Monday, October 24, 2011

Trilogy of Terror (1975)

Title: Trilogy of Terror (1975)

Director: Dan Curtis

Cast: Karen Black, Karen Black, Karen Black, Karen Black and Robert Burton


Dan Curtis was the kind of director who loved haunted houses, and vampires and ghosts. He was best at making movies that employed old horror movie tropes like haunted houses, stormy nights, cobwebs, cold spots, cemeteries, thunder and lightning, black cats, the wind howling in the middle of the night…you know, all the horror clichés. I’ve seen a couple of his films and they all have these elements in one form of another. Something else that distinguishes a Dan Curtis film is his love for working on television. Though he did manage to make some theatrically released films, the bulk of his work was for television. But let me tell you, the guy pushed the envelope as far as horror television went. He was responsible for the Dark Shadows television show, plus a couple of Anthology television films like the film I’ll be reviewing today: Trilogy of Terror.

Trilogy of Terror tells three stories; each story is named after the female character that is the lead of the story. Interesting part about this film is that all the female leads in all three of the stories were played by Karen Black herself. The first story is called ‘Julie’ and this is the story of a university professor who suddenly finds herself dealing with a student that is head over heals attracted to her. And not just in a “gee your so cute” kind of way, this guy wants to go all the way! So he takes her out on a date and drugs her so he can do just that! How will Julie take all this? The second story is called Millicent and Therese and this one is about two sisters, one is a reserved religious type always trying to be in her best behavior; this is Millicent. And then we have Therese, the wild and obscene one. Who will win this battle of sibling rivalry? Finally, we have the last story called ‘Amelia’ and this is the story of a young girl who lives on her own, trying to be her own person and all that. One day she decides to buy a doll called a “Zuni Fetish Doll”. To her the doll is nothing more than an interesting little curiosity she bought. Along with the doll comes a scroll that warns buyers that the golden chain hanging on the doll entraps the spirit of a Zuni hunter, if the chain should fall, the spirit of the killer warrior will be released. Too bad for Amelia she accidently drops the golden chain from the doll! Is the warning on the chain nothing more than a silly superstition? Can Amelia survive fighting against a killer voodoo doll?

Made for television horror movies survive through time but only if they are good, and only if they are memorable. I’m talking about films like Salem’s Lot (1979), Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973), Dead of Night (1977) and Someone’s Watching Me! (1978). These horror themed television movies proliferarted during the 70’s, today the mini-series is a lot more popular, but back in the 70’s, a lot of these made for television horror films were made; and Dan Curtis was king of making these made for television horror movies. And most of the time they were actually really good. Trilogy of Terror is his most recognized one, but he also did films like Curse of the Black Widow (1977) a couple of Dark Shadows television films (plus many episodes of the television show) and a science fiction film called Intruders (1992) which I’m dying to see. But his contributions to horror didn’t stop in the world of television, he also branched out into theatrical releases with films like Burnt Offerings (1976), House of Dark Shadows (1970) and Night of Dark Shadows (1971). I think it’s safe to say that Curtis was an important director within the horror genre, and one whose filmology I’ve enjoyed exploring. He also made films that had nothing to do with horror, but horror was definitely his main thing. He often times collaborated with horror legend Richard Matheson, the screenwriter behind most of Curtis’s films including Trilogy of Terror. Tim Burton is currently working on a film version of Dark Shadows; let’s hope that it’s a return to form for Tim Burton who has been slacking lately in the quality department.

Karen Black is an actress that Curtis loved working with; he used her in many of his films. But it was Trilogy of Terror that got the most recognition for her because she plays all the female roles in the film. Mrs. Black carried this film on her shoulders and did a fine job at it. One of the episodes has her playing twin sisters, one all mousy and conservative, the other all wild and sexy, she shows her range as an actress there. In all these anthology films there is always one story that grabs everyone’s attention and it’s usually the one that’s saved for last because as they say “all good things are saved for last”. In Trilogy of Terror that segment is the one entitled ‘Amelia’ in which Karen Black must do battle with an African Voodoo doll that is possessed by the spirit of a murderous warrior. I agree with everyone in saying that this is definitely the best segment of the film. It moves pretty fast and the camera work is kinetic. I couldn’t help feeling like this Zuni Fetish Doll was Chucky’s granddaddy. Seriously, the story is so freaking similar to Child’s Play (1988)! In fact, I’ll go down and say that when Don Mancini and Tom Holland sat down to write Child’s Play all they did was expand on the ideas presented in this little segment of Trilogy of Terror. Hell, even the ending is extremely similar. Watch this little segment and be the judge of that.

Still Trilogy of Terror has its own surprises in store, and like many of these anthology films, all three stories end with a twist and a shock, functioning in many ways like an old Tales from the Crypt comic book. Trilogy of Terror was a fun movie to watch. The dvd has some interesting special features, a very special feature is one in which they interview Richard Matheson. If you’re into horror history, then you should find listening to one of the greatest horror writers ever, fascinating to say the least. I strongly suggest checking out that interview. My exploration of Dan Curtis’s filmology continues next week when I will be reviewing Dead of Night (1977) another creepy anthology film from Curtis. Be on the look out for that!

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5    



Mr. Fiendish said...

that sequence with the Zuni fetish doll is awesome

venoms5 said...

This was a good one. The third story was so popular, it was released by itself on VHS back in the 90s. Another one from Curtis for you to look out for, Fran, is THE NORLISS TAPES (1973). It was intended as a new horror series, but the pilot movie was never picked up. Some choice creepy ambiance in that one.

Franco Macabro said...

@Mr.Fiendish: True!

@Venom5: Thanks for the info Venom, on the dvd for Dead of Night (1977) which is another one of Curtis's made for television anthology horror films, there is a pilot that Curti's showed to ABC called Dead of Night. I guess he really wanted to make that Dead of Night t.v. show!

Anyways, the episode is about these three people going into a haunted mansion that this lady just inherited (dont they always?) there's a vengeful ghost in it, and the whole thing is brimming with atmosphere! Cobwebs, spooky house, old paintings, cursed ghosts and the such..

It was shot on video and on a set, it felt like the ghostbusters or something since two of them are paranormal investigators. Actually, the show was going to be about three paranormal investigators confronting some sort of paranormal situation every other week. The pilot lasts for about an hour. It was fun to watch.

Unknown said...

Yeah, this is a pretty cool film with a great performance by Karen Black who really shows off an impressive range, here. I agree with others that the third segment is the best with that crazy Zuni fetish doll. I swear, I had nightmares about that damn thing after the first time I saw this!

Franco Macabro said...

@J.D.: Agree, it's definetly the best of the stories. Samething happens in another Curtis Anthology film called DEad of Night where the last story is the best, Im talking about the story called Bobby, about a little boys ghost torturing his mother on a stormy night. But back to the Zuni Fetish Doll:

Check out the similarities with Chucky and Zuni Fetish Doll (SPOILERS AHEAD):

-Possession of Human Beings
-Murderous Tendencies
-Demise in a Fireplace
-Attacks a Lonely Woman in her Apartment


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