Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Dark And Stormy Night, #2: Thriller

Despite this horrific experience, and the tremendous risk to my psyche, I watched other thrillers of this genre over the years and found I enjoy them immensely.  They are highly intellectual and rarely do they contain superior acting, for rarely is the actor called upon to display more subtlety than badly hidden jealousy.

One cannot make such carefully plotted dramas out of thin air. There are rules to these thrillers.  First of all, the space must be limited.  At first it was because most of the thrillers were originally performed in the theatre, but  later it was a standard of itself.   The space could be a single room, like the Spider’s Web, an apartment or a house,  or perhaps a manor, but one cannot just be wandering about the countryside namby-pamby like that Mr. Holmes.  The cast is also limited.  No more than eight members, and it could possibly be limited to two.  It has been mentioned that the classic number is five. 

Of course, there must be a murder, or at least the plotting or suspicion of a murder.  And there must be detection.  The putting together of the pieces is traditionally done by a detective, whether of the police or private.  Sometimes the plot is puzzled together by another party, but it is done through many twists, some surprises and multiple red herrings.

One more rule: there must be two acts.  Again, this is a device borrowed from theatre, but it gives some structure.  In the first act, the murder is committed and the basic plot is revealed.  In the second act, the original act comes to fruition, twists multiply, and, in the best thrillers,  the plot goes in directions we never would have suspected.

The thriller might seem stilted to some with so many rules.  But the best writers can make the tightest sonnet seem free of all restrictions.  Even so with the best thrillers.  In my next post, I will give spoiler-free descriptions of my favorites of the genre.


  1. Speaking of thrillers, I've always found the lable confusing. What is the difference between crime, thriller and action movies? I've never been able to see the distinction. They're exctiting and they contain an element of violance or at least unmoral or criminal actions. But can't you say that about all?

  2. I really wish there were better titles. Why are they called "thrillers"? I mean, it's just a version of crime drama. You note that when Michael Jackson did his song "Thriller", he implied the old monster movies, which are really a version of "horror". "Action" is something else that has to do with explosions, chases and guns. In "Dial M for Murder" there wasn't a gun, only a scarf, a pair of stockings and a pair of scissors.

    In the end, I have no idea. "Thriller" is better defined than most, though.