Following the demise of his celebrated gothic-horror soap opera "Dark Shadows" (and its two feature-length movie spinoffs), producer/director Dan Curtis made this jaggedly uneven chiller anthology for the ABC-TV "Movie of the Week." The three tales are all named after their heroines, all played by Karen Black. In "Julie," a college instructor (Karen Black)...read more
Following the demise of his celebrated gothic-horror soap opera "Dark Shadows" (and its two feature-length movie spinoffs), producer/director Dan Curtis made this jaggedly uneven chiller anthology for the ABC-TV "Movie of the Week." The three tales are all named after their heroines, all
played by Karen Black.
In "Julie," a college instructor (Karen Black) fascinates classroom cad Chad (Robert Burton) despite her conservative exterior. He lures her out on a date, drugs her, and photographs her naked in their motel room. When Chad tries to blackmail Julie with the photos, she shows unexpected malice and
kills him--as she had planned all along. Somehow, the teacher wickedly seduced him from the start, not the other way around. The segment ends with another male pupil entering Julie's web.
"Millicent and Therese" are estranged sisters. Mousey Millicent (Black) accuses blonde sexpot Therese (Black) of having enticed their father into incest when she was 16, and of fatally poisoning their mother. Therese laughs off Millicent's complaints and wantonly tries to seduce a visiting doctor
(George Gaynes). Unable to bear any more, Millicent resorts to voodoo to put an end to Therese. When she stabs a doll effigy of her sister they both die--because they were the same person, in what the doctor declares an extraordinary case of split personality.
"Amelia" (Black), a timid woman who just moved in with her anthropologist boyfriend, argues via phone with her domineering mother. In her lover's absence, she bought him a fanged "Zuni fetish doll" from a curio shop; the grotesque totem reputedly contains the soul of tribal warrior He-Who-Kills,
held dormant by a small chain. When the chain breaks, the doll comes to life. Small but swift and agile, it chases terrified Amelia around the apartment. After grueling hand-to-doll combat, she traps her wooden tormentor in the oven and burns it to ashes, but He-Who-Kills proceeds to possess
Amelia. Her grin reveals a hideous mouthful of fangs as she brandishes a knife and awaits her mother's visit.
TRILOGY OF TERROR created a minor sensation upon its premiere, partially because of "adult" sexual content above and beyond network standards of the era. In an echo of censorship controversies conquered in cinemas two decades earlier, however, taboo elements stay well offscreen (or during the
commercial breaks); the word "virgin" spoken scornfully is the most explicit the production gets. In terms of mature suspense, the first two tales utterly wash out. "Julie" is a labored affair, with a "shock" ending that doesn't. At least there are some incidental vampire in-jokes, apparently for
"Dark Shadows" fans. Besides florid dialogue and stilted storytelling, the trouble with "Millicent and Therese" is that both Larrimores are plainly the same actress in varying wigs and eyeglasses.
TRILOGY OF TERROR's enduring fame rests on "Amelia," a simple, engrossing and claustrophic set-piece of fear that doesn't waste a moment and skillfully animates the puppet Zuni doll through cinematography (and Black's strenuous solo performance) more than obvious special-effects tricks. Viewers
who remember TRILOGY OF TERROR's original broadcast unfailingly recall the nightmarish fetish doll, while the first two segments slip mercifully into obscurity. One out of three isn't all that bad. Well, Karen Black is no Lon Chaney Sr., and it's worth remembering that anthology shows like
"Twilight Zone" and "Night Gallery" (for which Matheson also wrote) also spun short-form spellbinders regularly and with less hype. Curtis, in fact, intended TRILOGY OF TERROR to launch his own prime-time horror program, titled "Dead of Night," but the project never materialized. In 1997, he
brought a follow-up TRILOGY OF TERROR II to home video and cable TV. (Adult situations, violence.)
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