Friday, October 8, 2010

Test-Driving Thriller

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my bride popped for the Boris Karloff's Thriller DVD set. We've been skipping around a bit, and have hit on some great episodes that'll help set the tone for your Halloween. If you like your creeps in glorious black & white with lots of cobwebs, the episodes I'd recommend so far include:

"The Hungry Glass" : William Shatner (as a guy with a real he-man meat-eater name: Gil Thrasher)! The Professor from Gilligan's Island (actually, he's the meat-eater and Shatner is the sensitive one!). Together in a house haunted by Elly May Clampett! Plus: this is a ghost story cooked up by Robert Bloch! And (you guessed it) Shatner comes unglued!

Really, this is a solid, creepy episode, the kind of thing that'll set the bite of a fall night snapping at your heels. And, yes, go ahead... you can admit it. I had you at William Shatner.

"Well of Doom": This one just might be my favorite episode so far. From a John Clemons story straight out of a shudder pulp, updated for the early sixties with more than a little E. C. Comics crime/horror vibe. "Well of Doom" has underrated Henry Daniell doing a pretty wicked Lon Chaney London After Midnight imitation, and king-sized Richard Kiel looking like some misplaced ogre who's been waiting a couple of centuries under a bridge for the wrong guy to come rumbling overhead driving a big hunk of Detroit steel. That's pretty much what happens when the hero of this piece encounters Squire Moloch (Daniell) and Master Styx (Kiel), leading to his imprisonment in a crumbling ruin complete with subterranean chambers and (yes) a Well of Doom. Anyway, the opening segment of this episode was so amazingly good that I demolished a whole bowl of popcorn without even realizing it. In fifteen minutes. The last half hour may not quite match the opening... but it comes pretty close.

And if you like "Well of Doom" as much as I do, hunt up the old first-season Wild Wild West episodes with Kiel as Doctor Loveless' sidekick, Voltaire. Pretty creepy stuff there, too. (In fact, I'd loved to have seen how James West would have handled Moloch and Styx... but that's a question for another day.)

"The Return of Andrew Bentley": A Richard Matheson script from an August Derleth tale. Derleth has never been a favorite, but his plot-driven brand of fiction worked well as an adaptation this time out. "Andrew Bentley" features a dead necromancer uncle (who's pretty unnerving before he kicks off his mortal coil) and a preposterous inheritance agreement (I get everything? But I can never leave this moldy old mansion? Not even for ten minutes? Okay. Sounds reasonable. But leave me a lot of smoking jackets and decaying witchcraft tomes! Deal! Lock me up! I'm good to go... I mean stay!). Besides that, there's the host of One Step Beyond as the hero, a creepy mushroom-headed familiar who's busted loose from the nether-world, and Reggie Nalder channeling Bela Lugosi with cape-whipping zeal and signature glare.

Which sets me thinking. What if Lugosi had lasted a few more years and guest-starred on Boris Karloff's Thriller in this episode? Whipped his own cape, glared his own glare, twisted his gnarled fingers into that signature crawling-spider claw. Now, that would have been something to see.

Or, as Uncle Boris might have said: "Let me assure you, my friends. This is a THRILLER..."