It’s no real secret to you fine folks that I drew a great deal of my love of the horror genre from watching movies on television as a young child in the ’70s, most of which I really had no business watching at that age. Remember, this was a time when TV was trying to compete heavily with cinema screens, and exploitation and horror flicks were big deals; you hadda come up with a hell of a show to keep horror fans on the couch when local drive-ins and theaters had stuff like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Island of Death, and Shivers lighting up their screens. Back then, tele-films like The Night Stalker and Moon of the Wolf sought to draw a little steam off of those ticket sales, along with a little three-vignette production that I’m gonna talk about today. Besides my affinity for 1970s horror, it’s also common knowledge that I dig a good anthology flick; one blue moon back in 1975, the stars aligned, and these two things meshed together; we were fortunate enough for that union to include writing by Richard Matheson, direction by Dan Curtis, and the acting talents of genre icon Karen Black; a thing to be treasured indeed.
I first saw the made-for-TV film Trilogy of Terror sometime way back in the wayback; it may have been a re-broadcast, it may have been when it aired originally in ’75; all I can tell you for sure is that I was young, and I vividly remember how it scared the living hell out of me…but I’ll get to that.
The film is separated into three distinct segments, all featuring Karen Black in the lead roles, each telling a short story of it’s own.
The first story follows a cocky college student infatuated with one of his more plain and prudish instructors, the titular “Julie”. Despite his friend’s protests, the young man relentlessly pursues Julie (including some voyeurism), using photography as a means to get to know her. When she finally agrees to a date with him, however, his infatuation turns to a more cruel purpose: drugging Julie, the young man sets up a scheme to both force her affections as well as blackmail her into fixing his grades…but as the story moves to its ending, Julie undergoes some changes with his new power over her, and he finds that there is far more to his “conquest” than meets the eye…
The second segment, “Millicent and Therese”, chronicles the ups and downs of poor, repressed Millicent and her life with her wild and promiscuous man-eater of a sister, Therese. Millicent is very distraught over her sister’s lewd ways, and finds life with her simply miserable; she even believes that Therese not only seduced their father, but poisoned their mother as well. The poor young woman is so disturbed with her living arrangements that she requires therapy. On one visit from her doctor, Therese answers the door instead of Millicent, and corners the man, trying to seduce him. The good doctor manages to extricate himself from this odd situation, and later Millicent tells the him that she can’t take it any more; she plans to murder her sister. He becomes more concerned as she expresses her plan: she’s convinced that she can use the ancient art of voodoo to rid herself of the lascivious sibling. The doctor informs Therese of this, but she simply laughs it off…but who’ll be laughing in the morning, after Millicent has placed a cursed talisman in Therese’s room?
Finally, the last tale, Amelia, is the one everyone really remembers, and with good reason. Amelia has just arrived home in her high-rise apartment. We watch as she is talking to her mother on the phone, telling her of her boyfriend and the gift she has found for him: a Zuni fetish doll of a hunter, or “One Who Kills”; a creepy little wild-haired, fang-toothed demonic effigy. So long as the gold chain that comes with it stays around it (she reads to her mother from the scroll that was included), the soul of the hunter will remain trapped. Her mother, however, doesn’t give a ragged damn about the figurine or the legends surrounding it; she’s far more intent in manipulating her weak-willed daughter, and we watch in discomfort the pain on Amelia’s face as her mother verbally demeans her and insists she spend the evening with her rather than that pain-in-the-ass boyfriend. Although hurt, angered, and initially refusing, Amelia decides to give in to her mother’s wishes…but she doesn’t notice that the small gold chain has fallen off of the Zuni warrior in her distress…and that both her’s and her mother’s plans for the evening are about to go in a totally different direction…
The film is definitely somewhat dated (love that wallpaper!), but it carries its age well; Curtis knew what he was doing with a horror flick , and definitely knew his way around the medium of television. Suspense is crafted well, and moving from commercial to commercial (which of course are now just editing cues when viewed as a whole) without substantial interruption of the narrative flow was done with grace and eloquence. Although the initial two segments are more Twilight Zone-type stuff rather than outright horror (as “Amelia” is), they still serve to raise the tension throughout the show’s runtime, getting you right where the filmmakers want you to be by the time of that little Zuni warrior’s payoff. More importantly, they serve as an excellent format for the indomitable Karen Black to showcase her acting range and abilities, and in each case, from mousy Millicent to sensual Therese; from the naive yet suddenly calculating Julie to the innocent and browbeaten Amelia, she positively owns each character in every segment. There’s little in terms of special effects until the third chapter, but despite the low-budget nature of the film, once you’re into the story of Amelia, the TV tricks and rapid-fire pacing of that toothy little bastid’s scenes, shot in frenetic close-up, will unnerve you. Most effective to me, watching it all these years later, is the sound work; trite though it may seem to a more jaded modern viewer, that little doll’s cries of rage and guttural growls as he stalks Amelia still shoot right through my nerves and into that child that adulthood has submerged; it was a pleasant surprise to feel that familiar twinge again, just from that sound (wonder if I can get that as a ringtone?).
I love this one, folks…it’s one of my go-to choices for something to watch on a cold night when the wind is high, curled up with a nice Irish coffee…is some of that nostalgia? Well sure it is…but that doesn’t change the fact that it is an effective thriller, with the chill factor ramping up as the film goes on. If you’re one who, like me, can get into a older film and not be put off by the age difference and older production values, I think you’ll find this one a pretty fun and scary little watch.
That’s my two-tenths of a dime.
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