Thursday, September 30, 2010

Trio For Terror: Season 1 Episode 25

Originally aired: 3/14/61
Starring John Abbott, Reginald Owen, and Robin Hughes.
Written by Barre Lyndon, based on stories by August Derleth (as Stephen Grendon), Wilkie Collins, and Nelson Bond.
Directed by Ida Lupino.

For the first time, three separate stories make up this unique Thriller. In the first segment, Simon (Richard Lupino) plans to kill his uncle to get at his fortune, not realizing that killing a warlock can have drawbacks. In the second segment, after winning big in the Casino, Mr. Collins (Hughes) just needs to live through the night. In the final segment, a killer gets a private tour of a museum of 'lifelike models of infamous persons'... although he can't figure out why the figures on display appear to be stone instead of wax.

JS: What makes this episode so unique is that rather than a single long episode, we're treated to three separate tales. While none of the three are on par with the best of Thriller, there was only one that I thought was a dog.

PE: Right. As David J. Schow says in his commentary, an anthology within an anthology. I thought two of the stories were bland and predictable and one was okay but I'm not here to argue. Just get me to the next good episode quickly. How about "Well of Doom 2"?

JS: I guess we should tackle the segments one at a time. "The Extra Passenger" has its share of interesting imagery - there are some nice shots in Uncle Julian's place, and extra points for the rooster standing guard. I imagine Lupino was trying to convey something every time she shot a character through a glass object, I just haven't got a clue what. The extra passenger of the title was sufficiently creepy - but what made this episode for me was the return of the Giant Claw!

PE: I love when the doctor says "Only one thing could have made these marks. A giant gaming cock!" Really? That's the first thing that pops into this guy's mind? Sounds like something a character in an August Derleth story would say. Oh, right! Never mind.

JS: In the second segment, "A Terribly Strange Bed," things get silly rather quickly. I found this episode the least interesting of the three. Perhaps of value only for a bad-bed double feature with Death Bed: The Bed That Eats.

PE: I couldn't figure out if Collins knew what was going on the whole time and feigned his drunkenness or if he just suddenly sobered up when faced with peril. The only thing that held my attention in this rare "humorous" episode was Robin Hughes. I thought I recognized him and Gary Gerani reminded me (in his commentary) that Hughes played The Thing That Couldn't Die. I didn't recognize him with a body.

JS: In the final segment, "The Mask of Medusa," we're treated to a grand tour of Mr. Milo's chamber of horrors. Not only is Mr. Milo (Abbott) great (I particularly like his reveal), but Michael Pate gives an excellent performance as the strangler. I'm pleased I didn't know the name of this segment, or it would have ruined a very cool surprise ending. Which is now ruined for everyone.

PE: Yeah, for me, this was the only passable segment and I didn't see the twist coming. Early on, I thought they were setting us up to tell us that - SURPRISE - Milo killed his subjects and covered them in some kind of cement. Needless to say, Ray Harryhausen was not called in to supply special effects for the titular madame. Overall, not a very good episode.

JS: It's no Trilogy of Terror, that's for sure.

PE: It's not even Dr. Terror's House of Horrors.



  1. I see I enjoyed this episode more than you guys, especially the first one, "The Extra Passenger". I just read the 4 page story in the January 1947 WEIRD TALES and found it to be not near as well done as the TV adaptation. The story deals with the sinister figure sitting silent on the train and just about completely by-passes the events leading up to the appearance of the extra passenger.

    I think when you review an episode directed by Ida Lupino, you should change the rating system and give out Lupinos instead of Karloffs.

  2. "I think when you review an episode directed by Ida Lupino, you should change the rating system and give out Lupinos instead of Karloffs."

    The 23 Lupinos in the other post just weren't enough??? ;)

  3. Karloff's intros to each of the segments are very engaging. The look and feel of these 3 tales tell us that the great "Thriller" horror style has now been firmly established, including the fact that Morton Stevens is now beginning to create truly atmospheric stuff, light years beyond his "Dr. Cordell" score.

    The director's brother Richard turns in a nicely controlled performance in the first show, and our friend Terrence de Marney's rag-doll physique and generally cadaverous appearance provide a truly creepy moment, as he is discovered sitting silently in the train compartment. Shades of the great climatic scenes from "Curse/Night of the Demon", with the darkened train and those ghostly, high-pitched whistle blasts.

    Robin Hughes was only an OK actor, but his rare screen roles are always interesting. Check him out in the 1958 Rosalind Russell feature "Auntie Mame", his career highpoint, where he totally commands the screen with his Mephistophelean presence (in full tails), or his signature role as TZ's "Howling Man". Old Reginald Owen (Scrooge in the 1938 "Christmas Carol" with Gene Lockhart) was a great choice for his role, and the "happy ending" of this episode (which Dave Schow and Gary Gerani inform us was invented for this tv telling of the story) is amusing, epscially with Stevens' jaunty little closing tune. The descending bed is a neat idea, but overall this episode is pretty weak stuff.

    I wish that the Thriller effects guys would have come up with a more convincing solution for the big climax in the final episode. Otherwise, it's a remarkably effective chamber play, beautifully staged and filled with truly frightening imagery. I had to replay the shot after the commerical break, where director Lupino starts with the image of the rope, then follows it down to the woman's figure/corpse in the noose; now THAT'S hideous! It looks like they used an actual live model made up to look stone-y for the shot. I can't understand why I didn't freak at this image when I first saw this episode as a summer rerun in summer of '61.

    Wonderfully cramped, claustrophobic feel to this 2-man show (oh...wait a minute...yep, it's actor Richard Peel (as the cop) AGAIN in a Brit-themed Thriller; I think they used him in every one). John Abbott is brilliantly eccentric and almost mesmerizing to watch; one of the series' standout performances;
    Michael Pate is also very convincing--the mark of an expert director.

    I probably shouldn't open the ol'can of worms again, but....them 2 Karloffs for this one look MIGHTY stngy alongside of the rating awarded a while back to "The Guilty Men."

    Excellent commentary by Mssrs. Schow and Gerani; thanks, dudes!


  4. OOps..yes, the word is "stingy".

  5. Got to go along with Larry on this one, guys. I'd say "Trio for Terror" deserves three Karloffs, partially because of the unique anthology format, but mostly because all three stories have areas of legitimate interest. "A Terribly Strange Bed" is such a classic tale that it's fun to see THRILLER tackling it with reasonable style and vigor. The other stories nicely represent THRILLER horror as we've come to know and love it, with "Passenger"'s ultimate moment conjuring memories of "The Wendigo." It's such a powerful scene, I'm not surprised it wound up in the show's syndication promo. Overall, "Trio" is a good example of what this show was beginning to mean to us as it began to embrace supernatural subjects more and more.

  6. Sandwiching the two macabre episodes with one of mild suspense and more than a winsome wink is a tried and true pattern, and it worked for me. The Extra Passenger had a nice setup but truly took off upon the introduction of uncle Julian -- and did de Marney do time in a bell tower? I'm just wondering, since a number of his lines delivered here and in Return of Andy Bentley were done at full blast... Altho it seemed obvious to me who that stranger in the compartment was, the twist with the archangel game cock tied it up nicely.
    The story of the gambler was a light distraction and one i was easily distracted from. However, the tension, as brief as it was, of the bed coming down upon him was nicely done.
    Nothing could top Abbott's performance in Mask of Medusa, from his own reveal to the tiny details he brought to each scene. And I felt the mask in the box worked well enough.
    Eight Karloffs!

  7. I really enjoyed this episode. The oddest thing for me was that the actor who played the strangler in the last segment had an astonishing resemblance to any number of characters drawn by comic book artist Steve Ditko, whose characters don't usually remind me of living human beings.

    As I watched the episode I remembered bits and pieces from seeing it years ago--especially the jolly old soldier sailing away on his yacht!

  8. I've remembered the chicken claw thing -- is it actually a man with a chicken claw for a hand? -- forever, since I was a little kid, and I'm 56 now! I need to watch this one again! Amazing how some things just STICK in your brain!

    Great site and we've linked to you guys on our TV blog:

    Thanks and keep up the good work!

  9. I liked The Extra Passenger tale, the others, less so. I think it's because of the imagery in the warlock uncle's place -- the black magic fun stuff, basically.

    Who'd kill that uncle? Not me. I'd be beggin' him for some secrets instead.

    Thanks for posting all these notes. As I've been watching the Thriller series, I remembered more of them than I thought I'd have retained from being a very young kid when it ran (I must've seen it in reruns, otherwise I was a very savvy two year old...).

    The Pigeons from Hell is still the stand-out, but there are several in the final several episodes that still retain that occult/creepy atmosphere I remember.

    I watched these on an old black & white TV as a kid, and the reception was they were scarier shows as a result.

  10. THE EXTRA PASSINGER - You gotta’ love a story while the victim’s throat is ripped out by a killer cock. The scene where Ricard Lupino goes to his uncle’s place and sees his uncle’s cock tied with a string to a nail was pretty weird too. Funny how a word can evolve over 50 years. Best of the three.

    A TERRIBLY STRANGE BED - This 2nd episode was the intermission. Once I saw the cannonball, I figured how this yarn was going to wrap up. Worst of the three. Dumb title.

    THE MASK OF MEDUSA - I don't recall ever seeing this story before, so it was a total suprise for me. A neat wax museum concept using stone instead of wax. Funny how Michael Pate kept remarking how realistic the figures looked even though they were real rough rock. Cool looking but more artistic than realistic. They were stone dude! The long shot of the gorgon mask with John Abbott standing next to it in it's gorgon coffin was effective. The close-ups are anything but frightening. To quasi-quote an earlier comment… it’s amazing how special effects evolve over 50 years.

    Although none of the three episodes were outstanding, this THRILLER seemed more enjoyable to watch because should the story begin to lose it’s charm, it’s almost over, instead of having to endure another 35 minutes. Maybe 2-3 stories per episode would have been a better formula for the series.

    TRIO OF TERROR gets "2 1/2 Karloffs".

  11. Well, the middle one was kind of stupid, with a total forehead slapping moment for a final reveal, but I think the other two were great, and obviously a lot of that had to do with the direction, lighting, acting, etc.

    You knew what was coming in the first and third episodes but they wear their supernatural pedigree very well. I agree with the poster above who said the last episode reminded him of Ditko. I am almost sure Ditko tackled the medusa myth with Stan Lee in what may have been Amazing Adult Fantasy in the days before Spider-Man, a time frame that I beleive was as good as comptemporaneous with this episode. Even the shadows and characters looked like they were framed as Ditko panels. Not the cheezy reveal at the end, though. Steve could do Medusa better than that. Three Karloffs. In some ways I think this is the closest so far Thriller has come to matching my anticipation that it would be an effective weird fiction show.

  12. Trio of Terror was good fun and a nice little break from the full episodes.

    The Extra Passenger reminded me a bit of Curse of the Demon with the way that the old occult was threaded into modern English society. The cock bit got a chuckle out of me. Despite knowing who the passenger was, the train ride home was effectively tense. That mood was soon broken by the giant cock claw, which brought another chuckle to my face...

    The Terribly Strange Bed was the mediocre middle one. I enjoyed this light bit of comedy as time filler until the creepy finale.

    The Mask of Medusa was unfortunately titled so as to give away the ending. Non the less, it was the best of the three shows. Despite being almost entirely filmed in Mr. Milo's Chamber of Horrors, I was completely engaged and focused, due to the wonderful acting John Abbott and Michael Pate. The lighting and set design evoked tense claustrophobia with a hint of supernatural to come. And come it did with a terribly cheesey medusa head staring at us. Yes, special effects have certainly come a long way...

    Not quite a trio of Karloffs, but two and a half.

  13. I loved the combination of talent on this. Ida Lupino has a distinct visual style, while Barre Lyndon (didn't somebody invoke his name on an earlier page?) has just the right level of wit and literacy to keep the writing interesting. Yeah, the middle section is the weakest. Who was in on what part of the plot? Did the Hussar rip off the casino manager as well as the man who broke the bank? Sloppy. But the other two are terrific. I thought it really interesting that the woman for whom Richard Lupino kills his uncle isn't all that hot. I guess not all femme fatales have as much to offer as Susan Oliver.

  14. The original "Terribly Strange Bed" was completely serious, as was, if memory serves, the "Great Mysteries" adaptation. The original also left no doubt about the English soldier and made more sense in general.

  15. Radio silence since 2012--any over 60 ME TV'ers who first saw this episode as almost pre-teen impressionable youngsters?

    For some reason the Medusa finale was a bit scary for this guy--but agree--not up to Grim Reaper standards by a mile.

  16. You're not alone out there, Anonymous. Lots of folks are following the Me TV reruns and regularly posting. Keep at it!

    1. Well, another year older in Sep 2015. Ida Lupino had chutzpah as a female director among almost none in her time. Liked her appearance in a Columbo Episode, and she was a workhorse at her vocation--director, actress, etc. As for some unnamed female presidential candidates in 2015 on both parties, bring on a Lupino type-hell Reagan was of the minor mold among the media movie and TV celebrities, not to forget a previous Calif Gov--whose name escapes me!!

  17. The first episode was my favorite. Richard Lupino was good but it was the brief appearances of Terrence De Marney that solid it, along with the bric-a-brac of the living (or is it dining room?) of the sorcerer uncle, with some nice familiar props. He'd been the last person in the world I'd want to kill. I'd rather sit at his feet and learn all his secrets...

  18. Both I and my wife (now in our 60's) distinctly remember being absolutely terrified by the ending of " The Extra Passenger "...amazing how the fears of childhood can last a lifetime...!!!

  19. Worth a second look: the episode played somewhat like a series of three plays, each satisfying in its own way. Thinking over the issue of why and how Thriller was cancelled, one thought that comes to mind is that if they'd had the time to make a Thriller hour like two half-hour Hitchcocks (maybe one laughs, the other screams), it might have been more satisfying to discriminating viewers.

    The small numbers of "bundled" episodes show that Thriller could change its tune, as it were, as indeed it did. But then if Mr. Hitchcock being so intent on having a series that was in his mind a "rival" show, and making a behind the scenes cancellation happen, assuming this is so, make a third season impossible anyway.