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The Hell Plaza Oktoberfest IV

Hell Plaza Oktoberfest IV
BEGINS...

Adam Jahnke - Main Page

A couple of weeks ago, I received a package in the mail. No return address but inside was an unlabeled VHS tape and a handwritten note warning me that anyone who watched this tape would die within three days. Naturally, I assumed it was from Bill Hunt, having received more than a few anonymous threatening letters from him in the past, so I gave him a call.

"Hey, I got your death-tape. Can't we get this on Blu-ray?"

"What are you talking about? I didn't send any tape."

"You didn't send a VHS with a note that I'll die within three days of watching it?"

"No, but if you do watch it, I'll kill you myself. You're supposed to be watching titles for this year's Hell Plaza Oktoberfest."

Oh yeah, that. You know, like all horror franchises, good, bad and indifferent, the Hell Plaza Oktoberfest was never intended to have a sequel. But over the past few years, it's become popular enough that here we are again, ready for another month-long voyage into the macabre. I hope you've picked out a comfortable spot in the most sincere pumpkin patch you can find, because the Abominable Dr. Jahnke is back for HELL PLAZA OKTOBERFEST IV!

(And by the way, don't tell Bill but I did watch that death-tape a few days ago. Pretty dull stuff, actually, and it certainly hasn't done me any _hauerfn4_jelkwg__wwlevd_ _-_ _^__~~___

[Editor's Note: This document was recovered from the hard drive of the late Dr. Adam Jahnke, along with the next month's worth of reviews. It is our belief that he would have wanted this year's Oktoberfest to continue as planned. If there is any lesson to be learned from Jahnke's untimely death, it is simply this. Do not watch VHS. Rest in peace, Dr. Jahnke.]


Thriller: The Complete Series (DVD)

Thriller: The Complete Series
1960-1962 (2010) - NBC Universal (Image Entertainment)
Released on DVD on August 31st, 2010


I first heard of Thriller in Stephen King's 1981 history of horror Danse Macabre, in which he praised the short-lived series as "the best horror series ever put on TV". Actually, Uncle Steve qualified that with the word "probably", an adverb omitted from the quote on the DVD packaging. Regardless, my curiosity was piqued and the harder it was to see, the more I wanted to see it. Unlike other before-my-time TV classics like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, Thriller never seemed to turn up in syndication. After a while, I just wrote it off as another long-lost program I'd never get a chance to see. For that reason alone, the arrival of Image's 14-disc box set collecting all 67 episodes of Thriller would make it a candidate for TVD set of the year.


Hosted by Boris Karloff, Thriller struggled to find a narrative voice in its opening episodes. Many of the first season's episodes are noir-influenced crime stories and murder mysteries rather than horror, although even these are graced with creepy touches that tend to shift the balance of fear. The premiere episode, The Twisted Image, casts Leslie Nielsen as a happily married executive dealing with two stalkers. One is a young woman (Natalie Trundy) who thinks she's in love with him. The other (George Grizzard) wants to be him. It's a good episode and sets the pattern for the best non-supernatural episodes of the series, which tend to deal with mental illness, serial killers and child molesters. Another solid episode along these lines from the first season is The Watcher, with Martin Gabel as a serial killer targeting young people who he believes are straying from his strict Christian moral code.

The series first dipped into traditional horror with The Purple Room, a Halloween episode starring Rip Torn as a cocky young man who stands to inherit a fortune if he spends a year in a supposedly haunted house (which will be familiar to anyone who's ever seen a little movie called Psycho). It's a fun episode, despite some pussyfooting around the story's paranormal elements. It's almost as if the producers didn't yet want to admit they were going to be making a horror series. Eventually, that reluctance would disappear and Thriller would produce some extremely entertaining episodes full of gothic horror and unexplained events. Highlights include:

The Cheaters - Thriller's first really great episode focuses on a junkman (Paul Newlan) who discovers a pair of eyeglasses engraved with the word "Veritas". The lenses allow whoever wears them to hear the true thoughts of those around them... and to see their own true face if they dare look into a mirror.

The Hungry Glass - William Shatner and Joanna Heyes star as a married couple who purchase an amazing waterfront home, whose previous owner went mad because of her obsession with mirrors.

Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook - A Wicker Man atmosphere pervades this episode about a Scotland Yard detective investigating murders in a small Welsh village tied up in ancient Druid superstition and witchcraft.

Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper - Based on the story by Robert Bloch and directed by Ray Milland, this one's about a series of Ripper-like murders in New York that at least one man suspects may be the work of the same madman who terrorized London in the 1880s, killing to keep himself eternally young.

Pigeons from Hell - Based on the story by Robert E. Howard, two brothers are attacked in a supposedly abandoned plantation house, watched over by a flock of angry pigeons. One of the most famous episodes of the series and rightly so.

The Premature Burial - A pretty good update of the classic Poe story and one of the handful of Thriller episodes with Karloff doing double duty as both host and actor.

A Wig for Miss Devore - Patricia Barry plays a washed-up actress whose comeback begins when she receives a cursed wig that makes her look years younger... for a price.

Not every episode is a gem, of course. As an hour-long series, a few episodes get downright tedious. But even in its lesser moments, Thriller remains an addictively entertaining series with Karloff's introductions never failing to put a smile on my face. Watching the series for the first time brought me back to my childhood, before I had every episode of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits memorized and each repeat was a major new discovery. For at least a few minutes, every episode of Thriller has the potential to be great. And happily, more than a few of them actually are.

Image's box set perhaps isn't quite as deluxe as we've come to expect from complete series collections. The packaging is slightly disappointing and there's no booklet, for instance. But in this day and age of declining catalog titles, the work they've done is extremely impressive. The episodes themselves look and sound quite good, although you shouldn't expect the same level of restoration as on The Twilight Zone Blu-ray. The set is packed with bonus features, including a large number of isolated music and effects tracks by Jerry Goldsmith and Morton Stevens. Many episodes include promos and several have extremely good audio commentaries. Speakers include fans and experts like Steve Mitchell, Gary Gerani, Tim Lucas and David J. Schow, actors Richard Anderson, Patricia Barry and Beverly Washburn, director Arthur Hiller and many, many more. All of the commentaries are worth your time and provide a wealth of information about the series. You also get galleries of promotional and production stills as well as a series promo, presumably intended to sell the series into syndication.

I'm not usually the sort of person who wishes for sequels (be careful what you wish for, right?) but I've long wanted for Stephen King to write a follow-up to Danse Macabre. Horror has changed quite a bit since 1981 and I'd be fascinated to read his take on the genre today. I'm not sure if he'd stand by his claim that Thriller was the best horror series ever put on TV. It's had quite a bit of competition since '81. But even if it isn't the best, it's a rare gem and I'm delighted that it's finally been unearthed on DVD.

Program Rating: B
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/A


Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com


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