Directed By: Dan Curtis
Starring: Karen Black, Robert Burton, John Karlen
Tag line: "An electrifying experience - you won't believe your eyes!"
Trivia: Karen Black contributed much to the 3rd segment "Amelia". She re-wrote her first conversation with her mother on the telephone. Black wanted to emphasize that the mother was controlling and manipulative
In 1975, Dan Curtis, the creative mind behind the Dark Shadows television series, directed the made-for-TV anthology Trilogy of Terror, a movie that relates three female-centric tales of the macabre, all of which feature actress Karen Black. The segments themselves are certainly interesting, yet it’s Black’s portrayal of four different women that makes Trilogy of Terror a worthwhile experience.
In the first story, Julie, Black is an uptight college professor who catches the eye of one of her students. The young man, Chad (Robert Burton), becomes obsessed with Julie, pressuring her until she agrees to accompany him to a drive-in theater. While there, he slips drugs into her root beer, then takes her to a hotel and photographs her in various stages of undress. He intends to use these pictures to blackmail Julie and force her into sexual situations she would have otherwise avoided, but as he’ll soon discover, this seemingly shy teacher has a few secrets of her own.
In Millicent and Therese, Black plays a pair of bickering sisters: the spinster Millicent and the overtly sexual Therese. Accusing her sister of everything from incest to dabbling in the black arts, Millicent contacts family physician, Dr. Ramsay (George Gaynes) and implores his help, but when he stops by the house, Therese attempts to seduce him, driving him away. Left with no alternative, Millicent takes matters into her own hands, turning to Therese’s books on voodoo and witchcraft to figure out a way to end her sister’s reign of terror. The question is: which sister will be left standing?
The third and final tale, titled Amelia, stars Black as a woman living on her own for the first time ever. To impress her boyfriend, a professor of Anthropology, she buys him a Zuni fetish doll, a carved wooden statuette with sharp teeth and a spear that, according to folklore, houses the spirit of a Zuni Hunter. As long as the doll is wearing a gold chain around its waist, the spirit will be kept at bay, but should that chain fall off, the doll would spring to life and attack the first person it comes across (I’m sure you can guess what happens next!).
Though they have their moments, the first two segments, Julie and Millicent and Therese, aren’t so much horror stories as they are thrillers, each with its own twist ending (I didn’t see the surprise coming in Julie, but spotted the twist in Millicent and Therese from a mile away). Amelia, however, is straight-up horror, following the title character as she tries to escape an insane doll that’s intent on killing her. What makes the doll truly frightening is that it never quits; even when it looks as if Amelia has it trapped, it finds a way to break free. The effects that bring the doll to life, though quite basic, get the job done, and the final shot in this segment is easily the most disturbing in the entire film.
More than its stories, Trilogy of Terror is notable for the bravado performances delivered by the late Karen Black, who does a masterful job portraying four very different women. An actress known mostly for her supporting roles in movies such as Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, and House of 1,000 Corpses, it was good to see Black get the spotlight all to herself in Trilogy of Terror, and she definitely made the most of it.