Trilogy of Terror, easily one of the best remembered yet most often misremembered TV movies of the 70’s. When people think of Trilogy of Terror (assuming they even know what it is) they’re instantly going to remember the Zuni fetish doll, the film’s most marketable villain. Hell, they’ll probably remember that damn doll over Karen Black (House of 1000 Corpses, Airport), the star of the film. Yet, in reality, the Zuni fetish doll only factors into a third of the movie. The *best* third of the movie, but it still doesn’t encompass the entire film, which leads to numerous disappointments.
Trilogy of Terror is a made-for-TV movie from 1974, consisting of 3 segments, all written by Richard Matheson (of Twilight Zone and Kolchak: the Nightstalker-fame). The first installment, “Julie”, focuses on an uptight college lit professor (Karen Black) who is forcibly seduced and then blackmailed by one of her more malicious students. The overall story isn’t very terrifying and the twist-ending is altogether very weak. It’s the worst installment in the film and a very poor way to get things rolling.
The second story, “Millicent and Therese”, is a few degrees better. This one focuses on two twin sisters living alone in a mansion. Millicent (Karen Black) is the bookish, quiet one while Therese (Karen Black) is the loud, obnoxious, drunken whore. Their relationship starts to strain after their father dies and the two grow increasingly paranoid of one-another. Eventually, they begin planning to murder each other. The story is rather slow-moving but the pay-off at the end is pretty good. Still, it just isn’t anything to write home about. And, I’m very sorry to say this, but Karen Black just isn’t very attractive. All these stories try to turn her into a kinky sex icon and it’s just not happening. Maybe I was just born in the wrong decade and the 70’s idea of “hot” just doesn’t gel with my standards. I dunno.
The final story, “Amelia”, based on Richard Matheson’s short story “Prey”, is where things *really* pick up. Amelia (Karen Black) buys a wooden Zuni fetish doll at a curiosities store for her boyfriend. The doll supposedly has the soul of an ancient Zuni warrior trapped inside of it and the only thing preventing the soul from taking over the doll is a golden chain tied around its waist. Well, wouldn’t you know it? Amelia accidentally knocks the chain off and the doll comes to life. The doll then chases her around the apartment with a paring knife and tries to kill her. The story starts off rather modestly, with Amelia having a long, drawn-out argument over the phone with her mother, drawing a bath and doing other things to build tension. When the doll comes to life it takes its time revealing itself. First knives start to vanish, the lights go out and you hear tiny footsteps pattering all over the apartment. When the doll finally shows up its done extremely well, really surprising the audience. The Zuni doll-itself is very creepy-looking which makes up for some of the unsatisfying puppetry. There’s a lot of shaky camera work to keep you from getting a clear look at the doll, at least whenever it’s in motion. This was done to try and prevent the audience from noticing how unconvincing its movements were. Still, the little fella has a *lot* of personality, screaming psychotic gibberish and running around the apartment at lightspeed. Puts guys like Chucky to shame.
Trilogy of Terror has 1 good segment out of 3, which in most circumstances would make it a total failure. However, that one good segment is extremely good, hence how this low-budget 70’s TV movie still manages to make the rounds today. It eventually spawned a made-for-TV sequel in the mid 90’s, Trilogy of Terror 2, which I actually enjoyed more than this one. Still, the original earns itself a C solely for the “Amelia” segment.