Boris Karloff back in "Thriller: Complete Series"

Wed Sep 1, 2010 11:23pm EDT
 
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By Borys Kit

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - There was an age in television where spine-tingling and spell-binding anthology shows ruled the air. "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and "The Twilight Zone" scared the little boys who would grow up to become the Stephen Kings and Steven Spielbergs we know today.

One of those shows was "Thriller," an anthology show hosted by Boris Karloff. It lasted only two seasons, from 1960 to 1962, and split its episodes into themes of crime and terror.

Some of the episodes were eventually made available on VHS, and there were bootleg DVDs, but never was the series compiled definitively. This week, Image Entertainment released the complete series, comprising 67 episodes on 14 DVDs. The collection also includes 24 hours of audio commentaries and 31 hours of isolated music and effects tracks.

The episodes tackled stories by such notables as Edgar Allan Poe, "Psycho" writer Robert Bloch, and "Conan" creator Robert E. Howard, and featured future stars William Shatner, Leslie Nielsen, Ursula Andress and Richard Chamberlain. Each episode featured an intro by Karloff, who gave the proceedings a stage-like, one-night-only performance feel. He even acted in some of them, which gave audiences who were accustomed to him playing Frankenstein's monster something else to remember.

Not all the episodes work, and the transfers can be a bit grainy. But when they do -- the strong shadows living in the black and white, the awesomely overwrought score by composers Jerry Goldsmith and Morton Stevens (if only they had music like that again), the storytelling not using gore and cheap scares as crutches -- the results are genuinely goosebump-inducing.

A particular favorite is "The Grim Reaper," which stars Shatner and Natalie Schafer, who never escaped the fame of playing Mrs. Howell several years later on "Gilligan's Island." The Bloch story centers around a painting of a scythe-wielding Reaper whose legendary curse dooms its owner; the latest owner is Schafer, playing a mystery author, and Shatner is her nephew desperately trying to warn her of the curse.

The episode also has a great commentary track from cinematographer-director Ernest Dickerson among others, and a music-only track highlighting the Goldsmith score.

Occasionally, some show will try to capture the spirit of "Thriller" or "The Twilight Zone" -- several seasons of which Image will release in the fall -- or put a modern spin on them, by creating some character arc throughline in "X-Files"-"Supernatural"-"Fringe" fashion. But one thing these collections do is slap a big "Schooled!" sticker on us and show us how it's really done.