THRILLER - THE COMPLETE SERIES (Re-printed
from The Mausoleum Club)
At last the complete 43 episode run of Brian Clemens' classic anthology series Thriller is available to buy on dvd. This sixteen-disc mega set is described by Network itself as an "ultra premium" release, and how! From the source materials and the restoration through to the packaging and authoring, this set bears all the hallmarks of being lovingly assembled like few dvds ever are.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Thriller was an anthology of suspense, mystery and supernatural tales made by the defunct ITV giant ATV between 1973 and 1976. The episodes were of a slightly odd length, most being around the 65 minute mark as they were also made to screen concurrently in the US in the ABC's late night "Wide World Of Mystery" slot. All 43 were devised and largely written by Brian Clemens, a familiar name to every fan of telefantasy programmes from the 60s and 70s, and were produced very much to his own specifications. In fact his high profile presence during the making of the series alienated at least one director who was not accustomed to this type of "interference", however it did result in a very homogenous series that never strayed far from its creator's vision.
The episodes encompassed a large range of themes, most depicting some disturbingly familiar setting into which a malevolent presence (supernatural or otherwise) was injected. The style was very much in that of Hitchcock, with many subtle references to his work, and in fact Francois Truffaut's epic interview with Hitchcock (published as a paperback) was the "bible" for the series. The tone tended to vary from episode to episode, some being outrightly humorous ("K Is For Killing" and "The Next Scream You Hear") and others (such as "Death In Deep Water") played deadly serious. The pace also varied, with some ("Possession" or "Won't Write Home") played for maximum suspense whilst others ("I'm The Girl He Wants To Kill") moving at breakneck speed. The acting style was reminiscent of that seen in the Avengers series overseen by Clemens, played in a more theatrical and eccentric way than the typical British dramas of the time. The generous budget allocated to the series also meant that almost every episode featured a well known face from British tv, whilst also stretching to roping in a US guest star for most episodes. Just some of the better known stars include Peter Vaughn, Brian Blessed, Richard Vernon, Denholm Elliot, Jenny Agutter, Hayley Mills... and many more.
The technical aspects of this set are happily a triumph. It all began two years ago when the original 2 inch masters were located, catalogued and remastered to Digibeta tape at great expense by Carlton and the British Film Institute. These digital copies were then handed over last year to the team at BBC Resources responsible for the outstanding restoration work on "The Goodies" and "Dr Who". A brief restoration featurette shows how dropouts, banding, scratches and cross-colour PAL artifacts were removed from the videotaped sequences, including a remarkable demonstration of how the telecine flicker and colour grading errors were fixed on the filmed sequences:
The authoring done at Network is also good, with all the dual-layer discs almost fully packed (with only a slight waste of disc space needed to ensure that the layer changes occur at the beginning of a scene rather than in the middle). The episodes have never looked so good. Non-UK fans may be rather disappointed to find that unlike Granada's S1 box there are no subtitles and the discs are strictly Region 2. However, with imminent releases in both Australia and the US this is perhaps not so important.
A generous array of extras are also included, from the original VT "timeclock" slates at the start of every episode (hit the BACK button on your remote to see these - they are "hidden") through to the American-made "movie version" title sequences thrown in at the end of each installment. The original ATV "zoom" idents and adcaps are also all present for added authenticity. Further extras include a splendid new 11 minute interview with Brian Clemens (now sounding uncannily like Freddy the bartender in "A Coffin For The Bride"), a gorgeous 20 minute slideshow with hundreds of original publicity photos and "fisheyes", a collection of hilariously awful US-made trailers for the movie versions, script PDFs for two episodes and a PDF collection of original set designs. Capping off the extras are the Yorkshire TV play "Who Killed Lamb?" which was for some unfathomable reason billed as a Thriller episode (it isn't, although it's a great play!) at the time, and a bizarre experimental version of "If It's A Man - Hang Up!" which is now believed to be the actual original UK broadcast.
Two curiosities are the version of "If It's A Man Hang Up" on Disc 11 and "Nurse Will Make It Better" on Disc 9, both of which are the versions as screened on ABC (US) in the 70s. The titles are slightly different (especially at the end!) and the latter includes a couple of minutes of extra scenes not seen in the ATV version (sadly and innexplicably missing from this collection although it was screened on Bravo in 1996). Someone it seems has gone to enormous trouble to "upgrade" the lo-fi ntsc pictures for these two by pasting in the superior visuals from the PAL movie versions where possible, and adding UK-style adcaps for the latter (unfortunately placed in the wrong spot - "Part Two" of Nurse Will Make It Better should be at 21'47" not 28'16", and "Part Three" should be at 42'23" not 46'22"). More evidence of the enormous effort that has gone into creating this set.
Lastly, the sleeves, the menus and the box itself are all highly "authentic" and put to shame the tatty and error-ridden Series 1 box released by Granada Ventures last year. Much praise to whoever was responsible for these. The inner sleeves include basic information like cast details, broadcast dates etc, followed by the original ITC synopsis for each episode (brief but informative and spoiler free).
And the price - £75 online - is so low as to be unbelievable. For a collection of this quality you'd expect to pay at least twice that. Even those who bought the short lived Granada S1 box last September will be getting a bargain. And Granada could never, ever have produced such a stunning and comprehensive set. Well done to everyone involved!