Trilogy of Terror DVD Review

Written by Steve Pattee

DVD Released by Dark Sky Films

 
This can't be happening... This can't be happening... – Amelia.

Directed by Dan Curtis
Written by Richard Matheson and William F. Nolan (Based on Matheson’s short stories)
1975, Region 1 (NTSC), 72 minutes, Not Rated
DVD released on August 29th, 2006

Starring:
Karen Black as Julie/Millicent Larimore/Therese Larimore/Amelia
Robert Burton as Chad Foster
John Karlena as Thomas Amman
George Gaynes as Dr. Chester Ramsey

Movie:

As the title suggests, Trilogy of Terror is a film, originally airing on TV over 30 years ago, consisting of three short tales of suspense and dread.

The first of the tales, “Julie,” concerns a teacher (Karen Black – Burnt Offerings, House of 1000 Corpses) being stalked and blackmailed by an infatuated student, Chad (Robert Burton).  But who is the real victim, Julie or Chad?

Black — who stars in all three tales — plays dual roles in the next story, “Millicent and Therese,” the story of twin sisters hell-bent on making each other’s lives miserable.  Bookish Millicent finally gets fed up with the way her sister, the tramp Therese, lives her life, so she casts a spell a spell to get rid of her once and for all.  But, like everything else in life, when you don’t know what you are dealing with, it always seems to bite you on the ass.

The final, and most memorable, tale centers around Amelia, a woman who, after a fight over the phone with her overbearing mother, finds she has bigger problems when she realizes she is locked in the apartment with a killer Zuni fetish doll.  The doll, bought as a gift for her boyfriend, comes alive and starts looking for blood after the chain keeping its soul trapped slips off.

There may be three tales of terror, but there’s only one doll.  And that’s the thing people remember.

Review:

The first thing I did when I opened the envelope from Dark Sky Films and saw this movie? I called my sister.

“Guess what I got in for review!?!” I exclaimed.

“What?”

“AI YI YI YI YI YI!” I yelled.  Then I growled some.

“Oh wow!  Trilogy of Terror!”

See, like many of my early childhood horror movie memories, I first remember seeing Trilogy of Terror with my sister.  And I remember her scaring me with the awful sounds the little Zuni doll made as he went on his apartment hunt rampage.  To this day, that little bastard scares the piss out of me.  He is still that effective.

Terror is an extremely interesting film for a couple of different reasons, the first of which is nobody ever remembers the first two tales.  “Amelia” is that good.  Even in the commentary, William F. Nolan — who only wrote the screenplay for the first two tales — mentions that people would tell him how much they loved the Zuni fetish doll story in Terror, and he just got to a point where he would thank them rather than explain that he didn’t write that part. Nolan is no slouch himself, responsible for such screenplays as Logan’s Run and Burnt Offerings, among numerous other books and screenplays.

In all fairness, the first two stories are fun in their “Twilight Zone-esque” style and somewhat twist endings, but they are no match for the power of the Zuni doll.  I like to think that “Julie” and “Millicent and Therese” are appetizers, where “Amelia” is the main dish.  Or, better yet, the first two are the NFL playoffs, and “Amelia” is the Super Bowl.  The playoffs are a lot of fun to watch, but as time goes on, people will just remember the big show.  And the Zuni fetish doll is the MVP who had the career game before going down in the record books as one of the scariest players ever.  Hell, there was a nod to the doll in the episode “Battleground” from TNT’s mini-series “Stephen King’s Nightmares and Dreamscapes.”  Think about that, a killer doll — from a made-for-TV movie, no less — is still getting nods 30 years later.  That is impressive.

Another interesting aspect of Terror is that it used an actor, Black, more known for her movie roles than her TV work.  This is commonplace now, but in 1975, it was virtually unheard of.  At the time of Terror, Black was a Golden Globe winner for her roles in The Great Gatsby and Five Easy Pieces (for which she was nominated for an Oscar, as well).  Luckily for the producers, she ended up taking the role, because her performance in the film took what could have been a forgotten television special to a memorable piece of horror history.  In an interview on the DVD, Black herself says that she is still surprised how many people mention Terror over her more critically recognized roles like Pieces.

For a television special, Terror really lived up to its title.  And to think it aired on network TV is quite amazing.  I honestly don’t think it would make it on network TV today.  Cable TV, maybe, but not network.  It would be cut to shreds in today’s PC society, and would lose all of its impact.  But, fortunately, the network heads were a little more laid back in the ’70s, and the Zuni doll was free to run amok, causing nightmares for kids like me for years.

And I thank him for it.

Conclusion:

If it were the first two stories alone, Trilogy of Terror would have gotten a C+ because, while enjoyable, they had nothing more than a made-for-TV feel.  But with the addition of “Amelia,” and her little friend, Zuni, it is one of the most remembered causes of sleepless nights from my childhood.  And it holds up amazingly well.

Video and Audio:

Audio and video will not be graded, as this is a screener.

Special Features:

  • Commentary with Karen Black and writer William F. Nolan
  • “Richard Matheson: Terror Scribe” Featurette
  • “Three Colors Black” Featurette

The commentary is pretty good, as Black and Nolan seem to get on well with each other, and both offer interesting tidbits and anecdotes.  Nolan rolls out when “Amelia” starts, as he had nothing to do with the infamous third tale, but Black does an admirable job on her own as she pokes fun at her character and tells some behind-the-scenes stories of how some shots were done.

The “Richard Matheson: Terror Scribe” featurette centers around one of the most prolific writers in the horror film genre.  Matheson has either written the book, the screenplay or both for such movies as The Incredible Shrinking Man, Stir of Echoes, The Omega Man, The Night Stalker, The Night Strangler and The Legend of Hell House.  That’s just a taste of the over 65 movie and TV credits he has on IMDB.  Chances are, if you have eyes and a TV, you have seen his work.  The featurette runs just over 11 minutes should be watched, if nothing else, out of respect for what Matheson has done for the genre.

At just over 15 minutes, “Three Colors Black” is a piece on Karen Black, where she discusses her role in Terror, how it came about, some stories from the set and how people react to it to this day.  Amusingly, she seems surprised that more people remember her role in this TV movie than some of her more critically acclaimed ones.  But we horror fans know better.

Grades:

Movie: Grade Cover
Buy from Amazon US
Video: n/a
Audio: n/a
Features: Grade
Overall: 2.5 Star Rating

 

 

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About The Author
Steve Pattee
Author: Steve Pattee
Administrator, US Editor
He's the puppet master. You don't see him, but he pulls the strings that gets things done. He's the silent partner. He's black ops. If you notice his presence, it's the last thing you'll notice — because now you're dead. He's the shadow you thought you saw in that dark alleyway. You can have a conversation with him, and when you turn around to offer him a cup of coffee, he's already gone.
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