TRILOGY OF TERROR
Review by Ed Nguyen
Stars: Karen Black, Robert
Burton, John Karlen, George Gaynes
Director: Dan Curtis
Audio: English monaural
Video: Color, full-screen 1.33:1
Studio: Dark Sky Films
Features: Commentary, two featurettes
Length: 72 minutes
Release Date: August 29, 2006
"This can't be happening! This can't be happening!"
Ah, 1970's TV horror - so cringingly bad and yet so very good! Anyone remember The Bermuda Depths, a creepy film about Connie Selleca and her giant sea turtle with glowing eyes? How about Gargoyles, with Stan Winston's award-winning special effects? Or The Last Dinosaur, featuring a rubber-suited Tyrannosaurus Rex chasing down Joan Van Ark? A few viewers may even recall Dark Shadows (or better yet, the spooky feature-length film based upon this seminal soap opera). But arguably, among the numerous '70's television horror flicks, none ever made a more indelible impression than did Trilogy of Terror.
This TV movie first aired on ABC on March 4, 1975. It was essentially a mini-marathon of twisted Twilight Zone-style stories, each one more demented than the last and each one featuring Karen Black as the hapless damsel in distress. While the first two segments of Trilogy of Terror can hold their own against any regular Twilight Zone episode, this television film's claim to infamy is its concluding act, Amelia, a story so unforgettably creepy that it regularly elicited nightmares in any child unfortunate enough to see it back in the 1970's. In fact, the film's cult status has only grown over the years, resulting in a 1990's sequel and even a fairly significant nod of recognition in one of the top PC computer games of the past decade.
So, without further ado, read on below for quick synopses of the chills and thrills contained in Trilogy of Terror!
The first story in the anthology involves a college student (Robert Burton). He is keen on one of his teachers, the pretty but shy Julie (Karen Black). However, the student's behavior slants beyond puppy love towards obsession, and he begins to exhibit a disturbing stalker mentality. He secretly watches Julie undressing at night through her window. He persists in asking her out, and after finally succeeding, then slips Julie a knock-out drug, brings her to a hotel room, and...well, you can guess the rest. All rather shocking material for '70's television!
Yet what starts out as a masochistic tale about male sexual predation soon develops into something altogether more sinister. Julie is not quite as helpless as she appears. Who is to say that she might not in the end turn the tables on her supposed oppressor?
2) Millicent and Therese
This segment essentially plays out like standard Twilight Zone fare. Mousy but good-hearted Millicent (Karen Black) lives in constant fear of her terrible sister, the sinful Therese (also Karen Black in a dual role). Regrettably, both siblings reside in the same family manor and must somehow tolerate one another's presence. Eventually however, Millicent can no longer bear to see the ruination of her family's reputation and so decides that, by hook or by crook, she will put a stop to her sister's evil ways!
Computer gamers today may have played the smash hit Diablo II at one time or another. They may have even been killed (and killed some more to the point of exasperation) in this game by vicious little buggers known as "fetish dolls." Well, the inspiration for these devious creepies can be found in Amelia, the last and best segment of Trilogy of Terror.
Amelia is a one-woman show (again, with Karen Black in the lead role). This latest damsel in distress has just purchased a strange Zuni voodoo doll as a birthday present for her boyfriend, an anthropologist. Amelia brings the ugly thing back home for the evening (bad idea) and, in an on-going demonstration of poor judgment, then proceeds to look over her strange little death wish.
The seemingly inanimate doll is accompanied by a scroll which bears an ominous warning - should the chain worn by the doll be removed, the spirit in the doll will become a living, vicious hunter! Naturally, Amelia inadvertently disrupts the chain while handling the doll. Not surprisingly, later that evening, the doll mysteriously vanishes, and when the confused Amelia searches her apartment, something most vile and evil suddenly attacks her from beneath the living room sofa!
So begins a frenzied, shrieking struggle for survival within the suddenly claustrophobic apartment between the panicked Amelia and a blood-thirsty and seemingly indestructible voodoo doll bent on carving Amelia into little bloody human bits!
Today, a horror film such as Trilogy of Terror, boasting no computer graphics, might appear quaint with out-dated effects. But watch this film at night, and you will discover what most filmmakers know - there's nothing quite like a crazed knife-wielding lunatic to evoke an immediate sense of utter dread and tangible fear. No amount of sophisticated computer graphics can replicate that.
Trilogy of Terror may not have a human-sized boogieman, but its demonic zuni doll more than suffices for any shortcomings. Watch this film, and you may never walk comfortably pass the doll aisle in any local toy store again. After all, dolls are just toys, right? They're not really alive or evil...right?
Video ** ½
The video quality offers the usual pale color definition typical of 70's television. Images are rendered with a mildly grainy texture and are somewhat indistinct in darker scenes. At least there is minimal dust or debris.
The audio on this film sounds like something primitive out of 1970's television. Oh wait, that's because it is! Just accept it.
This disc is certainly superior to the original 1999 bare-bones DVD release from Anchor Bay. This new release sports a commentary track and a pair of eerie featurettes. Even the start-up menu is creepy and plays enticing clips from each of the film's three segments.
The commentary track features star Karen Black and screenwriter William Nolan, who wrote the teleplays for the film's first two segments. Black discusses her characters, her ex-husband Robert Burton, and various production aspects of each of the three film segments.
"Three Colors Black" (16 min.) is a candid interview with the still-ravishing Karen Black. She discusses her start in show business, her early roles in films such as Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, and especially Trilogy of Terror. With a bit of dry wit, Black reminisces about her favorite roles in the horror film, particularly the role of Amelia. She talks about the imperfect if memorable effects work involving Trilogy of Terror's fetish doll and the general impact this cult classic has had on her life and career.
"Richard Matheson: Terror Scribe" (10 min.) is an interview with author and screenwriter Richard Matheson, whose novels include A Stir of Echoes, Hell House, and I Am Legend. Matheson conceived the storylines for all three segments for Trilogy of Terror, whose stylistic similarities to Twilight Zone is not a coincidence, considering that Matheson also wrote fourteen screenplays for this television series, too (including the famous "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" episode starring William Shatner). This interview includes clips from many films and television shows featuring Matheson's scripts but concentrates mostly on Trilogy of Terror.
Trilogy of Terror is one of the more memorable horror films from 1970's television. If you are interested in developing a total phobia towards dolls of any kind, watch this anthology alongside the ventriloquist horror film Magic and the classic "Talking Tina" episode of Twilight Zone!