Friday, November 12, 2010

Thriller Their Way: Our Celebrity Panel's Picks

We contacted each of our interview subjects and invited them to send in their "Top Ten" Thriller lists. In addition to using those in our A Thriller A Day Awards balloting, we thought you might be interested in how they ranked the episodes. For your convenience, we've also added links back to their Thriller Three-Way interviews.

David J. Schow

  1. The Incredible Doktor Markesan (Top 'O the Heap)
  2. The Grim Reaper (Best overall Bloch)
  3. Well of Doom (Personal favorite)
  4. The Weird Tailor (Next best Bloch; creepiest "monster")
  5. Late Date (Best nail-biter; a perfect expression of Woolrich)
  6. The Terror in Teakwood (it resonates like a feature film)
  7. The Hollow Watcher (an actual "monster movie" ending in madness and death)
  8. La Strega
  9. Prisoner in the Mirror
  10. A Wig For Miss Devore (Perfect example of Thriller as EC Comics)

Gary Gerani
  1. Pigeons from Hell
  2. The Cheaters
  3. The Incredible Doctor Markesan
  4. The Grim Reaper
  5. The Terror in Teakwood
  6. The Weird Tailor
  7. La Strega
  8. The Hungry Glass
  9. Well of Doom
  10. The Return of Andrew Bentley

Tom Weaver
  1. The Grim Reaper
  2. The Incredible Doktor Markesan
  3. A Wig for Miss Devore
  4. The Devil's Ticket
  5. The Hungry Glass
  6. Well of Doom
  7. The Cheaters
  8. Pigeons from Hell
  9. The Terror in Teakwood
  10. The Remarkable Mrs. Hawk

Larry Rapchak
  1. Pigeons from Hell (Yeah!!)
  2. Weird Tailor
  3. Devil's Ticket
  4. The Grim Reaper
  5. Waxworks
  6. Terror in Teakwood
  7. Prisoner in the Mirror
  8. Well of Doom
  9. Incredible Dr Markesan
  10. Purple Room

Steve Mitchell
  1. Late Date
  2. Pigeons from Hell
  3. The Grim Reaper
  4. The Hungry Glass
  5. Parasite Mansion
  6. The Purple Room
  7. La Strega
  8. The Poisoner
  9. Terror in Teakwood
  10. The Cheaters

Larry Blamire
  1. Pigeons From Hell (say it loud, say it proud)
  2. Late Date
  3. The Storm
  4. The Incredible Dr. Markeson
  5. The Hollow Watcher
  6. The Hungry Glass
  7. The Purple Room
  8. Parasite Mansion
  9. The Return of Andrew Bentley
  10. The Grim Reaper

Lucy Chase Williams

  1. The Grim Reaper
  2. The Incredible Doktor Markesan
  3. A Wig for Miss Devore
  4. The Devil's Ticket
  5. The Hungry Glass
  6. Well of Doom
  7. The Cheaters
  8. Mr. George
  9. The Terror in Teakwood
  10. The Remarkable Mrs. Hawk


  1. Looks like the second season is a bust, with every balloter choosing at least 6, sometimes 7 and in one case 9 episodes from the first season. A season that wasted a good part of its opening salvo lost doing bland melodramas, that's a mighty interesting fact. No love for the Sanford/Kuttner classic 'Masquerade', then. Ah well.

  2. While I think even Peter and I would agree that the first season as a whole was better than the second (although he and I disagreed much more often on S2 eps), I was surprised that we both ended up with 5 of our top ten from each season.

  3. John has a good point. More often than not we agreed on the Season 1 eps and butted heads on Season 2. You might chalk that up to more varied programming (noir, horror, crime, comedy and a mixture of all of the above) or just a general weariness on our part. It was just such a relief to find out that not all of those post-"Markesans" were landfill.

  4. I'm a fan of MASQUERADE, Bobby!

  5. A quick tally shows that only ONE episode--- THE GRIM REAPER--appeared on ALL 7 LISTS; it was also the SOLE "Four Karloff Head" show upon which our hosts bestowed that honor.

    Next are "Dr Markesan" and "Teakwood", which both appear on SIX of the lists, followed by "Pigeons" "Well of Doom" and "Hungry Glass", which each appeared FIVE times; these results conform to the general trend of the past 50 years of Thriller viewing.

    "The Storm", Mr. George" and "The Poisoner" each appeared once, and I see that only one of our "star" interviewees had the good taste and foresight to include "Waxworks"......

    Hey---here's a way to prolong the pleasure and pain of the "Thriller" experience: since Thriller was such a "bifurcated" series (to borrow a term from one of our truly distinguished commentators), I'd like to suggest that we each (quickly) submit our top 5 CRIME (Non-supernatural) episodes, to separate them out from the really iconic horror episodes and perhaps throw a little belated recognition their way (I know that "Well of Doom" is technically a crime show---but, it's still considered a horror item). Any takers?


  6. Easy!

    1 Guillotine
    2 The Storm
    3 Late Date
    (all three of which, I hasten to add, made my final top ten)
    4 The Guilty Men
    5 The Lethal Ladies

    Anyone else?

  7. Regarding the predominance of 1st season shows--it's fascinating and a bit disenheartening (50 years after the fact) when you consider the overarching, linear path of THRILLER"; watching the entire series in order, especially in such a compressed time period, really reveals the trajectory of the show, with all of it's trends, peaks and valleys.

    It reminds me EXACTLY of the Chicago White Sox's 2010 season:

    (and Thriller's 1st Season) Slow, lethargic, directionless, un-focused start; a few bright spots emerge, which gradually seem to gather critical mass, energy and direction, as the team undergoes some significant personnel changes; the fan base becomes energized. Then, a true, glory period is reached (the month of June, with a terrific won-loss record), culminating in a white-hot streak JUST at the point where the All-Star break (or, in the case of Thriller, the summer rerun season) begins.

    Then, the inevitable question which was on every sportscaster's and fan's lips---can they keep the momentum and energy going THROUGH the All-Star break?? Well...they couldn't and didn't.

    (Thriller's Second Season) A couple of hopeful stretches, a few, intermittent, truly inspiring games,...but the magic was gone, and the team never regained its rhythm, its groove. The end couldn't come quickly enough, as the team went out with a whimper.

    But we still love 'em-- both the team AND the series---and will support 'em til our last breath.


  8. I just realized: FIFTY YEARS AGO TONIGHT (it was Nov 11, 1960...but it was the second Friday of the month), my mother (whom I just visited earlier today), my late brother and I sat in front of our kitchen TV and watched the premiere broadcast of Twilight Zone's "Eye of the Beholder". And nope---being the unsophisticated rubes that we are, we DIDN'T figure out the ending in advance; we knew something pretty weird was going on, and that a big surprise was in store, but we were totally electrified at the big reveal.

    And that's the way it was meant to be---50 years ago tonight.


  9. Best CRIME Episodes, in chronological order:
    Late Date
    A Good Imagination
    The Last of the Somervilles
    Dialogues with Death
    The Lethal Ladies

    Best SUPERNATURAL episodes, in order of broadcast and reasons for choice, all masterworks:
    The Cheaters - (a variation of 'La Ronde' or 'Tales of Manhattan', but with specs instead of sexual conduct or a coat,,,,five tales for the time taken for one; depicting with a superb bravura style, a darkened sardonic world of betrayal and cruelty)

    The Hungry Glass (a pictorially magnificent adaption that far surpasses its slender source short, giving it textures and resonances and even nervous laughs in an irresistible mix, whilst every scene and shot achieves the maximum impact possible. One of the great TV talents at the peaks of his powers)

    Pigeons From Hell (A fevered nightmare, this Southern Gothic tale of decay and corruption, is drenched in atmosphere that evokes a breathless ethereal miasma of evil that drifts into the very living rooms of those watching it)

    Masquerade (the most sublime balance of comedy and horror, with a mood, tempo and rhythm worthy of Rene Clair. The chemistry between its leads with their nervous joshing banter maybe be even richer than the 1930s 'The Thin Man' and the 1980s 'Moonlighting'. Something worthy of Hank Kuttner)

    The Incredible Doktor Markensan (Karloff, zombies, cobwebs, a drenched moody of decay and with scripting, directing, photography, music, art direction, casting of apiece. A delicious, rapturous capture of a fleeting form that had forlornly been awaiting a script to spark it).

    Thriller's problems, it's mixed fortunes and returns maybe due to it's factory-like pace in which there was no creative guiding force. It lacked a Stefano, an Irene Shubik, a Serling/Houghton partnership, or a Holmes/Hinchcliffe force to tailor and guide the show towards a personality in the face of the tremendously remorseless and grounding gears of the production treadmill. The musicians were ready, the photographers eager, the cast willing and the directors hopeful. But Frye never made the choice to dump the crime segments and embrace the 1.000s of the stories in 'Weird Tales', 'F & SF', 'Unknown', ect., never even got rid of the inappropriate jazz riff that was the title theme, or the sticks that sometimes obscured the action in the frame (such as the priceless moment in 'Pigeons' when the hand grasps the axe', often cut due to the sticks being cut).

    In the second season he could have really tailored the show towards just the supernatural and raided not only Poe and Hawthorne, but LeFanu, James, Harvey (whose 'The Beast with Five Fingers' would have been perfect for the show).
    Donald Sanford was its brightest star and even his contract didn't get fulfilled, Bloch got lazy and never lived up to his 1st season promise, comic shows bored and Doug Heyes should really have been given complete creative freedom to adapt any tales from those musty magazines.
    Alas, it was far easier for Hitch to get a show doing sub Hitchcok fare cancelled. And then Hitch goes and does 'The Jar'!

  10. My favorite crime episodes, in no particular order:
    Late Date
    The Guilty Men
    A Third For Pinochle
    A Good Imagination
    Til Death Do Us Part

  11. Five Best Crime Episodes -

    1.) ATTRACTIVE FAMILY (all-around fun; wicked & witty, with classic "Thriller"-style horror elements, including great score)

    2.) GUILLOTINE - (Novel idea, great performance by Middleton)

    3.) LATE DATE - (Top-drawer Noir) - [say that 10 times, quickly]

    4.) MAN OF MYSTERY (fun Bloch script, grand scena (that's Italian) for Walter Burke

    5.) TIE: GOOD IMAGINATION/THE POISONER -- both with standout lead performances.

    Not a bad group to add to the horror
    favorites; the rediscovery of these shows (plus a few others) was one of the real pleasures of the ATAD project.


  12. Well, it's nice to see some "Pigeons" love (THE ODD COUPLE had the Pigeon Sisters, we have the Pigeon Brothers), though I was surprised it didn't make Brother David's list (I knew our hosts would wear you down!). DJS made up for it though with a spot-on summation of "Hollow Watcher" ("an actual "monster movie" ending in madness and death"). THRILLER needs its monsters embraced--they're so damn few.

    But I think I'm most tickled about "Late Date" getting such respect (the Little Crime Show That Could), with Big Steve putting it Number One! Sweet.

    The sheer variety of these lists shows the show was more than worthwhile, despite occasional rocky going. A fun ride.

  13. Nice post by Larry comparing the trajectory of Thriller with the Chicago White Sox's 2010 season. I am Cubs fan since 1975 and this season reminds me of the home stretch of Thriller season two. Actually, I blowing off free tix for today's game...

    Anyway, Here's my top ten Thriller list.

    1. The Grim Reaper
    2. Pigeons From Hell
    3. The Incredible Dr. Markesan
    4. The Hungry Glass
    5. The Cheaters
    6. Well of Doom
    7. Parasite Mansion
    8. The Weird Tailor
    9. Masquerade
    10. La Strega

    1. well, maybe it got here a little later, but that is the best top 10 yet. I would sub "The Remarkable Mrs. Hawk": for "Well of Doom". But overall, i agree with your list

  14. Okay, having watched all the episodes now, I'm going to try to see which ones stuck with me. I've made a list of all the titles, and am going to try to write short one-sentence descriptions of all the plots I can remember just off the top of my head. No peeking, and if I can't remember it just from the title, it stays blank. These are going to be very short descriptions. I'm not trying to re-tell the story, just "tag" the plot. Here's what I've got:

    The Twisted Image: Leslie Nielsen gets the fatal attraction treatment from a young girl who is murdered halfway into the show.

    Child's Play: An Opie clone holds Mayor Stoner at gunpoint until Elias Sandoval lets him shoot an apple off his head

    Worse than Murder: I dunno, something about a manipulative blackmailing woman who ends up setting fire to a mansion with her payoff money still inside.

    The Mark of the Hand: I dunno again. Something about a girl who wouldn't talk after witnessing a murder. But where does the hand come in again? I don't think I remember enough about this one to count it.

    Rose's Last Summer

    The Guilty Men

    The Purple Room: Rip Torn has to spend a night in a haunted house while Richard Anderson tries to drive him crazy. Torn catches on to all Richard's games, but manages to fall for them anyway.

    The Watcher

    Girl With a Secret: Only her hairdresser knows for sure. Other than that, I have no idea.

    The Prediction

    The Fatal Impulse

    The Big Blackout

    Knock Three-One-Two: Despite being married to Beverly Garland, her husband sets her up for murder, by letting slip to a serial killer how to get at her.

    Man in the Middle

    The Cheaters: Glasses that allow you to read minds and see into people's hearts.

    The Hungry Glass: Shatner's wife gets trapped in a mirror and even the Professor can't help.

    The Poisoner: Broke thespian seems to poison everybody he knows, either for money or to cover up previous poisonings.

    Man in the Cage

    Choose a Victim

    Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook

    The Merriweather File

    The Fingers of Fear

    Well of Doom: Sherlock Holmes gets held in a dungeon by fortune hunting ghouls.

    The Ordeal of Dr. Cordell

    Trio For Terror (3): One of them involves a criminal who stumbles into a Rogue's Gallery and gets turned to stone by a conveniently placed Medusa. Can't remember the other two.

    Papa Benjamin: A Band leader gets killed by Voodoo for composing a Voodoo Rhapsody.

    Late Date

    Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper: For no particular reason, Jack the Ripper is still alive and everybody knows it.

    The Devil's Ticket: Artist sells his soul for cash, then has to redeem it by painting a soul-sucking portrait.

    Parasite Mansion: Woman held prisoner in seedy southern mansion where witchcraft is going on.

    A Good Imagination: Edward Andrews kills his wife's lover, the detective, her brother, and pretty much everyone who gets in his way, with amazing ease.

    Mr. George

    Terror in Teakwood

    The Prisoner in the Mirror: Guy falls in love with mysterious girl in a mirror, and ends up trading places with 18th century warlock trapped in there with her.

    Dark Legacy

    Pigeons From Hell: Some teens spend night in haunted house, one ends up brutally murdered, the other tries to investigate with the sheriff. Poop jokes galore.

    The Grim Reaper: Shatner kills Mrs. Howell for her money.

    [End of Season 1]

  15. SEASON 2

    What Beckoning Ghost?: Husband and sister-in-law try to drive wife crazy by putting a coffin in her living room. She falls for all their tricks, yet is able to come back from the dead and punish them even though she doesn't deserve it.

    Guillotine: Alejandro Rey escapes the guillotine if the executioner dies before chopping day.

    The Premature Burial: Like the Poe story and the Dark Shadows storyline where Liz builds Barbie's Malibu Mausoleum.

    The Weird Tailor: Black magic practicing banker tries to bring his son back to life with a magic suit.

    God Grant That She Lye Stille: 17th century ghoste isn't quite deade yette.

    Masquerade: Samantha Stevens and The Peeper spend the night in a southern vampire mansion with John Carradine and become one of the first couples on TV to sleep in the same bed.

    The Last of the Somervilles

    Letter to a Lover

    A Third For Pinochle: Ed Andrews kills his wife and gets blackmailed into endless pinochle games by the busybodies who know his secret.

    The Closed Cabinet

    Dialogues With Death (2): Let's see. Boris talks to the dead in his morgue. What was the other story?

    The Return of Andrew Bentley: The Shouty Guy leaves his entire fortune to a relative who has to guard his crypt 24/7 to keep Andrew Bentley from coming back for his body.

    The Remarkable Mrs. Hawk

    Portrait Without a Face

    An Attrative Family


    La Strega

    The Storm

    A Wig For Miss DeVore

    The Hollow Watcher

    Cousin Tundifer

    The Incredible Doktor Markesan: Dick York's uncle is experimenting on bringing bodies back from the dead, and doing surprisingly well.

    Flowers of Evil

    Till Death Do Us Part: Henry Jones is an undertaker who murders his wife for Reta Shaw, blackmails Uncle Joe, and does Reta in the same way but it finally catches up with him.

    The Bride Who Died Twice: Zorro-less Zorro episode in which corrupt Mexican Colonel kills the Time Tunnel guy to marry his fiance.

    Kill My Love: aka Slap My Love. World's stupidest murderer (an evil Ward Cleaver type) manages to find people even stupider than himself to kill.

    Man of Mystery: Weaselly Millionnaire has an actor playing himself for show for the rest of the world. Dates Mary Tyler Moore, kills his front man, and replaces him with Commodore Decker.

    The Innocent Bystanders: Cutthroats kill people to sell the bodies to science. A big civil rights issue once up on a time, or so they say.

    The Lethal Ladies (2): Rosemary Murphy tries to throw her husband off a cliff in tit for tat killing, then locks obnoxious librarian in the book vault.

    The Specialists: Really dull Untouchables knockoff.

    This is a little embarrassing. There are a couple of titles that everyone liked, like La Strega, that aren't coming back to mind. There are others that I'm sure were good stories, but without being able to match title to plot, they stay blank. With some of these, if you said two words about the plot, the whole thing would come flooding back, but the rules of this game are to remember it just from the title with no peeking. There was a halfway decent crime drama with Robert Lansing trying to catch a bomber, but without being sure about the title, I can't count it. Others of these were justifiably forgettable.

  16. The Poisoner, Incredible Docktor Markesan, Devil's Ticket (and perhaps Return of Andrew Bentley; watching it now on MeTV, which resurrected the series and is running episodes daily at 3am) are my own faves. I saw the Cheaters as a.child and it stuck in my mind; it scared the hell out of me and for years I searched for it, believing it to be a feature film. Reading this blog I see I still have missed some true gems -- goodie!! As I am a sucker for audio commentaries and those other nifty extras, and Ernest Dickerson, for one, is quite relevant today (including for directing episodes of the Walking Dead) I may spring for the DVD collection.

  17. Ok, so nobody loved "the Specialists". Well, me neither, but how many noticed that the car that blew up and burned was not the same car that the unfortunate fellow got in.
    It was stock footage of another, older car do the burn thing. I realized at that time that on an early 1960s TV, you could not have discerned that.