Although low budget, with occasional wobbly sets and dubious landscapes, the series is almost always terrifically professional and has an art for pacing and atmosphere that most of today's shows cannot match. They may seem dated to some, but that's only because we are not used to seeing what are essentially filmed plays, heavily studio bound that concentrates on invoking the viewer's imagination rather than showing bloody realism. No hand-held cameras or state of the art effects here.
But apart from solid plots, well told, there is terrific acting with some of the best character actors of the time (British and American), some of whom are no longer with us, others in the fledgling years of a good career. Especially memorable are Michael Jayston, Donna Mills, Helen Mirren, Denholm Elliot, Anthony Valentine, Robert Powell, Bradford Dillman, Diana Dors and Norman Eshley (as a chilling psychopath in "The Colour of Blood"). Best of all however is the American, Gary Collins, who was in 3 episodes and was excellent in all of them.
There are all types of Thrillers here; espionage, supernatural and sometimes just straightforward whodunits. In one of the most famous episodes, "A Coffin for the Bride", the action is actually from the point of view of the murderer, played to great effect by the charming but deadly Michael Jayston (who gives another predatory and memorable performance as the butler from hell in "Ring Once for Death")
Stalking is sometimes a theme, although each episode that tackles it finds its own angle. In one of the most edge-of-seat episodes - "I'm the Girl he wants to kill", a knife-wielding maniac pursues a woman in an empty office block at night. But the episode that opens the 4th series - "Screamer" - is more of a slow-burner and no less effective for that. A young woman's fear of a railroad rapist is the basis for a gripping psychological thriller.
But the best episodes, in my opinion, are those where a clever idea is developed and used to hook the audience into always wondering what will happen next. In "A Killer in Every Corner", 3 students are invited to the house of a renowned psychologist to discuss his experiments, unaware of how much of a role they are to play in them. And in "The Next Voice You See", a sightless pianist at a busy party recognizes the voice of the man who had blinded him in a bank robbery years earlier. Sometimes it is the seeming clash of 2 stories that creates a situation that is awash with possibilities. In "The Crazy Kill", Denholm Elliott plays a doctor whose wife may or may not be neurotic. But that's not half of the problem as two escaped prisoners are on the way to his house. "The Double Kill" sets off an intriguing tale when a husband who boasts about his expensive possessions to anyone who will listen comes face to face with an intruder in his house...
The first season starts promisingly, although some of the episodes are short of the quality that is to be found in seasons 2, 3, 4 and, up to a point, season 5. There are, however, 2 unusual episodes in the second season. "K is for Killing" is done rather tongue-in-cheek, and instead of delivering the usual tight plot, it concentrates more on the relationship between the husband and wife private detectives. Consequently, it unfolds rather slowly and is not to everyone's tastes, but I thought it was reasonable, even though almost every attempt at comedy falls flat.
"Who Killed Lamb?" is a detective story rather than a thriller. In fact, it was made by a different company entirely and is only included here because, at the time, it was incorrectly advertised as a Thriller, but its very well written and certainly worth seeing.
Apart from the ones I have already mentioned, especially notable are "Only a Scream Away", "Sign it Death", "Nurse Will Make it Better" and, probably the most well crafted of the lot, - "In the Steps of a Dead Man". In fact, only when the series reaches the end of Season 5 with the weak and confusing "Murder Motel" does it really start to flag. The final Season (6) throws up (at least) two turkeys. Ironically, the production values had noticeably increased by then, but this seems almost to its detriment in episodes such as "Kill Two Birds". With its proliferation of characters and locations it offers none of the atmosphere and expectation that became the hallmark of the series and it seems more like an episode of "The Sweeney" than one of the greatest Anthologies ever broadcast on T.V.
Season 1 (10 episodes): 5.5 (out of 10)
Season 2 (8 episodes) 6.5
Season 3 (6 episodes) 7
Season 4 (6 episodes) 7
Season 5 (7 episodes) 6.5
Season 6 (7 episodes) 5
Viewed today, despite a few fairly obvious plots and occasional clunkers, there is still a lot to enjoy. Every show is bolstered by a starry cast, which reads like a who's who of 70s TV, often including an American leading lady in distress to assist with overseas sales. The stories unfold at a pace that sometimes seems slow, but allows a lot of atmosphere and tension to build. Okay, so with a limited cast and with one of the characters usually catching on to what is happening and being killed for their trouble around the end of reel two, the ending is not always a surprise, but there is usually a twist or two and of course there are always the excellent performances. The stories are often set firmly in the stockbroker belt, so the sets are also a feast for the eyes. All in all, they are like watching whodunnit theatre plays in your own living room, and none the worse for that.
Its hard to single out individual episodes, but the more well known include One Deadly Owner, about a haunted car helping Donna Mills and Jermey Brett to solve a murder, and Ring Once for Death, where Nyree Dawn Porter is slowly poisoned by her smooth butler, played by a young Michael Jayston. Occasional changes of pace didn't work, such as K is for Killing when Gayle Hunnicutt and Stephen Rea (10 years before The Crying Game)played a wise-cracking husband and wife detective team which jarred with the normal tone of the episodes, but with few exceptions this was a very consistent series from the master of TV writing in the 60s and 70s, Brian Clemens.
With no less than 43 episodes and some extras, this box set represents good value for money, even if most buyers will already have purchased the first 10 episodes separately when they were released last year. The programmes were re-edited for American TV with newly filmed front and end titles. The makers of this DVD have thankfully restored the more tasteful British titles, but include the US titles for good measure at the end of each episode. They are interesting to watch (once), but thank goodness for the restoration as the US titles cheapen what are otherwise classy and first rate pieces of 70s TV history.
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