The reputation of Boris Karloff’s “Thriller,” which ran from 1960-1962, is such that it was one of the most highly anticipated DVDs until its 2010 release. Despite its somewhat hefty price tag, it became a best seller (and was followed by a ‘greatest hits’ top ten release in 2012). Author Steven King’s proclaiming it the “best horror series of all time” (in his 1981 book, ‘Danse Macabre’) certainly enhanced its eminence. Of course, a statement that absolute is going to be argued, and it was (with naysayers pointing to the earliest crime oriented episodes as evidence against King’s boast). Naturally, like all series, “Thriller” is uneven. Still, the positives outweigh the negatives enough to justify its cult status.
Karloff hosted each episode, and acted in a few. This was his second horror anthology series. His first, the ten episode “The Veil,” from 1958, never actually aired; after its DVD release in 2001, it was dubbed by some critics as “the best television series never seen.” A later DVD release, under the title of Tales Of The Unexplained From The Veil,” featured two additional “lost” episodes. “The Veil” has also been referred to as a precursor to “Thriller,” although it’s not quite as good and the flavor is different. Hopefully, we’ll get around to reviewing the earlier series by next Halloween.
“Thriller” premiered on September 13th, 1960 with the episode “The Twisted Image” (directed by Arthur Hiller), which starred Leslie Nielsen and Natalie Trundy. “Her possessive eyes… Alan Patterson was aware of her eyes at the newsstand, at the lunch counter, in the elevator. He was aware of them for almost a month and they were to lead him into guilt, and terror, and murder as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. ”
As we watch, Karloff informs us that this a tale of watching and being watched, assuring that a shattering effect lies within the “Twisted Image.” Nielsen, as Patterson, a married, successful business man, is watched by four psychotic eyes belonging to Lily (Trundy) and Merle (George Gizzard). Lily lusts after him and, at least on the surface, Merle is insanely jealous. Although director Hiller denied it, as it was written (by James P. Cavanagh adapting William O’ Farrell’s novel) and played by Grizzard, there is sexual longing in Merle’s voyeurism as well. Still, we’re not entirely convinced he deserves all the attention, as the very young Nielsen has none of his later charisma. Grizzard walks away with the episode playing a scheming, destructive looney tune coworker. Competent, but unimaginative with no surprises, this debut waddles its way to a lackluster finale.
“Child’s Play” (also directed by Hiller and written by Robert Dozier): With marital discord between his parents (Frank Overton and Bethel Leslie), young Hank (Tommy Nolan) is overdosing on B-Westerns and William Tell while vacationing at a cabin. The potentially darker side of the imagination is explored, with young Hank transforming into a symbol for gun control. A slight improvement over the pilot episode, it’s surprisingly a stationary affair that could have used a dose of fantasizing.
“Worse Than Murder” (directed by Mitchell Leisen and written by Mel Goldberg) takes a turn for the worse. If television viewers of 1960 relied solely on first impressions, it’s relatively easy to see why “Thriller” failed to find its audience. This one’s about a murder motivated by love of dyed green paper. Constance Ford kicks into high gear as a scheming gold digger, but her acting is the only thing that thrills here. Otherwise, it’s pedestrian in both writing and direction.
While the first three episodes are dull and conventional, “Mark Of The Hand” (directed by Paul Henried, Laszlo of Casablanca fame, and written by Eric Peters) may be the series at its lowest ebb. An eight year old (Terry Turnham) may or may not be guilty of murder. While that premise might have potential in better hands, this is a mystery devoid of mystery: predictable, campy, and a sluggish affair.
“Rose’s Last Summer” (directed by Hiller and written by Marie Baumer) could be easily dismissed as a small screen ripoff of Sunset Boulevard (1950) or a lame warmup to Whatever Happened To Baby Jane (1962). It’s about the murder of an aging actress, which remarkably fails to generate even the slightest interest, despite starring one time Oscar winner Mary Astor.
“The Guilty Men” (directed by Jules Bricken and written by John Vlahos) is a run of the mill crime melodrama starring Frank Silvera as a mobster who is trying to go clean and… yawn. On the plus side, Silvera’s campy acting is a hoot.
With “The Purple Room” (written and directed by Douglas Heyes) starring Rip Torn and the house from Psycho (1960), we finally have a genuine “Thriller.” It’s hardly original, having an old dark house plot, but there’s some fun to be had in the send-up of genre traditions and stereotypes. Karloff never resented being stereotyped, believing that it gifted him a career niche. Additionally, unlike many actors of his period Karloff, had no qualms embracing the small screen medium, and with new producer William Fry, the series takes advantage of its host’s screen persona none too soon.
Duncan (Rip Torn) has inherited his sibling’s Bayou mansion, with the condition that he must live there for a year. However, as lawyer Ridgewater (Alan Napier, best known as Alfred from TVs “Batman”) informs Duncan that, if he fails to do so, the mansion falls to scheming cousins Rachel and Oliver (Patricia Barry and Richard Anderson, who would later be known for rebuilding the Six Million Dollar Man ). Naturally, as host Karloff warns us in the intro, the mansion has a little problem with ghosts. Being a pragmatist, Duncan isn’t worried in the least, and to prove it, he will spend the night in the Purple Room, where a murder took place one hundred years before. Shot in crisp black and white, this episode almost makes up for a lack of originality and uneven acting with atmosphere.
“The Watcher” (directed by Jon Brahm and written by Donald Sanford) is serial killer Freitag (Martin Gabel) who is so good at dispensing with his victims and playing the role of religious zealot that local law enforcement (Alan Baxter) believes the deaths to be unrelated suicides. Freitas sets his sights on sinful lovers Larry and Beth (a pre-“Doctor Kildare” Richard Chamberlain and Olive Sturges) and attempts to convert them before he judges them. There’s a latent bit of same sex lusting in Freitag, but despite the peanut butter and jelly theme of religious hypocrisy, this somewhat grisly episode is an also-ran in the “Thriller” canon.
“Girl With A Secret” (directed by Mitchell Leisen and written by Charles Beaumont) missteps back into the crime melodramas of the first six episodes, courtesy of producer Fletcher Markle. Newlywed Alice (Myrna Fahey) discovers that her husband Anthony (Rhodes Reason) is not who he says he is. The same goes for his “family.” It takes a deft hand to sell this kid of espionage nonsense, and Markle is no Hitchcock. Also starring Victor Buono.
“The Prediction” (directed by Brahm and written by Sanford) stars Karloff himself as a phony psychic who begins to have death visions for real. A first season “ Adventures Of Superman” episode covered related ground, and did it in a more entertaining way. Karloff wrings pathos out of his role, which almost makes up for the contrived plot.
“The Fatal Impulse” (directed by Gerald Mayer and written by Phillip MacDonald) features a superb cast, which includes Robert Lansing, Conrad Nagel, Elisha Cook Jr. and, briefly, a young Mary Tyler Moore. It’s another preposterous melodrama about a loony named Harry (Cook) who gets caught in an attempt to kill Mayor Wylie (Nagel). Not one to concede defeat, Harry plants incriminating evidence—a bomb–in the purse of an office worker, which brings in a bleak Lt. Rome (Lansing). This crime caper has a different producer in Maxwell Shane, and it helps considerably. There’s tension aplenty as Rome races to find the bomb before it is set to go off. The flavoring of this episode supersedes awkward writing. Mary plays a librarian named Mary.
“The Big Blackout” (directed by Maurice Geraghty and written by Don Tracy) is an anonymous, dull episode about an alcoholic amnesiac named Burt (Jack Carson) who belatedly discovers he was involved in some shady business.
“Knock Three One-Two” (directed by Herman Hoffman and written by John Kneubuhl) stars Beverly Garland as Ruth, the put-upon wife of gambling addict Ray (Joe Maross). Ray, having cried wolf one time too many, is not going to be bailed out this time by his wife, which inspires him to hire killer Benny (Warren Oates) to make him a widower. Garland steals the show, although there’s not much to steal in this episode of contrived irony.
“Man In The Middle” (directed by Fletcher Markle and written by Howard Rodman) miscasts comedian Mort Sahl in the dramatic role of Sam, who overhears Mr. Clark (Werner Klemperer—son of conductor Otto and star of “Hogan’s Heroes”) plotting a murder. Reluctantly, Sam decides to try and thwart the thug’s evil plan. If the plot sounds hackneyed, that’s because it is. Series Producer Markle is also out of his element and bowed out for good after this entry.
“The Cheaters” (directed by Brahm and scripted by Sanford from a story by Robert Bloch) is the first authentically “classic” episode, one worthy of the series’s cult reputation. It kicks off in an entirely different mood: rather than the usual Pete Rugolo jazz opening, producer William Frye brings in composer Jerry Goldsmith, who expertly shrieks and enhances the drama about to unfold. Former Karloff co-star Henry Daniell (from Val Lewton’s The Body Snatcher) briefly appears as an inventor who puts on a pair of queer “cheaters” (sunglasses) and has a vision that leads him to hang himself before dawn. His failure to destroy the lethal eyewear proves unfortunate for the victims ahead, who include “A little old fashioned lady named Miriam Alcott played by Miss Mildred Dunnock, a nephew named Percy Dean played by Mr. Jack Weston, and finally a man who discovered the real purpose of the spectacles, Sebastien Grimm played by Mr. Harry Townes. What they saw through those yellow gold lenses they never forgot, and neither will you, my friends, because as sure as my name is Boris Karloff, this is a thrillah.”
This time, Karloff’s lisp lingers, convincing us of goosebumps ahead. Inscribed in the “cheaters” is the name Veritas, the Roman goddess of Truth and, like Dorian Gray’s portrait, the spectacles reveal the soul, shorn of pretense. In a cast of superlative performances, Paul Newlan is a standout as the junk dealer Joe Henshaw. Most fans and critics rank “The Cheaters” in the top five episodes and, for once, the consensus is spot on.
“The Hungry Glass” (written and directed by Douglas Heyes from a story by Robert Bloch) is another classically intense episode starring William Shatner, who does surprisingly commendable work here as a young married photographer who has purchased a haunted mansion bedecked in mirrors. Donna Douglas (from “Beverly Hillbillies”) plays the spirit who in life was obsessed with her beauty. The mental decay of Shatner and bride (Joanna Heyes) reflects another variation on Dorian Gray, in Bloch’s inimitable style. This episode usually makes everyone’s top ten list, although it’s not quite at the level of its immediate predecessor.
“The Poisoner,” (directed by Herschel Daugherty and written by Robert Hardy Andrews) is loosely based on the real-life case of suspected serial poisoner Thomas Griffiths Wainwright. Here he is given the name of Thomas Edward Griffith and played by eternally underrated actor Murray Matheson. As artist, author and dandy, Griffith, used to the fine life, lies his way into marriage with rich socialite Frances Abercrombie (Sarah Marshall), only to discover she has also lied about her wealth. Worse, she moves her family in. Fortunately, Griffith is an expert poisoner. A score from Jerry Goldsmith again accentuates the suspense. It’s fairly well shot for television and includes that favorite noir murder method—pushing a wheelchair-bound victim down a spiraling stairwell. As the Abercrombies are an across the board ingratiating lot, it’s hard not to be manipulated into sympathizing with Griffith, but his mistreatment of a poor innocent kitty reveals him to be the cad he is.
“Man in the Cage” (directed by Gerald Mayer, written by Stuart Jerome and Maxwell Shane) stars Philip Carey as engineer Darrel Hudson, going to Tangier in search for his missing brother Noel (Guy Stockwell). The exotic location and co-star Diana Millay are wasted in a hopelessly dull episode.
“Choose a Victim” (directed by Richard Carlson, better known as the beefcake protagonist of Creature From The Black Lagoon, and written by George Bellak) is another crime noir. This one features prolific television actors Susan Oliver (many will remember her as the heroine in the two-part “Star Trek” episode “The Cage”) and Larry Blyden (from both “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and “The Twilight Zone”). Tragically, both actors died young: Oliver from lung cancer, Blyden from a traffic accident. Blyden plays beach bum/golddigger Ralph, who stumbles onto the sad but beautiful Edith when he sneaks into her room to rob her. Rather than turning him in, Edith is sexually attracted to daring larcenist Ralphie and demands his “attention.” The episode takes a Postman Always Rings Twice turn when Edith manipulates Ralphie in a plot to kill her wealthy uncle. Naturally, that’s not only the bit of manipulation going on, and the episode revels in playing its mind games, even if it’s not a standout thriller.
“Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook” (directed by Herschel Daugherty and written by Allan Caillou) is an uneven episode with a plot that might call to mind elements from Anthony Shaffer’s later (and vastly superior) The Wicker Man (1973). Atmosphere and a sense of dread (aided again by Goldsmith, in top form) make up for a degree of awkward writing about a coven of witches in the Druid ruins of the rural Dark Falls, in Wales. The honeymoon of Scotland Yard inspector Harry Roberts (Kenneth Haig) and wife Nesta (Audrey Dalton) is interrupted by the murder of a townsman named Watson (Lumsden Hare) by hay-fork and bill-hook. Dark Falls Constable Evans (a returning Alan Napier) and his mother (former silent screen actress Doris Lloyd) show more interest in Nesta than assisting in the mysterious murder. With dead cattle and another murder, human sacrifices and burning are not far behind.
“The Merriweather File” (directed by John Brahm, written by John Kneubuhl) is a crime melodrama littered with familiar character actors. Ann Merriweather (a returning Bethel Leslie) nearly becomes the victim of a blackmailing assassin. Things don’t go as hoped for the poor mafioso guy, and he winds up as a corpse in the trunk of Mr. Merriweather (Ross Elliott). After hubby is busted, Ann solicits help from neighbor and high-powered lawyer Howard Yates (James Gregory). The mystery and closet-skeletons are crammed into a one hour format, and the finale is hyper-rushed in this forgettable episode.
“The Fingers of Fear” (directed by Jules Bricken and written by Robert Hardy Andrews) explores Fritz Lang territory in a tale about a serial killer of children. To say that child molestation was a daring topic for early 1960s television would be an understatement, but the direction is unimaginative, made worse by a bombastic, pedestrian score. Busy character actor Nehemiah Person plays the investigating Lt. Wagner, hunting the killer Ohrback, played by Robert Middleton. Middleton specialized in these types of roles (i.e. 1955’s The Desperate Hours), but by all accounts was erudite and a pleasure to work with. Middleton turns in typical good work, despite the dated stereotypes. Person is oddly lethargic. Despite the handicaps, “The Fingers of Fear” lives up to its thriller tag.
“Well of Doom” (directed by John Brahm and written by Donald S. Sanford) stars the eternally underrated Henry Daniell, Torin Thatcher, and a young Richard Kiel. The narrative, about a well-to-do and his butler (Ronald Howard and Thatcher) kidnapped and imprisoned by a sadistic ghoul (Daniell) is spirited camp, liberally borrowing from Tod Browning’s lost film, London After Midnight, which doesn’t matter one bit. It’s made all the more transcendent by its performances, visual aplomb, and Goldsmith’s robustly Gothic score. Despite rarely making those random “Best of Thriller” lists, it’s an episode fully deserving of the series classic rep.
“The Ordeal of Dr. Cordell” (directed by Laslo Bender and written by Donald S. Sanford) is a science fiction effort. The title doctor is none other than the Man From U.C.L.E Robert Vaughn, who can’t salvage a cliche-ridden script about a scientist who is driven mad after inhaling the wrong kind of gas in a lab accident. That, combined with the sound of tinkling bells, transforms him into a campus murderer by night. Marlo Thomas, in one of her earliest appearances, plays the victim. It is doubtful either actor included this episode in their respective resumes.
“Trio for Terror” (directed by Ida Lupino and written by Barre Lyndon) is the first “Thriller” presented as an anthology within the anthology. All three tales are imbued with Lupino’s trademark atmospheric direction, but narratively it’s a mixed bag, with the first episode, “The Extra Passenger,” oddly being the strongest. It stars Richard Lupino (Ida’s cousin, who will write a later episode with her) as a spoiled heir plotting murder to get his inheritance. Unwittingly, he is up against a warlock of an uncle (Terence de Marney), and the episode gets downright Lovecraftian in its surprisingly gruesome finale. “A Terribly Strange Bed” is the apt title of the weakest episode about a gambler (Robin Hughes) whose lucky streak ends when encountering… a terribly strange bed. Reginald Owen (an unjustly forgotten big screen Scrooge) co-stars. A murderer (Michael Pate) takes refuge in a wax museum, only to encounter “The Mask of Medusa” in the final episode. As with the Medusa in Terence Fisher’s later The Gorgon (1964), atmosphere almost makes up for amusingly inadequate makeup effects.
“Papa Benjamin” (directed by Ted Post and written by John Kneubuhl) stars character actor John Ireland as a band leader who, despite being warned not to, incorporates a chant from a voodoo ceremony into his song “Voodoo Rhapsody.” Naturally, the voodoo thief gets his comeuppance. It’s as silly as it sounds, and not the best exit for producer Maxwell Shane.
Despite a bland, vague title and an on paper all-too-familiar plot, “Late Date” (directed by Herschel Daugherty and written by Donald S. Sanford) is executed well enough to stand as a marked improvement over its immediate predecessors. Larry Pennell as Larry Weeks is a beach bum who discovers that brother James (Edward Platt) has disposed of his cheating wife. The remaining time involves blackly humorous attempts to rid themselves of a corpse and to dodge inquiring minds. It evokes Hitchcock, of course, but is let down by a disappointing finale.
“Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper” (directed by Ray Milland and written by Barre Lyndon) is a slight disappointment considering the talent involved. However, this updated retelling of the Ripper also has atmosphere aplenty, as one would expect. It’s similar to a “Star Trek” episode in which the infamous killer is an undying spirit. Adapted from a story by Robert Bloch, it’s replete with clever twists and is aided by acting and direction. However, it falls short of being classic, with another letdown conclusion and a bit of catering to period cliches.
“The Devil’s Ticket” (directed by Jules Bricken) betters the previous entry by allowing Bloch to adapt his own short story (the author had also previously adapted it into a radio play). The result is a near-classic. Artist Hector Vane (MacDonald Carey) encounters Old Nick himself (John Emery) at a local pawnshop. The setup is a soul exchange, with a classic Bloch twist. The writer’s sense of fun is is hopelessly contagious.
“Parasite Mansion” (directed by Herschel Daugherty and written by Donald S. Sanford) lives up to the promise of its unique title and is another classic “Thriller.” It has a dilapidated mansion in southern swampland, an insane granny witch (Jeanette Nolan in full ham mode), a parasite poltergeist, and even Beverly Washburn (from Spider Baby) as a possessed soul. By now, “Thriller” has fully owned its niche.
“A Good Imagination” (directed by John Brahm and written by Robert Bloch) benefits from Bloch’s narrative about fatal bookworm Frank Logan (Edward Andrews) who accesses literary classics for inspiration to dispose of his unfaithful wife’s numerous lovers. With blackened humor and erudite irony, this episode evokes both Hitchcock and Poe. Andrews’s winning portrayal has us rooting for a ruthless antagonist with an alarmingly high body count who practically whistles while he works.
“Mr. George” (directed by Ida Lupino and written by Donald S. Sanford) is an episode that’s greater than the sum of its parts. A superb Jerry Goldsmith score, assured direction by Lupino, and good performances elevate a conventional script about a young child named Priscilla (Gina Gillespie, who would become best known as the young Blanche Hudson in 1962’s Whatever Happened To Baby Jane) whose guardian Mr. George has recently died. Now in the custody of three cousins plotting her death for the inheritance money, Priscilla is guided and protected by Mr. George’s spirit. Contemporary audiences may balk at the idea of finding humor in attempted murder of a child (as they did with Addams Family Values), but Lupino’s direction deftly balances humor with a sense of threat.
Paul Henried redeems his previous effort (season one’s bland “Mark of the Hand”) with effective direction in “The Terror in Teakwood” (written by Alan Callow). It’s an episode in the tradition of Hands of Orlac (1924) and Mad Love (1935). Vladimir Vicek ( Guy Rolfe) severs the hands of a dead pianist to assist him in tackling an overly complicated piece composed by Alexander Borodin. Hazel Court (a Hammer scream queen who would co-star with Karloff in Roger Corman’s The Raven two years later), as Vicek’s wife Leonie, leads a strong ensemble. Though subdued, the sexual tones are startling for the period and this bizarre thriller is all the more atmospheric due to Goldsmith’s skilled use of preexisting music combined with his own work, making it a near-classic episode.
“The Prisoner in the Mirror” (directed by Herschel Daugherty and written by Robert Arthur) is another prime thriller. Professor Langham (Lloyd Bochner) literally uncovers the mirror of the evil Count Cagliostro (Henry Daniell). Possessed by the infamous Cagliostro, Langham brings the mirror home and…. needless to say, the body count will pile up. A young Marion Ross (Mrs. Cunningham from “Happy Days”) plays Lagham’s fiancee and even makes a toast to “happy days,” which do not arrive for the poor girl. The fantasy element is in full flower, which could also be said of the performances by both Bochner and Daniell. Interestingly, Karloff himself was once cast to play Cagliostro for Universal in the mid thirties, but the production imploded for various reasons. This episode almost makes up for the loss.
“Dark Legacy” (directed by John Brahm and written by John Tomerlin) is a grim, noirish episode with minimal dialogue and heavy-laden with the supernatural. Oddly, this is rarely mentioned as a superior example of the series, and that is unfortunate. A hack nightclub magician (Harry Townes) inherits an occult book from his warlock uncle (also played by Harry Townes) and conjures up the demon Astaroth, which leads to delusions of grandeur and a supernatural comeuppance. Villainous favorite Henry Silva co-stars with Alan Napier, but, per the norm, it’s Townes who proves to be one of the most underrated of character actors. Although the demon could have been better executed with contemporary CGI, this is a well-shot episode that only pales after watching…
“Pigeons from Hell” (directed by John Newland and written by John Kneubuhl from a story by Robert E. Howard), which makes just about everyone’s “Greatest Thriller Episode” list,—although I am tempted to abstain from that “Greatest” moniker. In addition to being written by the author of “Conan,” it’s almost faultlessly directed by the creator of cult TV series “One Step Beyond” (which someday we should cover, even if only its first season has received an officialDVD release. There are countless cheap, public domain editions, which should be avoided at all costs). All this adds up to an episode whose reputation may be impossible to fully justify, although it is undoubtedly a vastly superior thriller.
It begins in “old dark house” mode when two brothers (Brandon de Wilde and David Worf) get their car stuck in the mud. Coming upon an old dark house, they encounter vibrating pigeons from hell that contain departed souls who will inspire Wilde to do… things. There’s an authentic sense of unbearable dread, a murdered sibling, a zombie, a mystery, and an evil house with a past. Fortunately, much of it is never explained, and the terror is keenly felt. It goes without saying that Goldsmith’s score is an inspired one, but this episode falters in less than stellar acting (Newland was usually best working with veterans, which freed him to polish his superb narrative skills).
“The Grim Reaper” (directed by Herschel Daugherty and written by Robert Bloch) stars William Shatner and, briefly, Henry Daniell. It’s almost as legendary as “Pigeons from Hell,” and is overall an even better episode.
Renowned author Beatrice Graves (Natalie Schafer) has purchased a painting of the Grim Reaper by the artist Radin, who committed suicide after finishing the canvas. Legend has it that the painting is cursed and blood will mysteriously appear on the Reaper’s blade just before its owner dies. Nephew Paul (Shatner) arrives at Beatrice’ mansion to warn her. She scoffs, until…
Effectively lit and expert in it’s use of Shatner’s sweaty histrionics (let’s be honest, he is the most entertaining aspect of “Trek”), this episode literally will raise the hairs on the nape of your neck, and has one helluva an ending that could only be written by Bloch.
Season Two opens with “What Beckoning Ghost?” (directed by Ida Lupino and written by Donald S. Sanford) utilizes the well-worn Gaslight plot of a woman (Judith Evelyn) being driven insane—or not—by a scheming husband (Tom Helmore). Although stylishly directed, there’s no surprises here, and it’s ultimately a disappointment.
“Guillotine” (directed by Ida Lupino and written by Charles Beaumont) concerns convicted murderer Robert Lamont (Alejandro Rey) who has been sentenced to the guillotine for murdering his wife’s lover. His only chance for reprieve is if the executioner (Robert Middleton) dies before the execution date. Out of guilt, apparently, Lamont’s wife (Danielle DeMetz) seeks to make that custom’s loophole come to pass. Naturally, there is a twist. Middleton is good as always and although hardly top-notch thriller, this is a marked improvement over the second season’s opener.
“The Premature Burial” (directed by Douglas Heyes, written by William Gordon and Heyes, based on the Edgar Alan Poe short story) has Karloff returning to an actual acting role, in addition to his hosting duties. The allure of Poe was obviously an influence in the casting, but the writing team can’t do full justice to the 19th century author. The cataleptic Edward Stapleton (Sydney Blacker) has an obsessive fear of being buried alive. His fiancée Victorine (Patricia Medina) plots to use the phobia against him so she can run off with her lover Julian (Scott Marlowe). Stapleton’s friend and protector Doctor Thorne (Karloff) plays an integral part in the narrative and proves to be a force to be reckoned with, bringing out the sadistic avenger in him. Unsurprisingly, Karloff steals everything but the kitchen sink, and this episode’s considerable value lies in his portrayal, making one wish he had acted in more episodes.
“The Weird Tailor” (directed by Herschel Daugherty and written by Robert Bloch from his own story for “Weird Tales”) makes all the difference with superior writing, producing the first authentically classic episode of season two. During a Satanic mass, the son (Gary Clarke) of Mr. Smith (George Macready) is accidentally killed when impaled by a pentagram. Within the space of fifty minutes, the narrative moves like a whirlwind and takes the viewer to an encounter at a used car lot between Madame Roberti (Iphigenia Castiglione) and the weird tailor Erik Borg (Henry Jones) whom Mr. Smith hires to resurrect the deceased son. Bankrupt, Borg takes the commission and constructs a special suit, that needless to say has dire consequences. There’s even a hint of something sexual between Borg’s much abused wife (Sondra Blake) and a sleazy looking mannequin, which is a lot of perversity for 1961.