It's funny that most people today would have no idea what a scythe was if not for the Grim Reaper, and that is only because the iconic image was formed at a time when that tool was in common use. The Grim Lawnmower Guy just doesnt have the same impact, you know?
Anyway, this episode is great stuff. It really suckered me into thinking it was going to go one way when it was really setting me up for the big revelation. At its best, THRILLER doesn't seem like the typical dopey TV show (of any era) as much as each episode has the feel of a really good B-movie from the time. The lighting and staging are carefully done in a way we don't see these days. Jeery Goldsmith turns in one of the best scores ever, it's full blown Scary Music that isn't embarrrassed to go for it and be creepy as hell.
This is a haunted painting story. I have read so many of them over the years that they usually don't sink in, but this one really works. The idea is unnerving when you think about it, there is something fundamentally spooky about images in paintings or mirrors or even TV screens (as we saw in THE RING). I guess we react to them not with our rational modern outlook but with a deep primitive part of our brains, and the idea of something like this taking on a life of its own triggers the Uncanny Valley in full force.
Here we are dealing with a painting of the traditional robed skeleton holding a scythe. In a brief prologue set in 1848, Henry Daniell (not looking too healthy himself) barges into the studio of his hard-drinking demented artist son to find that the lad has hanged himself and is dangling in front of the painting. (With typical Robert Bloch dialogue*, the father says, "His last picture. At least he finished it." And the landlady replies "Perhaps the picture finished him.) Then we go to good old Boris Karloff welcoming us to another episode. These introductions are a delight. Karloff is not quite being silly, there is still a bit of menace in his expressions, but he has just enough of the light touch of self-spoofing,
Paul Graves (William Shatner, not quite as hammy and overblown as he soon became) visits his wealthy Aunt Bea. She is a mystery writer who has done well and has cultivated an eccentric persona. (Natalie Schaeffer plays Bea as kind of brittle and coy, but that is another Bloch trait... lot of his characters spoke in too-clever phrasing.) Paul has come to warn Aunt Bea about the danger she faces because she has just purchased the Henri Radin painting THE GRIM REAPER. He launches into a grim lecture on how fifteen of the painting's owners have died sudden nd violent deaths. When he touches the scythe in the painting, he has fresh blood on his fingers.
Eeek. But then, the story turns into a regular crime melodrama. Bea is married to a sleazy playboy who is also putting the moves on her blonde live-in secretary and he wouldn't mind having the older woman suddenly die so he can inherit the house and shag the secretary. Everyone is tense and uneasy, Aunt Bea drinks way too much brandy and takes a dive down the staircase. It looks like one of the characters has devious plans involving murder for the others, and we see it unfold. But dont count out the genuine supernatural just yet....
I'm really enjoying these THRILLER shows, and I think I will space them out a bit so as not to burn out. I tend to go overboard at first with my various enthusiasms.
*He adapted a pulp story by Harold Lawlor.