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|Trilogy of Terror|
Television release poster
|Written by||Richard Matheson|
William F. Nolan
|Directed by||Dan Curtis|
|Music by||Robert Cobert|
|Country of origin||United States|
Robert Singer (associate producer)
|Running time||72 minutes|
|Production company(s)||ABC Circle Films|
Dan Curtis Productions
|Followed by||Trilogy of Terror II|
Trilogy of Terror is a 1975 American made-for-television anthology horror film directed by Dan Curtis and starring Karen Black. It features three segments, each based on unrelated short stories by Richard Matheson. The first follows a college professor who seeks vengeance over her date rape; the second is about twin sisters who have a bizarre relationship; and the third focuses on a woman terrorized by a Zuni fetish doll in her apartment. Black stars in all three segments, and plays dual roles in the second.
The film was first aired as an ABC Movie of the Week on March 4, 1975. Black initially turned down the project, but reconsidered when her then-husband, Robert Burton, was cast in the first segment "Julie". A television film sequel, Trilogy of Terror II, written and also directed by Dan Curtis was released in 1996.
Chad (Robert Burton) is a college student with a crush on his English teacher, Julie Eldridge (Karen Black). During one class, Chad is distracted by Julie's thigh as she sits on her desk, and he daydreams about her. Chad reveals his fantasies to his friend Eddie (James Storm), but Eddie discourages him from becoming romantically involved with teachers. Later that evening, when Julie is undressing in her room, Chad watches her through a window. The next day, he asks Julie out on a date. She initially refuses, but later accepts the offer.
During the date at a drive-in theater, Chad spikes Julie's drink, rendering her unconscious, and drives her to a motel. After checking them in as husband and wife, he photographs her in a variety of sexually provocative positions. She begins to regain consciousness, and Chad takes her home, explaining that she had just fallen asleep.
After developing the photographs in his darkroom, Chad shows the pictures to Julie. She is furious and threatens to call the police. Chad blackmails Julie into submitting to his romantic attentions. After several weeks of this, Julie announces, "The game is over." She reveals that it was actually she who had manipulated Chad in an elaborate role play of her own design. "Did you really think that dull, little mind of yours could possibly have conceived any of the rather dramatic experiences we've shared? Why do you think you suddenly had the overwhelming desire to see what I looked like under 'all those clothes?' Don't feel bad ... I always get bored after a while." Chad realizes that Julie has poisoned his drink, and then he dies. Julie drags his body into the darkroom where she sets fire to the offending photographs.
Chad's death is later reported in local media as a house fire. Julie adds the newspaper story to a scrapbook of articles depicting students who met similar fates. There is a knock at the door, and another young handsome student (played in a bit role by Gregory Harrison) in need of a tutor enters.
"Millicent and Therese"
This tale of sibling rivalry focuses on sisters Millicent, a repressed and prudish brunette; and Therese, a worldly, seductive, and free-spirited blonde. Both roles are played by Karen Black.
Millicent has determined that Therese is evil, and plants a voodoo talisman to kill her. When Millicent's friend Dr. Ramsey enters the house, he finds Therese dead on her bedroom floor with the doll next to her and Millicent is nowhere to be found. Dr. Ramsey reveals, as the family doctor, that "Therese" and "Millicent" are the same person; Therese suffered from multiple personality disorder brought on by the fact that "Therese" slept with her father and subsequently killed her mother — and "Millicent" was an alternate personality with a repressed sexuality to cope with the horror of her actions. The recent death of the father unhinged her further and the "murder" was actually a form of suicide.
"Amelia" was filmed as a one-woman play, with Karen Black as the only actor. It was also the only film of the three to be adapted by its author, Richard Matheson, who based "Amelia" on his short story, "Prey".
Amelia lives alone in a high-rise apartment building. She returns home after a fateful shopping spree carrying a package containing a wooden fetish doll, crafted in the form of a misshapen aboriginal warrior equipped with razor sharp teeth and a spear. A scroll comes with the doll, claiming that the doll contains the actual spirit of a Zuni hunter named "He Who Kills", and that the gold chain adorning the doll keeps the spirit trapped within. As Amelia makes a call to her mother we learn that she suffers from her mother's overbearing behavior. Amelia struggles to justify her independence and cancels their plans for the evening by claiming she has a date. As Amelia leaves the room, we see that the Zuni fetish doll's golden chain has somehow fallen off.
Later, Amelia is preparing dinner, using a carving knife. She enters the darkened living room, and realizes the doll is not on the coffee table. Amelia hears a noise in the kitchen and when she investigates, the knife is missing. Returning to the living room, she is suddenly attacked by the doll, which stabs at her ankles viciously. She attempts to flee, but the doll chases her around the apartment. In the bathroom, Amelia envelops the doll in a towel and attempts futilely to drown it in the bathtub. She later traps it in a suitcase, but the doll begins cutting a circular hole through the top of suitcase with the butcher knife. After several more vicious attacks, Amelia manages to hurl the doll into the oven where it catches fire. She holds the oven door while she listens to the doll howling and screaming as it burns and, while black smoke billows out, she waits until the screaming eventually stops. Opening the oven to ensure that the doll is "dead", she is struck by some force that pushes her backward and from which she emits a blood-curdling scream.
At some point after that, the audience sees Amelia (from behind) place another call to her mother. In a calm, controlled voice, she apologizes for her behavior during the previous call, and invites her mother to come for dinner. She then rips the bolt from her front door and crouches down low in an animalistic manner, carrying a large carving knife. She is now seen frontally, stabbing at the floor with the weapon, grinning ferally and revealing the horrific teeth of the Zuni fetish doll whose spirit now inhabits her body.
- Karen Black as Julie
- Robert Burton as Chad Rogers
- Jim Storm as Eddie Nells
- Gregory Harrison as the New Student
- Kathryn Reynolds as Anne Richards
- Orin Cannon as Motel Clerk
- Tracy Curtis as Tracy
"Millicent and Therese"
All three of the segments in Trilogy of Terror are based on individual stories by horror writer Richard Matheson. The segments "Julie" and "Millicent and Therese" were adapted by William F. Nolan, while Matheson adapted "Amelia" into a teleplay himself. On January 4, 1975, it was reported that Karen Black had signed on to appear in the film, portraying the three central characters.
The Boston Globe praised Karen Black's "tour-de-force performance" in the film upon its original airing. Black felt the film led to genre typecasting, forcing her to accept many roles in B-grade horror films following the film's release. She stated, "I think this little movie took my life and put it on a path that it didn't even belong in."
Jeremiah Kipp from Slant Magazine awarded the film 3.5 out of 4 stars, praising the film's direction, script, and Black's performance. On Black's performance, Kipp wrote, "Black plays the female protagonist in each story, and she’s the kind of extreme actress who not only acts with her eyes and face, but with her neck, her fingertips, her elbows, wrists, and torso. Gusto is not the word." Writing for AXS, Octavio Ramos deemed "Julie" a "lackluster story," but added: "Let’s face it, there’s only one real reason to watch Trilogy of Terror: The third segment of this made-for-television anthology, which features the famous Zuni fetish doll that comes to life and torments Karen Black. This segment alone makes Trilogy of Terror a must-own product for even the most casual horror fan."
Felix Vasquez from Cinema Crazed.com felt that the first two segments were "forgettable", and stated that only the last segment was "truly entertaining and creepy". Concluding his review, Vasquez wrote, "Trilogy of Terror was an all around disappointing film with a steady focus on psychological torment and less on actual terror or scares. I wish I could join along with the crowd and praise this film, but I would have had to be entertained to do so." TV Guide offered the film similar criticism, awarding it 2/5 stars. The reviewer criticized the first two segments as being "utterly wash out" in terms of suspense, dialogue, and storytelling. However, the reviewer commended the final segment as being " a simple, engrossing and claustrophobic set-piece of fear". Meagan Navarro from Bloody Disgusting included Trilogy of Terror in her list of "10 Scariest Made For TV Horror Movies", praising the final segment as 'keeping the film forever at the forefront of made-for-television movie memory'.
The film was released on VHS by Anchor Bay Entertainment on July 11, 2000. Anchor Bay later released the film on DVD on August 25, 1999. The film was released on DVD Special Edition by MPI Home Video August 29, 2006. The film was released on Blu-ray and on DVD by Kino Lorber Studio Classics on October 16, 2018. Both Blu-ray and DVD are remastered in 4K.
Trilogy of Terror has developed a cult following over the years and earned a reputation as a cult classic. It also helped establish Karen Black a devoted cult following as a performer in horror films.
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