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

Part I of “Boris Karloff’s Thriller” episode guide is here.

“The Poisoner,” (directed by Herschel Daugherty and written by  Robert Hardy Andrews) is loosely based on the real-life case of suspected serial poisoner Thomas Griffiths Wainwright. Here he is given the name of Thomas Edward Griffith and played by eternally underrated actor Murray Matheson. As artist, author and dandy, Griffith, used to the fine life, lies his way into marriage with rich socialite Frances Abercrombie (Sarah Marshall), only to discover she has also lied about her wealth. Worse, she moves her family in. Fortunately, Griffith is an expert poisoner. A score from Jerry Goldsmith again accentuates the suspense. It’s fairly well shot for television and includes that favorite noir murder method—pushing a wheelchair-bound victim down a spiraling stairwell. As the Abercrombies are an across the board ingratiating lot, it’s hard not to be manipulated into sympathizing with Griffith, but his mistreatment of a poor innocent kitty reveals him to be the cad he is.

“Man in the Cage” (directed by Gerald Mayer, written by Stuart Jerome and Maxwell Shane) stars Philip Carey as engineer Darrel Hudson, going to Tangier in search for his missing brother Noel (Guy Stockwell). The exotic location and co-star Diana Millay are wasted in a hopelessly dull episode.

“Choose a Victim” (directed by Richard Carlson, better known as the beefcake protagonist of Creature From The Black Lagoon, and written by George Bellak) is another crime noir. This one features prolific television actors Susan Oliver (many will remember her as the heroine in the two-part “Star Trek” episode “The Cage”) and Larry Blyden (from both “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and “The Twilight Zone”). Tragically, both actors died young: Oliver from lung cancer, Blyden from a traffic accident. Blyden plays beach bum/golddigger Ralph, who stumbles onto the sad but beautiful Edith when he sneaks into her room to rob her. Rather than turning him in, Edith is sexually attracted to daring larcenist Ralphie and demands his “attention.” The episode takes a Postman Always Rings Twice turn when Edith manipulates Ralphie in a plot to kill her wealthy uncle. Naturally, that’s not only the bit of manipulation going on, and the episode revels in playing its mind games, even if it’s not a standout thriller.

Still from "Hay-fork and Bill-hook"“Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook” (directed by Herschel Daugherty and written by Allan Caillou) is an uneven episode with a plot that might call to mind elements from Anthony Shaffer’s later (and vastly superior) The Wicker Man (1973). Atmosphere and a sense of dread (aided again by Goldsmith, in top form) make up for a degree of awkward writing about a coven of witches in the Druid ruins of the rural Dark Falls, in Wales. The honeymoon of Scotland Yard inspector Harry Roberts (Kenneth Haig) and wife Nesta (Audrey Dalton) is interrupted by the murder of a townsman named Watson (Lumsden Hare) by hay-fork and bill-hook. Dark Falls Constable Evans (a returning Alan Napier) and his mother (former silent screen actress Doris Lloyd) show more interest in Nesta than assisting in the mysterious murder. With dead cattle and another murder, human sacrifices and burning are not far behind.

“The Merriweather File” (directed by John Brahm, written by John Kneubuhl) is a crime melodrama littered with familiar character actors. Ann Merriweather (a returning Bethel Leslie) nearly becomes the victim of a blackmailing assassin. Things don’t go as hoped for the poor mafioso guy, and he winds up as a corpse in the trunk of Mr. Merriweather (Ross Elliott). After hubby is busted, Ann solicits help from neighbor and high-powered lawyer Howard Yates (James Gregory). The mystery and closet-skeletons are crammed into a one hour format, and the finale is hyper-rushed in this forgettable episode.

“The Fingers of Fear” (directed by Jules Bricken and written by Robert Hardy Andrews) explores territory in a tale about a serial killer of children. To say that child molestation was a daring topic for early 1960s television would be an understatement, but the direction is unimaginative, made worse by a bombastic, pedestrian score. Busy character actor Nehemiah Person plays the investigating Lt. Wagner, hunting the killer Ohrback, played by Robert Middleton. Middleton specialized in these types of roles (i.e. 1955’s The Desperate Hours), but by all accounts was erudite and a pleasure to work with. Middleton turns in typical good work, despite the dated stereotypes. Person is oddly lethargic. Despite the handicaps, “The Fingers of Fear” lives up to its thriller tag.

Still from Thriller, "Well of Doom"“Well of Doom” (directed by John Brahm and written by Donald S. Sanford) stars the eternally underrated Henry Daniell, Torin Thatcher, and a young . The narrative, about a well-to-do and his butler (Ronald Howard and Thatcher) kidnapped and imprisoned by a sadistic ghoul (Daniell) is spirited camp, liberally borrowing from ‘s lost film, London After Midnight, which doesn’t matter one bit. It’s made all the more transcendent by its performances, visual aplomb, and Goldsmith’s robustly Gothic score. Despite rarely making those random “Best of Thriller” lists, it’s an episode fully deserving of the series classic rep.

“The Ordeal of Dr. Cordell” (directed by Laslo Bender and written by Donald S. Sanford) is a science fiction effort. The title doctor is none other than the Man From U.C.L.E Robert Vaughn, who can’t salvage a cliche-ridden script about a scientist who is driven mad after inhaling the wrong kind of gas in a lab accident. That, combined with the sound of tinkling bells, transforms him into a campus murderer by night. Marlo Thomas, in one of her earliest appearances, plays the victim. It is doubtful either actor included this episode in their respective resumes.

“Trio for Terror” (directed by and written by Barre Lyndon) is the first “Thriller” presented as an anthology within the anthology. All three tales are imbued with Lupino’s trademark atmospheric direction, but narratively it’s a mixed bag, with the first episode, “The Extra Passenger,” oddly being the strongest. It stars Richard Lupino (Ida’s cousin, who will write a later episode with her) as a spoiled heir plotting murder to get his inheritance. Unwittingly, he is up against a warlock of an uncle (Terence de Marney), and the episode gets downright Lovecraftian in its surprisingly gruesome finale. “A Terribly Strange Bed” is the apt title of the weakest episode about a gambler (Robin Hughes) whose lucky streak ends when encountering… a terribly strange bed. Reginald Owen (an unjustly forgotten big screen Scrooge) co-stars. A murderer (Michael Pate) takes refuge in a wax museum, only to encounter “The Mask of Medusa” in the final episode. As with the Medusa in ‘s later The Gorgon (1964), atmosphere almost makes up for amusingly inadequate makeup effects.

“Papa Benjamin” (directed by Ted Post and written by John Kneubuhl) stars character actor John Ireland as a band leader who, despite being warned not to, incorporates a chant from a voodoo ceremony into his song “Voodoo Rhapsody.” Naturally, the voodoo thief gets his comeuppance. It’s as silly as it sounds, and not the best exit for producer Maxwell Shane.

Despite a bland, vague title and an on paper all-too-familiar plot, “Late Date” (directed by Herschel Daugherty and written by Donald S. Sanford) is executed well enough to stand as a marked improvement over its immediate predecessors. Larry Pennell as Larry Weeks is a beach bum who discovers that brother James (Edward Platt) has disposed of his cheating wife. The remaining time involves blackly humorous attempts to rid themselves of a corpse and to dodge inquiring minds. It evokes , of course, but is let down by a disappointing finale.

“Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper” (directed by and written by Barre Lyndon) is a slight disappointment considering the talent involved. However, this updated retelling of the Ripper also has atmosphere aplenty, as one would expect. It’s similar to a “Star Trek” episode in which the infamous killer is an undying spirit. Adapted from a story by Robert Bloch, it’s replete with clever twists and is aided by acting and direction. However, it falls short of being classic, with another letdown conclusion and a bit of catering to period cliches.

“The Devil’s Ticket” (directed by Jules Bricken) betters the previous entry by allowing Bloch to adapt his own short story (the author had also previously adapted it into a radio play). The result is a near-classic. Artist Hector Vane (MacDonald Carey) encounters Old Nick himself (John Emery) at a local pawnshop. The setup is a soul exchange, with a classic Bloch twist. The writer’s sense of fun is is hopelessly contagious.

“Parasite Mansion” (directed by Herschel Daugherty and written by Donald S. Sanford) lives up to the promise of its unique title and is another classic “Thriller.” It has a dilapidated mansion in southern swampland, an insane granny witch (Jeanette Nolan in full ham mode), a parasite poltergeist, and even Beverly Washburn (from Spider Baby) as a possessed soul.  By now, “Thriller” has fully owned its niche.

One thought on “BORIS KARLOFF’S THRILLER (1960-1962): EPISODE GUIDE AND REVIEWS, PART TWO”

  1. The ’Thriller‘ episode, ”Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper“ is so similar to the ’Star Trek: TOS‘ episode ’Wolf In The Fold‘ for a very simple reason: They were both written by Robert Bloch.

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