Let me assure you, my friends, this is a thriller! (host Boris Karloff)
The first horror-tinged episode in the television series Thriller is The Purple Room, written and directed by Douglas Heyes. It first aired a little ahead of Halloween on October 25th. It also scared the Dickens out of me and many other viewers, a foreshadowing that Thriller would become one of the best horror anthology series--Stephen King in his Danse Macabre considers it the best--done for the small screen.
Have you any idea what it takes to scare you or me in-between commercial interruptions (when the series originally aired)? The producers and talent behind Thriller assuredly did, once they moved away from the crime story episodes and allowed Boris Karloff, the epitome of the horror mood, to introduce his kind of story. Recently released in a complete 14 disc DVD set that includes all 67 episodes remastered, with commentary and additional features added, Thriller can be savored like a fine, tingly-tart wine: take a sip from Robert Bloch's Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper; swish around a little of Robert E. Howard's Pigeons From Hell; then gulp down Donald S. Sanford's The Incredible Dr. Markesan. If your head should get a little fuzzy, go lie down in The Purple Room.
Duncan Corey (Rip Torn) inherits a Baton Rouge Victorian mansion, complete with threadbare carpets, dreary drapes, and tragic ghost story. The will stipulates he spend one year living in the house before he rightfully owns it; that is, one year after one mandatory night spent in the desolate house, which Norman Bates recently vacated (horror fans will immediately recognize it as the Bates Mansion from Psycho). Duncan smugly agrees, knowing a land developer will pay handsomely for the property. His cousins, Oliver (Richard Anderson) and Rachel (Patricia Barry), drive him to the mansion and make sure he's made as uncomfortable as possible by telling him all the sordid details of the death and madness that took place in the purple room. Hint: they will inherit the property if he doesn't.
With no electricity, candle-light and noir shadows make the atmosphere dramatically gloomy. Duncan tells his cousins he expects them to try and scare him. He warns them he's armed and shows his handgun. He even bangs the walls looking for the secret passages they might use to skulk around in. When they drink liquor from a decantor in the purple room, he exchanges drinks in case they try to drug him. After Oliver and Rachel leave, creepy sounds of doors opening, chains rattling, and things walking around--best left unseen--begin, causing Duncan to joke how amateurish their attempt to frighten him is. But are his cousins doing it? Duncan holds our attention as he alternates between cockiness and uncertainty, making us wonder if it's real or fake, until he walks into one of those best left unseen situations.
The intense black and white chiaroscuro and Boris Karloff's signature presence make this episode a thriller best left seen.
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