Thriller: Kill Two Birds

This post is about the Thriller episode Kill Two Birds (1976) which I think might have been released as Cry Terror in some markets.

Since my last post I hatched a plan to write alternating posts about Tales of Unease and Thriller, simply because I don't want to rush through the seven episodes of Tales of Unease and thought they might compare and contrast well to another anthology series. I hadn't watched any Thriller for several years, although a few episodes have appeared here before, so it seemed the obvious choice. And this is where my plan hit a snag, which is that I frankly found myself wondering why I had bothered to keep the boxed set of Thriller at all, apart from a few episodes.

So in the past week I have actually watched the whole of Thriller and can confirm that my personal preference would be for Tales of Unease anyday. Thriller struggles with a few disadvantages to my mind: the episodes are too long and the available material would be enough for a shorter programme, is the chief one. On the other hand it has the HUGE advantage of Brian Clemens and looking, feeling and sounding very much like The Avengers, which makes me wonder whether this is one of the things which explains its huge popularity.

I've chosen Kill Two Birds which has even more in the way of advantages because you will find that every single online review comments that it's different from every other Thriller episode: in fact I would go so far as to say this is far more like a show made up of random spare parts left over from The Avengers and repurposed for use in the 1970s. In fact I would go so far as to say that this is what The Avengers SHOULD have been rather than The New Avengers, because it reproduces the magical formula far better: it takes place in Avengerland, it's unreal, it has a cast of caricatures rather than characters, it's sinister, it spends a lot of time in atmospheric stuff which doesn't drive the plot on, and at the end we all pour a gin and put the flag up. The nation is saved!

It also has the massive advantage of a cast which is almost entirely made up of really Big Names who are perfectly capable of acting a role and keeping out of their own way, so since they can't be avoided I'm going to give a quick run down on some of them and make reference to the caricatures/archetypes they play. John Bailey plays the character we all have to root for, the incredibly drunken struck-off doctor, since he's obviously the fallen good man who is Our Sort of Person. David Daker plays the innocent man running into a den of thieves role, even though his character is a villain really. Susan Hampshire and Gabrielle Drake (both British actresses) play the stereotypical American tourists wandering into the dangerous country; these are the roles that really take this into Avengers territory because they are both so obviously not American that they instantly add an element of unreality while managing not to be suspicious in comparison to the sheer volume of menace going on elsewhere in the cast. Bob Hoskins plays the archetypal sexy country man (think Seth in Cold Comfort Farm), all body hair and pecs in a tight t-shirt; cf the yokels who fancy Mrs Peel in Murdersville. The completely urbane and charming Dudley Sutton does a superlative job as the embodiment of cold calculating villainy; here you can think of pretty much any villain ever. I literally can't overstate how good this cast of recognisable actors are at being the larger than life characters, and you don't get distracted from the show into thinking 'Oh look there's Benedict Crumblysnatch'.

I blithely commented above that the episode is set in Avengerland and so it is. At least it's filmed in Avengerland despite being notionally set in Dorset, by which of course I mean it's set in a fictional eternal England. It's fictional because nothing is happening. We see a garage which is in the middle of nowhere and apparently frequented only by criminals and a farm which is completely derelict. That's the kind of unreality we all dream of.

You can tell that this is quality television by the way it can be read several different ways. For example Richard Phillips-Jones on the Spooky Isles blog here talks about how the show also references The Sweeney (something I haven't touched on at all, although the police are both stupid and bullies, so obviously this is a realistic depiction), the visual similarity to Public Information Films of the seventies particularly the famous Apaches (which was made in 1977 after this show, but they may both have picked up the sense of danger in the air at the time), and the gritty interpretation of unromanticised England as seen in the derelict farm buildings.

The plot, as such, is basically relatively simple: there are two concurrent threads. One is about a villain released from prison who is after the wages of sin and gets caught up in some other villains also looking for the money. The other is about two American tourists in Europe. These two threads eventually collide into each other and become a hostage situation when the many threads get resolved. If there is a criticism it is possibly that there is no much material in this episode it could possibly have been a whole film and it certainly needs more than one viewing to get the threads sorted.

The car the girls are driving is of course an Austin Maxi, popularly known as the last chance hatchback (last chance for British Leyland, that is). This was a truly disastrous car with compromises made at all stages of planning and I honestly can't tell you why it's got so many enthusiasts in the classic car world. The physics teacher at my school had one, and if you had physics last period you would be guaranteed to get off on time because he would pack up his stuff as the time approach and run out of the door as the bell went. This was so that he could race the entire school down the stairs and demand any passing boys to push his Maxi down the hill to start it.

My absolutely favourite bit is the yokel Dorset policemen, guaranteed to get any city dweller going Oo-ar oo-ar oo-ar!

Highly recommended.

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  1. I'll have to check this one out as well! Thanks, John--Happy Christmas to you, and thanks for all the great pieces you've written over the years. It's always a pleasure reading them!

    1. Many thanks Mitchell and for many honorific mentions. Happy Christmas to you and your family too!


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