Thriller – The Cheaters (12/27/60)

tcheaters01I always considered Robert Bloch’s screenplay to Psycho to be about as perfect as you can get — well-paced, quotable, manipulative, funny, scary.  I guess it should be no surprise that 3 of these first 5 episodes of Thriller — Fan Favorites — have been written by him or adapted from his work.  I would like to read more of his work, but sorry Amazon, I’m not shelling out $18 for a paperback of his best.

A not particularly useful prologue (hey, who wrote this rubbish!)[1] shows us a very crabby Dr. Van Prinn inventing a new type of spectacles.  When he tries them on, he looks in a mirror and screams in horror much as I do at Eye-Glass World.  They’re just glasses — they aren’t going to make me look like George Clooney.

Van Prinn is so distraught at what he sees (but we do not) that he screams in horror. Host Boris Karloff informs us that he hanged himself before dawn.  Rather than destroy the damnable specs so no one else suffers his fate — won’t someone please think of the children! — he apparently tucks them away in a desk drawer where they remain for 200 years.

Act II

tcheaters02Maggie and Joe live in a modest home (better than the Kramdens’ apartment, maybe more like Norton’s — which always sounded a little nicer, but I’m not sure was ever seen).  Maggie is just the kind of nagging shrew that we usually get from Alfred Hitchcock.  She is berating poor junkman Joe about bidding $100 on a blind lot from an abandoned building.  She is really a harridan, continuing to insult him as his young, single, handsome, athletic employee Harry enters the apartment.

They find nothing but disintegrating books, a lot of cobwebs, and broken furniture. Charlie mocks Joe just as his wife did and leaves thinking they have been had; but Joe finds the glasses which have been hidden away for 200 years.  He has been having trouble seeing, so these are the titular “cheaters” in the optical sense of the word.

When Joe gets home, Maggie is as dolled up as she can get.  She apologizes for being so rotten and selfish that morning.  When he puts on the titular cheaters, though, he can hear the truth from Maggie and see her “true” face — she plans to kill him. Charlie comes over to the house and Joe, through the specs, can see their unexpressed thoughts.  A gas company wants to buy their property for big bucks (because where better to drill than in a residential neighborhood (well (no pun intended), this was in the days before the EPA was created by Richard Nixon (that’s right, Richard freakin’ Nixon!)).  Not only that, Charlie and Maggie are planning to kill him — which explains Charlie’s interest in this 20-year older . . . I’m running out of synonyms that don’t stat with C.[2]

Joe brutally takes a tire iron to Maggie and Charlie.  A policemen overhears the disturbance and runs into the house.  Joe looks at the glasses and yells, “the cheaters, the cheaters!” adding a nice double-meaning to the title.  He raises the tire iron to pulverize the spectacles, but is gunned down like Michael Brown — except he was going for the glasses and not for the cop’s gun; or to attack him physically; or to rob a convenience store; or to assault a clerk.  Otherwise, pretty similar.


tcheaters03The story cleverly maintains continuity by having the glasses show up in an estate sale to get rid of the contents of Maggie and Joe’s home.  They are purchased by an old woman who can see that her children are planning to murder her.  She sees through the specs that the trustee of her husband’s estate is in on the murder plot so she jams a gigantic hatpin into his heart.  That hat must have been the size of Turd Ferguson’s.

Act IV

tcheaters04A year later, at a costume party, her son is mocked for lacking spectacles to complete his Ben Franklin get-up. Once his wife provides the specs, he finds he can hear his guests’ thoughts about the cards they are holding.  When he accuses another player of cheating, it gets turned around so he appears to be guilty. There is a fight and Thomas Jefferson clubs him in the head, accidentally killing him.  Cleverly, another twist on the word “cheater.”

Act V

tcheaters05Sebastian Grimm, one of the players at the game, takes the specs, suspecting that they have some special property.  He is writing a book about the glasses and goes to the old Van Prinn place, abandoned for decades.  He wants to know why Van Prinn hanged himself.  His wife begs him to not go upstairs, to go home with her.

He goes up, puts on the cheaters and looks in the mirror just like Van Prinn.  Grimm sees a hideous reflection, for reasons I am not clear on.  Did he do something that I missed?  Was it the hubris to think he could look within his own soul?  Was he seeing the evil that is in all humans?.  He screams in horror and claws at his face until it is bloody.

On the plus side, he does stomp on the glasses and put and end to their trail of carnage.  So there should be some redemption for that.

Great episode.


  • [1]In retrospect, the prologue was an integral part of the story.  But am I going to start rewriting at 1 am?  Well, for that matter, is there any evidence that I ever do?
  • [2] Ya kinda need to know the yacht is name The Seaward.  Thanks for mangling one of the best jokes of the series.  And screwing up the aspect ratio.
  • Etymology Corner:  I’ve been using “for that matter” a lot lately — kind of a weird phrase.  I recently bookmarked an article on “believe you me” that I will actually read some day.
  • For all my praise of Robert Bloch, he did write 3 of my least favorite episodes of Star Trek.  On the other hand, dude wrote 3 MFing episodes of Star Trek!
  • Title Analysis:  Finally, I can give an A.  The multiple meanings and continuity were beautiful.

Thriller – The Hungry Glass (01/03/61)

thungryglass07In a flashback, we see hottie Laura Bellman (Donna Douglass) checking herself out in dozens of mirrors arrayed through her home.  A doctor and and man with a hook knock on her door; when she answers, we see her directly for the first time, and she is an old crone.  She asks just to be left alone with her mirrors.

Gil (William Shatner) & Marcia Thrasher have just bought the old Bellman place.  They are meeting the realtor at what appears to be Sam Drucker’s General Store from Petticoat Junction. They are warned of “visitors” at the house and one of the checkers-playing locals asks if it wasn’t strange that there was “nary a looking glass in the whole of it.”  Considering they will soon be eating dinner on the floor due to a lack of tables and chairs, mirrors might not have been my priority.

Realtor Russell Johnson (The Professor from Gilligan’s Island) arrives and takes the Thrashers to the house, introducing his wife Liz on the way.  Why they met at the store is a bit of a mystery.

thungryglass02At the house, Liz screams as she sees someone reaching for Marcia through the window — a man with a hook for a hand — but there is no one there.  Nerves are shocked, a champagne bottle is broken, and carpet is ruined.

Adam says he has to warn them “when my wife is having a real good time, she’s apt to scream a little.” Understandably, they are not offered a bedroom for the night, but are invited tomorrow for dinner.

Adam and Liz leave, but Gil sees an apparition of the two-handed variety.  He tries to hide it from his wife, but she sees it herself the next morning in a mirror.

While photographer Gil develops pictures in the basement, Marcia explores the attic which is packed with more crap than post-Kane Xanadu.  Marcia amazingly finds a padlocked door hidden behind a dressing screen.  The lock was merely screwed on from the outside, so Marcia goes at it with a Phillip’s head butter-knife. Inside she finds all the mirrors.

Gil comes up through the attic hatch and Marcia excited tells him, “I found the mirrors!  Big mirrors!  Little mirrors!  Fat mirrors!  Thin mirrors!” and presumably mirrors that climb on rocks, and even mirrors with chicken pox.  After Marcia leaves, Gil sees a ghost and faints.  He blames it on “troubles I had before.  Doctors told me there would be recurrences.  You never really get the stuff out of your system.”  Turns out he is talking about being shell-shocked from Korea.  Next thing you know he’ll be seeing a man on the wing of the plane.

thungryglass06That night at dinner, served on the floor by candlelight, Adam toasts, “Here’s champagne to our real friends and real pain to our sham friends.”  The episode is filled with clever dialog like this from Shatner and Johnson.  Robert Bloch only gets a story credit, but a lot the words really sound like him.

The gals go tour the house leaving the guys to chat.  Adam says that Gil has been reflective tonight — funny considering the role mirrors play in the story.  Adam tells him why it hasn’t been occupied for the last 20 years.  Jonah Bellman built the house for his beautiful wife Laura.  She was only really in love with her own reflection.  After Jonah died of a broken heart, it was only Laura and the mirrors.

As she became ancient, she still saw her young beautiful self in the mirrors.  When she was locked away in her bedroom, away from the mirrors.  She was still able to use the window to see her young reflection.  Then she went right through one and died.

thungryglass08aGil’s emotional problems resurface and things do not go well.

Another good episode. Thriller is 3 for 4.  Shatner in Thriller is 2 for 2.


  • All of the local’s have that trademark Stephen King New England accent, but luckily not the trademark Stephen King insipid dialog).  William Shatner and Russell Johnson are just visitors to the area, thus sparing us the pain of hearing The Shat attempt an accent.
  • I realized I have no idea what those old dressing screens are called — the ones women draped their clothes over in old movies.  At first I tried dressing triptych, but this one had more than 3 folds.  I’m still not sure what they’re called.
  • Shatner tells his wife she’ll go blind looking in the mirror so much.  She asks if she can do it until she needs glasses.  C’mon, Bloch snuck that one in.

Thriller – The Watcher (11/01/60)

twatcher04A really — to be charitable — unattractive man is holding down a blonde girl’s head, and not in the good way.  He drowns the the girl and washes the blood from his hands.

Freitag, the titular watcher, is spying on a couple in a car in front of his house as the indulge in some 1950’s style necking, perhaps even heavy petting.  As Larry gets out of the car, and Beth drives away, Freitag typewrites a threatening letter to Sheriff Matthews:



The next night, Freitag sees Larry leave the house, probably to see that hussy Beth. Freitag puts on a suit, tie and hat and takes off following Larry.  Surely he is disappointed to see that Larry just went in for a little OT at the boat shop where he works.  Freitag goes in and tells him what a great boy he is for taking care of his aunt.

twatcher05He tells Larry “a good-looking young man like you doesn’t have any trouble finding female companionship . . . it must be a problem for you.  I mean, avoiding unwelcome attention.”  Well, maybe it was annoying for Richard Chamberlain, but I personally never felt burdened by hot babes calling me at all hours.

He continues, “I’d really like to help you.  An older man can sometimes help keep a boy straight.”  Ahem.  He does everything but start massaging Larry’s shoulders.  Larry says if he ever need’s Freitag’s advice, he knows where to find him.  Down by the elementary school would be the first place to look, I imagine.

Beth leaves her house after getting chewed out by her mother by going out totally nude — no wait, she’s wearing blue-jeans, which was apparently equally taboo back then.  She goes to see Larry.  Standing out in the rain, Freitag sees the silhouettes of them stripping off their wet clothes.

twatcher06Later on a picnic in the woods, Larry asks Beth to elope, but she wants everything out in the open.  Which it kind of would be after they came back from eloping.  They think they see someone watching them from the rocks above but find no one.  When they get back to the car, however, it has a flat tire.

Not having a spare, Larry wheels it back to a gas station until he is given a lift.  Freitag suspensively creeps up on the car where she is now sitting.  When she spots him, she lays on the horn for so long that he cleverly pops the hood and disconnects the battery. Beth helpfully faints, but Freitag does nothing with her.

Back at the filling station, which is apparently do-it-yourself, Larry is working on the tire. Freitag knocks him out and lowers the car lift onto him.  The police take Beth home where her mother is so relieved to see her alive that she calls her a tramp.  Luckily Larry survived due to a tire rim blocking the lift.

twatcher07Larry is taken back to his boarding house to recover, where the owner also calls Beth a tramp.  Freitag has a good vantage point of all the activity from his room across the street.

When the landlady goes out to the drugstore to pick up a prescription for Larry (luckily the neighbors have not burned it down like in Baltimore), Freitag sneaks upstairs.  Beth catches him and brains him with a ceramic pitcher.  This is apparently enough for him to stagger around until he falls from the window and beaks his neck.

A decent episode carried by the casting and performances of the actors.  An extra layer of entertainment is found in the clearly homo-erotic overture in the boat shop.

Thriller – Pigeons from Hell (S1E36)

tpigeons01After very lackluster episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Ray Bradbury Theater, I have been looking forward to Thriller coming up in the rotation again.  It got off to a great start last week.

Johnny & Tim, a couple of college boys, are touring the south and get stuck driving through a swampy shortcut.  Johnny tells Tim to go find a pole, and he responds, “Since you’re the one who wanted to fight the Civil War again, you find the pole.”  Too bad they weren’t refighting WWII.

Johnny hears a blood-curdling screech that could be human or feline and goes deeper into the woods to investigate.  He sees a large run-down house with a yard full of the titular pigeons; and presumably, shit.  It seems to be abandoned so they decide to sleep there for the night.

tpigeons02Johnny is captivated by an old portrait.  That night, he awakens and hears something beckoning him upstairs.  A few minutes later, Tim hears him scream and runs upstairs. He sees zombie-Johnny emerge from the shadows with a hatchet that he tries to put in Tim’s noggin.

Tim runs away from the house, but trips and falls in the woods.  He is found by the county sheriff, who takes him to a nearby shack.  They go back to the house — the old Blassenville Place — and discover Johnny dead on the floor, still hanging on to that hatchet.

Tim and the sheriff go upstairs.  Their lantern mysteriously goes out, so they retreat, but it burns again once they get downstairs.  After they put Johnny in the meat-wagon, they go back upstairs.  The lantern continues to restrict where they can go, especially deterring them from one room in particular.

They go to see Jacob Blount, an ancient former servant at the house.  He says every one is dead at the house.  Before he can spill the beans, a snake crawls out of some wood and kills him.  They go back to the house.  In a nice touch, the police car is covered with pigeons.

tpigeons03That night, Tim goes into a trance and is also beckoned up the stairs.  An old woman comes out of a bedroom wielding a butcher knife. The sheriff fires at her several times. He pursues her into a secret room where he finds skeletons of the Blassenville sisters — including the half sister he just killed.

Maybe the thought of her being a child of the master of the house and a servant woman was the horror of the episode.  This was set long after slavery, but the job description didn’t seem much removed.

All in all, a major let down from last week.


  • Based on a short story by Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian. First published in Weird Tales, May 1938.
  • Stephen King considered the short story “one of the finest of our century.”

Thriller – The Grim Reaper (S1E37)

tgrimreaper09There will be no more Outer Limits because my Hulu-hate won out; also my cheapness as Season 3 is $35 at Amazon.

I was immediately leery about Thriller.  Stephen King’s blurb says “The best horror series ever put on TV.”  On the other hand, this collection of “Fan Favorites” had to to go all the way the episode 37 for the first entry.  I can only hope they are not going chronologically.

Late at night, there is a knock at the door.  A man is looking for the artist Henri Radin.  For a shiny nickel, the chambermaid takes the man right up to Radin’s room, but warns the man that he might be drunk or on drugs — wow, already edgier than Alfred Hitchcock or Twilight Zone.


The Grim Reaper is the one on the right

She is not a fan of Radin’s art which she says is evil.  The man suggests, “Perhaps a nude?” She responds “There is no evil in nakedness.”  Scandalous for 1959!

The woman knocks, but there is no answer.  The man insists on being let in as he is Radin’s father.  We see the shadow of Radin’s legs as he swings dead from a noose — finally, back to some wholesome 1960’s entertainment.

They take a look at his last painting, and is fairly evil, and better than any of the oil-slicks on Night Gallery.

In his intro to the story, Boris Karloff is examining the painting, which we learn is now over 100 years old.  And there is fresh blood on the scythe.

Paul Graves (William Shatner) arrives at a house and is greeted by his aunt Beatrice (Natalie Schafer).  He is surprised that she bought a hearse, but being a a writer of 27 mystery novels, she bought it as publicity.

tgrimreaper11Beatrice introduces Graves to her fifth husband, Gerald Keller, who is much younger than her.  Also to her young secretary Dorothy.  They go downstairs to see Beatrice’s new acquisition, Radin’s “Grim Reaper.”  It was this purchase that disturbed Graves so much that he had to visit his aunt.  He warns her to get rid of the picture.

He says that since it was painted in 1848, the painting has had 17 owners, 15 of which met with violent deaths.  Beatrice was aware of the curse and also bought that for publicity.  She had also previously heard Grave’s revelation that the painting began to bleed before each death.  Like NOW for instance!

Of course, that night they discover Beatrice dead at the bottom of the stairs.  A few days later, the will is read and everything was left to Keller.  So now Keller is the owner of the painting, and the pieces start to fall into place.

tgrimreaper12They might play a little fast and loose with criminal evidence and estate law, but accompanied by a shrieking score and great performances, it moves toward a twisty, satisfying conclusion.

My initial pessimmism was unwarranted.  This was one of the best episodes I’ve seen in the past year.  At the most basic level, it looked great, very crisp black and white.  The camera work was excellent, and Robert Bloch (Psycho) came up with a very witty script that was well played by everyone.

If there is one nitpick, the score seemed a little overwrought.  But if that was meant to heighten the feel of unease, it worked.  Also, as host, Karloff was no Rod Serling (TZ not NG).

Overall:  Excellent.


  • It is bizarre that Beatrice jokes that the hearse she bought was driven only by a “little old corpse from pasadena.”  It was not until 3 years later that Jan & Dean recorded The Little Old Lady from Pasadena.
  • At 12:15, it really sounds like Beatrice calls Dorothy “Samanatha.”  She could have said “What’s the matter” — several replays later, I couldn’t be sure.  She later clearly refers to “The Decoration of Independence.”
  • Of course, the two leads went on to be Captain Kirk and Lovey Howell.