A Place to Die, from Thriller, the classic anthology series, makes a contribution to the British folk-horror cycle – RICHARD PHILLIPS-JONES investigates…
TITLE: Thriller – A Place To Die
BROADCAST: 26 May 1973
STARRING: Alexandra Hay, Bryan Marshall
WRITER: Terence Feely, from a story by Brian Clemens
DIRECTOR: Peter Jefferies
Dr. Bruce Nelson (Bryan Marshall) arrives in a small village to take up his new post, accompanied by his wife Tessa (Alexandra Hay), who is recovering from a skiing accident which has left her with a limp from the left foot. She’s not alone in this particular affliction, as it seems that an inordinately high percentage of the local population has a similar disability.
The doctor quite flippantly puts this down to inbreeeding, but the locals soon take to Tessa as one of their own, after the housekeeper in residence (Lila Kaye) shares excited news of the new arrival with her neighbours.
In a serious case of getting the wrong end of the stick, Tessa is being hailed as the arrival of a sacred deity in the locals’ own brand of religion. Meanwhile, the housekeeper’s visiting niece is being lined up for a particularly sinister farewell.
Then there’s the village idiot of sorts, Mad Nick (Juan Moreno), who treats Tessa like royalty – where exactly does he fit into all of this? And what is the festival that the locals call Lady Day?
Thriller takes a full-on dive into folk-horror territory, in the first episode not actually scripted by Brian Clemens, but by the prolific Terence Feely. However, as with subsequent entries handled by outside writers, Clemens created the actual storyline before passing them to writers he felt he could trust to keep the basic feel of the Thriller format.
Looking at the episode today, it could be argued that the story doesn’t spring any great surprises as it unfolds, but it’s worth remembering one important point: Back in 1973, such horror tropes weren’t as ingrained in our national psyche as they are now. To put that into perspective, this episode aired some five months before The Wicker Man was released.
One touch which perhaps still remains fresh, however is a slight ambiguity to the ending, as a central character declares in their own way that they cannot accept the last hour’s events as the work of anything supernatural. Are they trying to convince themselves as much as anything?
A Place to Die’s fantastic supporting cast alone makes this a delight to watch, and there is much fun to be had spotting familiar faces from classic British film and TV. Who would have thought that Young Mr. Grace from Are You Being Served, Private Godfrey from Dad’s Army and Dave, the barman from Minder were all in cahoots in such diabolical activities?
TRIVIA POINTS: Housekeeper Lila Kaye would later appear as the landlady of The Slaughtered Lamb pub in An American Werewolf In London.
Terence Feely would script eight episodes of the series in total, having previously worked for Clemens on The Avengers. His other distinguished credits at this point included The Prisoner and U.F.O., as well as a stint as Paramount’s foreign story head. He would later create the ground-breaking, female-led police drama The Gentle Touch (1980-84).
A Place to Die was another Thriller episode which fell victim to a new title sequence tacked on for later syndicated screenings. Not only did it manage to give virtually the entire plot away before the show even started properly, but it also ended up looking like a cut-price version of The Devil Rides Out, witless in every sense.