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Thriller (1973-76)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Thriller (1973-76)
ATV/ITC for ITV, 14/3/1973-4/11/1975
43 x 75 minutes, colour
CreatorBrian Clemens
DirectorsShaun O'Riordan
 James Ormerod
 John Sichel
Writers includeBrian Clemens
 Terry Nation
 Dennis Spooner

Cast includes: Jenny Agutter, Ian Bannen, Jeremy Brett, Joyce Carey, Tom Conti, Diana Dors, Denholm Elliot, Susan Hampshire, Gerald Harper, Nigel Havers, Ian Hendry, Bob Hoskins, Jean Kent, Michael Kitchen, John Le Mesurier, Robert Lang, Maureen Lipman, Hayley Mills, Helen Mirren, Ingrid Pitt, Robert Powell, Stephen Rea, Richard Todd, Patrick Troughton, Anthony Valentine, Peter Vaughan, Richard Vernon, Max Wall, Dennis Waterman

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Tales of mystery, suspense and the macabre

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Brian Clemens started in the film industry churning out dozens of screenplays for 'B' movies tailor-made to fit the lower berth of cinema double-bills in the 1950s and 60s. Despite The Tell-tale Heart (d. Ernest Morris, 1963), Clemens' notable excursion into period horror, these 70-minute quickies were mostly contemporary thrillers and melodramas, plotted along familiar genre lines but with narrative wrinkles added to keep audiences engaged and second-string American actors imported for overseas sales. Clemens would revive this formula intact for Thriller, an anthology of suspense dramas made to fit a 75-minute slot and which, following the series' pre-sale to the American ABC network, would mostly star Hollywood actors.

Each story opens with a dramatic pre-credit teaser followed by its distinctive fisheye lens title sequence, with the plot then unfolding over three acts. The storylines (all by Clemens, who also furnished most of the scripts) are set either in London - mainly used to play on viewer anxiety over urban anonymity, depersonalisation and violence - or in bucolic settings in the home counties, with suspense usually springing from family secrets and mysterious things found under the stairs or in the cellar. While generally eschewing violence, many stories used the supernatural to scare viewers, with mixed results: whereas 'One Deadly Owner' (tx. 16/2/1974) imaginatively combines a haunted Rolls Royce with a clever whodunit, full-blown horror stories like 'Nurse Will Make It Better' (tx. 11/1/1975), starring Diana Dors as a Satanist, fail to convince.

Alfred Hitchcock's films and television shows are clear influences throughout - 'Murder Motel' (tx. 24/5/1975) is a homage to Psycho (US, 1960) - but the best stories can easily stand on their own. Highlights include the complex, espionage-inflected 'An Echo of Theresa' (5/5/1973); 'The Colour of Blood' (tx. 12/5/1973), in which two separate plots satisfyingly collide; and the intense 'I'm the Girl He Wants to Kill' (tx. 8/6/1974), in which a silent and unnamed serial killer terrorises a woman trapped in a hermetically sealed building. Many stories sport ingenious variations on the theme of a husband or wife trying to bump off their spouse, most notably 'Lady Killer' (tx. 14/4/1973), starring a slippery Robert Powell, and the bluebeard black comedy 'A Coffin for the Bride' (1/6/1973) in which Helen Mirren gives a startling performance.

ITV screened 'Who Killed Lamb?' (tx. 16/3/1974) as part of Thriller's original run, but actually it was an unconnected one-off made by Yorkshire TV.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. Opening and titles (3:30)
2. Patterns of behaviour (2:54)
3. 'Here we go again' (3:33)
4. 'Where did you bury her?' (1:58)
Complete story: 'A Coffin for a Bride' (1:04:05)
Brett, Jeremy (1933-1995)
Clemens, Brian (1931-)
Mirren, Helen (1945-)
Powell, Robert (1944-)
Spooner, Dennis (1932-1986)