When I was young there was an armchair in the living room that had its back to the hallway leading to my bedroom. I would frequently sneak down that hall and hide behind the chair. There I could spend hours after my bedtime watching whatever my parents were watching on television. What I saw from my secret vantage point in 1975 was the scariest thing I have ever seen. All my life I have been a horror fan. From the silent classics of Lon Chaney, through the Universal masterpieces of the 30’s and 40’s, all the way to…the slasherfests of modern times, nothing has affected me more than Trilogy of Terror.
Trilogy of Terror was the mastermind of two of the genre’s greatest. From the imagination that brought us Dark Shadows and Kolchak: The Night Stalker we find Dan Curtis at his very best. His partner in Terror is the man who brought us so many Twilight Zones, Richard Matheson. Matheson also created some of the best horror novels of our time. I Am Legend gave us both the Vincent Price “Last Man On Earth” and Charlton Heston’s “The Omega Man”. Will Smith is currently taking a crack at the same story. Here the two teamed up for 3 half-hour tales, all staring Karen Black.
In “Julie” Black plays a teacher who appears smitten with one of her students who was played by her then real life husband. The result is an interesting game of seduction with a not so original twist.
“Millicent and Therese” is a rather formula driven psychological tale, as Black plays twins, or does she?
Neither of these rather mundane tales can claim credit for the tingle my spine experienced that night. It was the third tale, “Amelia”, based on Matheson’s story “Prey”; that is what makes this production one that has been so well remembered. Black now plays a woman who is pursued throughout her apartment by a freshly animated “Zuni Fetish Doll” wielding a razor sharp knife. Looking back, the f/x are sub par and there really isn’t anything remotely scary about the doll itself. Still, when the chase begins, I am immediately returned to my perch behind a blue armchair, momentarily frozen with fear.
Trilogy of Terror is presented in its original broadcast full frame format. The print doesn’t look that remarkable. The contrast is a bit shaky, and much of the film seems dark and oversaturated in dark red. This is a 1970’s television film and more than likely was intended as a “one shot deal”. Plenty of film artifacts converge with high grain to make this a pretty unpretty image. While it would be very sweet to see a nicely restored version of the film, it isn’t going to happen. I never saw the earlier version, so I can’t tell you how it compares, but I imagine this isn’t going to be considered an upgrade.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 delivers everything it’s called upon to do. Dialogue comes through just fine. The sparse score is a bit distorted at times. The rabid sounds of “Zuni” are reproduced rather nicely. At least the sound does nothing to take away the experience. WOW but it might have been fun to hear that guy coming from all directions with a newly mastered 5.1 aggressive surround mix. Dream on.
There is an interesting commentary with Karen Black and screenplay writer William F. Nolan who adapted the first two stories. Unfortunately these weren’t the stories we’re here for, are they. Nolan freely acknowledges the fact. Black has an annoying habit of calling the film “Trilogy AND Terror”.
“Three Colors Black” I was rather disappointed in this 16 minute interview with Karen Black. She lacks any kind of enthusiasm for the project. She constantly reminds us she really didn’t want to do it. Worse, she still can’t seem to remember the exact name of the film. Karen, it’s Trilogy OF Terror. You’d think someone would have pointed it out. She also seems to take credit for everything from casting to makeup to dialogue scripting. A lot of recollections from a woman who can’t remember the film’s name.
“Richard Matheson: Terror Scribe” is far better and worth a watch. Matheson is quite old but still has fond memories of the production. He admits that he always knew it was the “Zuni Doll” segment that contained the gold. He saved that adaptation for himself.
It’s unlikely the piece could elicit such a response today. We’ve become accustomed to a flood of gratuitous gore and violence. While the film is certainly nothing near a true classic, it will always hold a special place in my heart alongside the very best of them. Watching the first two segments, I had no lasting memory of them. Perhaps I arrived at my hidden spot too late to have seen them. There just hasn’t been anything else like that doll segment, and it doesn’t appear there ever will be. Still, I’ll turn an armchair to the hallway where “I’ll be waiting”.
Special Features List
- Commentary by actress Karen Black and writer William F. Nolan
- “Richard Matheson: Terror Scribe” featurette
- “Three Colors Black” featurette