Before we embark on our grand adventure, allow us to first set the scene, so you have an idea as to our personal history with the show.
Adhering to the old adage, "age before beauty," we'll start with Peter:
I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Saturday night was spent in front of a TV screen. At the time, the Bay Area was rife with Double Feature Horror shows, hosted by The Ghoul, Bob Wilkins, and, in the case of Kemo’s Shock Theatre, Asmodeus. Not a ghoul, not a crazed beatnik, not a critter who splashed his way out of a bowl, Asmodeus was a well-dressed, elderly gentleman who may just have been the butler in any number of the horror castles featured prominently in the films he hosted. Asmodeus would grimly warn you that the movie you were about to watch might be great or might not be great. One Saturday night in 1971 (I remember it was in 1971 because in the other room my mom was watching a brand new show, causing quite a stir, called All in the Family) I caught Asmodeus hosting Boris Karloff in Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath. I was used to watching “horror films” like Frankenstein, The Wolfman, Horror of Party Beach, or Monster on the Campus. Cool films, not scary, populated by guys in monster suits. Here was something new, this Black Sabbath: three very scary stories with no monster suits, just monsters. That was when I first became aware of the charisma of Boris Karloff. After Sabbath I would seek out anything Karloff starred in.
I never saw an episode of the legendary Thriller until Universal issued a set of 6 episodes on VHS in 1996. I had read a bit about the show in Famous Monsters of Filmland. It was supposedly the “most frightening TV show of all time,” one literally so scary that you might drop dead after one viewing. As far as I know, the show never saw syndication in the Bay Area during my childhood so I could only imagine how great a dramatization of my favorite short story, Robert Bloch’s “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper” truly was (we’ll share that experience together in a few weeks). It was only after I discovered that monster movie journalism existed outside of Forry Ackerman’s playground that I learned more about this “pinnacle of TV terror.” 67 episodes of sheer terror and ghastly goings-on! The set of 6 VHS tapes (also available on laserdisc) included: “The Grim Reaper,” “Terror in Teakwood,” ”Incredible Doctor Markesan,” “The Premature Burial,” “Masquerade,” and “The Prediction.” By no means did these episodes represent the best of Thriller but they got me excited enough to tape the run off The Sci-Fi Channel a few years later and then (looks over his shoulder a couple times) to fork over a couple Andrew Jacksons for a grey market dvd set of questionable quality. It was then that I discovered that there were just as many (if not more) cow patties on this horror highway as there were gold nuggets. I think you’ll find that most of the chaff bookends the wheat.
And now, adhering to the other old adage, "pearls before swine," here's John:
I too grew up in the Bay Area, a few years after Peter, but close enough that I was able to catch the tail end of the Bob Wilkins era of Creature Features, and the entirety of the John Stanley run. I was one of those kids who, in the days before VCRs (let alone DVRs), would go through the weekly TV Guide (for those of you who even remember what that was) to circle the monster movies coming on in the week ahead.
I also came to Famous Monsters quite late (innocently picking up what appeared to be a Battlestar Galactica magazine in the grocery store), but I had the same experience with it as those of the generation before me - it was a magazine created and written just for me. While I was aware of Boris Karloff from the movies I had seen and books in my collection (those well worn and profusely illustrated Dennis Gifford and Alan Frank volumes I also imagine most monster movie fans in the 70s grew up with), it was through FM that I developed a greater appreciation for the man, and awareness of his vast body of work.
I think my first introduction to Thriller was in Stephen King's seminal Danse Macabre, in which he starts off by describing it as, "Probably the best horror series ever put on TV" (note that the marketing folks managed to drop the first word in the quote prominently featured on the DVD box). I was sure that Peter, in his advanced years, would have seen them all, and much to my surprise he had not. When the six episodes were released by Universal, I blindly dropped the big bucks for the LaserDisc set, and was not at all disappointed. The transfers were great, the shows were fun... and I was ready for more! For better or worse (definitely better for my wallet, at $100+ for six episodes), no further volumes were released. I did manage to pick up a filler set in the intervening years, unsure that we'd ever see a legitimate (let alone complete) release on DVD. Kudos to Image Entertainment for making this happen in such a grand fashion, and at what this viewer feels is a very reasonable price, particularly considering the extras. As I've only seen a handful of episodes beyond those original six, I can only hope that the majority meet or exceed my expectations!