Thursday, November 16, 2023



The spider web fills the screen, it's Boris Karloff's THRILLER!

Season: 2, Episode: 16.
Airdate: January 8, 1962.

Director: Herschel Daugherty.
Writer: Robert Bloch, based on his short story.
Cast: Oskar Homolka, Ron Ely, Alan Baxter, Booth Colman, Antoinette Bower.
Music: Morton Stevens.
Cinematography: Benjamin Kline.
Producer: William Frye.

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “I can not tell a lie. I cut it with my hatchet. A very famous quote from an even more famous gentleman. But his good father had no trouble obtaining the confession - afterall his victim was nothing more than a cherry tree. While ours? Ours was living flesh and blood. I wonder if an admission of guilt can be extracted from a chap who, as we have heard, has already been executed. Not once, not twice, but three times. Yes, my friends, Vardack the mass murderer certainly should be harmless now. Now that he’s merely a cleverly molded figure in the waxworks. Which, as it so happens, is the setting and the title of our story. A moving amidst models of monsters and murderers you will encounter some very real people. Our players. And they are: Pierre Jacquelin, Master sculptor whose wax companions include no less than fifty of the world’s most diabolical murderers, played by Oskar Homolka. His niece, Annette, beautiful, beguiling, a pleasant contrast to her sinister surroundings, played by Antoinette Bower. Colonel Bertroux, a pursuer as relentless as he is mysterious, portrayed by Martin Kosleck. Detective Hudson, a very young man in a very dangerous business, played by Ron Ely. His more seasoned colleague, Sargent Dane, who is to learn that flesh and blood murderers are much easier to capture than the other kind, enacted by Alan Baxter. And Lieutenant Baily, whose not so enviable responsibility it is to solve the mystery of the waxworks, portrayed by Booth Colman. So come, let us go into the chamber of horrors together! I’ll vouch for the fact that you’ll enjoy yourselves, and it’ll be interesting to see if you can find your way out... alone!

Synopsis: Pierre Jacquelin (Homolka) owns a traveling wax museum of killers, and shows a tour around. Each diorama shows the killer in the act. All look very lifelike... and one of the guests thinks one of the statues are moving. A pretty woman (Amy Fields) is sketching one of the killers - Vardack - who has a bloody ax, and Jacquelin notes that her sketch missed the lift in the killer’s right shoe - one leg was shorter than the other. It’s closing time and everyone leaves... except for the woman who lurks behind finishing her sketch, and is now locked in with the 50 wax killers. The wax figure of killer Vardack that she sketched begins walking towards her - great suspense! We see the feet - one shoe with the lift - as they stalk her in the dark housed of wax. Closer and closer and closer and... She gets to the doors and tries to get out...

The City Morgue: Lt. Baily (Booth Coleman) and Sgt Dane (Alan Baxter) ask the Morgue Attendant (J. Pat O’Malley) about cause of death and other clues - she was killed with the ax, and they will have to wait for the Medical Examiner to finish up with another customer before they can get details. There’s a great bit here where the Morgue Attendant opens one of the refrigerated drawers with a dead body and pulls out his lunch - hey, just keeping it cold! Lots of witty lines.

Police Station: The Detectives look over the victim’s persona; effects... and the sketch pad. The drawing of the man with the ax... her killer? Did she know her killer? And why would he *pose* with the murder weapon? They can’t identify the man in the sketch, so Sgt Dane goes to the Waxworks to interview Jacquelin.

Waxworks: Sgt Dane shows the sketch to Jacquelin and ask if he has ever seen this man. He has... and leads the cop to the diorama of the ax murderer. What? Jacquelin expects them to believe that a wax dummy murdered the girl? That’s crazy! There are 50 wax murderers in the waxworks, Jacquelin knows a lot about murder. Dane asks if Jacquelin has an alibi for the time of death, and his niece steps out of the shadows and says they were working on a new exhibit. When Jacqueline goes to show a group around the waxworks, Sgt Dane question his pretty niece Annette (Antoinette Bower)..

Dane asks if he can search the studio - and Annette allows him to poke around. There is a vat of wax, a work bench, all kinds of wax body parts - it’s spooky as heck! Dane wants to open a closed door, Annette tries to stop him... too late! The Detective opens the closet door and there is a *man* inside. An old bearded man! And he falls out - right at the Detective! Who catches him. Annette moves in to help - it’s a wax dummy. The very one that Jacquelin was working on last night. This is a great shock moment.

After he is satisfied that Jacquelin isn’t the killer, Sgt Dane asks if he can buy Jacquelin dinner and they walk down the foggy street at night... when they hear the roar of a car engine. The car zooms right at them - hitting and killing Sgt Dane! Behind the wheel of the car: The wax dummy that was in the closet!

After Jacquelin makes her statement at the police station, handsome young Detective Hudson takes her home. Meanwhile, Detective Baily has a theory - what if the killer is after Annette? He mistook the artist girl for Annette, and then the car was trying to kill her instead of Sgt, Dane.

As Hudson walks her home, a man follows them in the shadows. They stop at a Chinese restaurant for dinner, and afterwards each lies about what their fortune cookie says. Annette says it reads “Don’t stay out to late on the first date” - when it really says “Beware of the dark stranger.”

Just when they may be about to kiss, the man who was following steps out of the shadows with a gun! He is Colonel Bertroux (Martin Kosleck) - and Detective Baily and Jacquelin blast out of the waxworks doors and tackle him... arresting him for both murders.

Except he’s not the killer - he’s a French detective who has been tracking a serial killer. This serial killer seems to strike wherever the waxworks sets up shop. Every city in Europe where the exhibition set up camp was plagued with killings. Bertroux’s investigation has found no evidence against Jacquelin nor Annette... He believes the wax figures may be doing the killings. The M.O.s for all of the killings have matched the 50 wax figure’s killings. Bertroux has the crazy idea that the wax figures can come to life, and rattles off a series of legends and myths about statues coming to life. He’s wacky!

But Sgt, Dane was killed by a car - none of the wax killers used an automobile. Bertroux says there was a killer who murdered with a car... and the name is the same name as the new wax figure that was in the closet!

The spooky waxworks at night. Pounding at the door. Annette opens the door - to Colonel Bertroux, who has a crazy theory that Jacquelin is stealing hairs from the killers when he makes his death masks and is using black magic to bring them to life. Dude be crazy! He wants to confront Jacquelin, breaks down the bedroom door and pulls back the covers... exposing a wax figure in Jacquelin’s bed. What?

Then Bertroux hears footsteps coming closer. The hook handed killer wax figure enters the room, raises his hook... and kills Bertroux! The wax figures ARE alive!

Lt Baily and Detective Hudson pound on the door of the waxworks - they were following Bertroux. They break down the door and enter the dark, spooky waxworks - filled with 50 wax killers! They pass a wax killer with a huge butcher knife poised to stab a woman - he looks so real! Then Baily realizes that Hudson is no longer behind him, and re-traces his steps. This time the wax killer’s hand is empty - no butcher knife. The knife is in dead Hudson’s back!

A door pops open behind Baily, he spins - it’s Jacquelin. With Bertroux’s gun. Bertroux is in the bubbling caldron of wax in the workshop. Baily says he went through Bertroux’s files before coming here - evidence of murders throughout Europe, wherever the traveling Waxworks was. Baily thinks that the murders were not committed by wax figures, but by a man who disguised himself as those wax figures: Jacquelin.

They wrestle for the gun, Baily manages to grab it. Asks where Jacquein’s niece is. “I have no niece... she is my wife.” Baily opens a closet door and there is Annette... except she’s freakin’ ancient! And a wax figure. You see, she was a murderer witch who was executed and Jacquelin used black magic to bring here back - stole her body and molded wax over her dead form - a wax figure that comes alive. He needs fresh blood to keep her alive - hence the victims. Obviously he’s crazy. He takes a candle to illuminate her face... then tries to grab Baily’s gun. In the struggle Jacquelin is killed and the candle lights the wax figure of Annette and she burns - exposing a skull and skeleton underneath!

Jacquelin wasn’t crazy - Annette was really a wax figure come to life!

Review: This is a great creepy episode, with lots of suspense and twists... Daugherty was one of the “staff directors” and sometimes his episodes are great and sometimes they seem rushed for time (it’s TV, and you have to shoot the episode in time for it to air or there will just be a test pattern). But I wonder how much the writer ended up part of that equation? Robert Bloch is one of mt favorite horror writers, and his work was frequently adapted for THRILLER and often - like in this case - by his own hand. I learned a lot about creating dread and terror by reading his stories, and I assume that he carried those techniques over into his teleplays. If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage! How many of the scary episodes are due to suspense scenes being in the screenplay, so that they were scheduled into the shoot? That opening scene where the wax killer stalks the woman trapped in the waxworks after closing could have just been: “Vardack kills her” in the script, and scheduled as a couple of seconds of screen time - with only a few minutes to shoot. But if it had been written out as a suspense scene, they would have scheduled more time to shoot it and there would have been time to get all of those creepy shots. Could that be the reason why the same director has different results?

Oskar Homolka was a silent star in Austria back in 1926 who became one of Hitchcock’s great villains ten years later in SABOTAGE, and spent 50 years in the business playing all kinds of great roles including Russian Colonel Stok in a couple of the Harry Palmer movies. He was one of those dependable character actors who could show up for work and knock it our of the park. He’s so charming, here, that you know why he has evaded the police for so long.

Ron Ely is impossibly young in this episode. A few years later he would play Tarzan, and so far he is the only one to play Doc Savage on film. Antoinette Bower began her career in a TV version of Poe’s TELLTALE HEART and has had a huge TV career including playing Berlin Betty on HOGAN’S HEROES and played the principal’s wife in PROM NIGHT... and is still with us. Martin Kosleck had a career playing Nazis in movies and on TV (HOGAN’S HEROES), but I know him as the homeless guy sleeping in the windmill in FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT. Alan Baxter was in Hitchcock’s SABOTEUR.

The story is a semi reworking of Bloch’s YOURS TRULY JACK THE RIPPER with a series of murders that fallow the pattern of previous murders and the driven expert from across the pond who aids the police in their investigation... but also is one of the prime suspects. But the whole things gets a fresh coat of paint and a completely different concept. Instead of Jack The Ripper, we get the very creepy idea of house of wax killers coming to life. Instead of the victims being women and that trip to a 60s strip club, most of the victims are men and we focus on the super creepy house of wax at night. So Bloch took the skeleton of the story and jettisoned everything else, creating a completely new story. I find this stuff interesting. If you are making a living writing and selling short stories, you have to keep turning them out! How do you keep that up? One of the way Lester Dent (Doc Savage) managed to write a novel (or two) a month was to have a handful of story patterns - or formulas - that he could use as the skeleton. You can read all of those books back to back and they seem like completely different stories because the details are different. Here, Jack The Ripper being split up into the 50 wax killers in the house of wax - and the completely different resolution - make it a completely new story. All of the scenes are different. The skeleton is similar.

After last week’s crime story disguised as a horror story (the dream sequence opening), we’re back to real horror - and this is a fun, creepy episode! Next week - a period episode about witches!

- Bill

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