hell” it may not quite live up to its reputation, it’s still a superior Thriller.

Still from "The Remarkable Mrs. Hawk"“The Remarkable Mrs. Hawk” (directed by John Brahm and written by  Donald S. Sanford) is another winning episode with a superb cast, which includes Jo Van Fleet, memorable in two Elia Kazan films—East Of Eden and the underrated Wild River), John Carradine, and (briefly) . The remarkable Cissy Hawk (Fleet) is a lonely, oversexed (it’s implied) widow who has a penchant for picking up potential husbands who, in addition to serving her intimate needs, can help her run a prize-winning “Home of the Pampered Pig.” After failing to rob the pork farm, self-professed scholar and hobo Jason Longfellow (Carradine) sends lackey Johnny Norton ( Dern) in to attempt to blackmail Mrs. Hawk. As good as she is at recruiting paramours, however, our heroine is also an accomplished magician. Actually, she’s the Greek goddess Circe, who can turn people into animals (mythology classes come in handy here) and sets out to prove Longfellow isn’t as clever as he thinks. Paul Newlan returns for his last Thriller as a local Keystone Kop investigating an awful lot of disappearances round the the old Pampered Pig home, all while trying to stay out of the dame’s bed. It’s all about as black as comedy can be blackened.

“Portrait Without a Face” (directed by John Newland and written by Jason Wingreen) is a surprisingly inert execution of a potentially good concept. The narcissistic Robert Moffat (Newland) is about to start a new canvas when an assassin appears in the open skylight above and shoots the artist in the head, with a crossbow (yikes). A few months later, art dealer Arthur Henshaw (Robert Webber) discovers that Moffat’s blank canvas is “painting” a portrait of the artist’s murderer. Moffat expert Professor Hoven (John Banner, better known as the comically round Nazi camp guard in the astoundingly tacky series “Hogan’s Heroes”) concludes that it is the spirit of Moffat himself painting his killer. However, Henshaw also has a sideline of art forgery, which complicates the mystery. There’s also an appallingly bad ham performance from Katherine Squire as Moffatt’s sister, and the art itself is poor, which stamps the whole episode with an air of disbelief.

“An Attractive Family” (directed by John Brahm and written by Robert Arthur ) is the final episode of 1961 and is an inevitable disappointment about a decidedly unattractive family of cold, scheming potential murderers competing for an inheritance. The cast includes stellar character actors Otto Kruger, Leo G. Carroll, and Richard Long. Their work here is superlative, but Arthur’s writing is fatigued and overly familiar.

Next week, we wrap our “Thriller” survey, which will include two of the series’ arguably best episodes. Happy Halloween.

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