I realize the expression “late to the party” doesn’t even begin to describe my situation, but now that John Scoleri and Peter Enfantino have expertly explicated all 67 episodes on their ambitious and highly entertaining blog A Thriller a Day (ATAD), I finally have the Image Entertainment 14-DVD boxed set of the entire series. (It was supposed to be a belated birthday present—from last June—but that’s another story.) I won’t waste your time or mine by rehashing their post on Matheson’s sole episode, “The Return of Andrew Bentley,” yet this does give me an opportunity to discuss the audio commentary, one of those special features that have Thriller fans so excited.
Matheson adapted this second-season script from the story by H.P. Lovecraft disciple August Derleth and Mark Shorer, which debuted in Weird Tales in September 1932. It appeared in their 1966 Arkham House collection Colonel Markesan and Less Pleasant People, whose title tale became another memorable Thriller episode, “The Incredible Doktor Markesan.” Ellis Corbett (director John Newland) inherits the home of his uncle, Amos Wilder (Terence de Marney), and joins forces with Dr. Weatherbee (Philip Bourneuf) and Rev. Burkhardt (Oscar Beregi) to protect Amos’s remains from ghostly sorcerer Bentley (Reggie Nalder) and his familiar (Tom Hennesy).
Image provides commentaries by various genre historians for almost half of the episodes, and the pedigree of those tackling “Bentley” is impeccable. Gary Gerani was one of the producers of those very same DVD special features, while novelist and screenwriter David J. Schow, as well as being a Thriller aficionado and the author of The Outer Limits Companion, is cited more than once in Richard Matheson on Screen. Perhaps not coincidentally, Messrs. Scoleri and Enfantino will be giving The Outer Limits the ATAD treatment on their newest blog, We Are Controlling Transmission (hereinafter WACT, pronounced “whacked”), which debuts on New Year’s Day.
Gerani and Schow intone the inevitable litany of other genre credits for the cast and crew, e.g., Antoinette Bower (featured as Ellis’s wife, Sheila), who starred in “Waxworks” and “Catspaw,” written by Robert Bloch for Thriller and Star Trek, respectively. Newland is best known for helming and hosting every episode of One Step Beyond (aka Alcoa Presents) and directing Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973). Ken Renard, who played ill-fated caretaker Jacob, was also seen in Newland’s “Pigeons from Hell,” widely regarded as Thriller’s finest episode, and de Marney appropriately appeared in the Lovecraft film Monster of Terror (aka Die, Monster, Die, 1965).
“Bentley” is well-regarded among Thriller experts, popping up on several top ten lists by the ATAD creators and commentators (who occasionally included yours truly), and Gerani and Schow have fun enumerating sets and visual motifs familiar from other episodes. Thriller was produced by Universal’s television arm, Revue Studios, and they point out that although the whale-like face of the Lovecraftian familiar (with Jack Barron’s makeup obscured by a smeared lens) was unique in the Universal canon, his claws were in fact those of the Creature from the Black Lagoon! Aptly, Hennesy played the Gill Man on land in Revenge of the Creature (1955).
Gerani and Schow observe that while Matheson typically depicts an element of the extraordinary intruding on the lives of ordinary people, the average episode of Thriller inverts this framework, with ordinary people like the Corbetts intruding on extraordinary events. They argue that he and Thriller were perhaps not the best match, a sentiment Matheson might share. Despite publishing two stories (“Wet Straw” and “Slaughter House”) in Weird Tales himself, he noted in one of our Filmfax interviews that he did not care for Lovecraft’s kind of writing, and lamented the changes made to his teleplay, which toned down the bantering relationship he’d intended for the Corbetts.