So today I’m going to wax sophmoric about a lovely little made-for-TV movie called Trilogy of Terror (1975). Don’t remember it? Well, first of all, it was directed by Dan Curtis, who brought us the magnificent original vampire soap opera, Dark Shadows.
Still not sure? Well, all three segments were from original stories by Richard Matheson, who also brought us the stories for The Shrinking Man, Hell House, What Dreams May Come, Bid Time Return (filmed as Somewhere in Time), A Stir of Echoes, and I Am Legend, all of which have been adapted as major motion pictures, the last at least three times. Matheson also wrote several television episodes of The Twilight Zone for Rod Serling, including “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and “Steel”. He later adapted his 1971 short story “Duel” as a screenplay which was promptly directed by a young Steven Spielberg, for the TV movie of the same name.
Okay, yeah, you grok that, right? Now in the Trilogy of Terror, the lead protagonist in each segment was played by the lovely Karen Black:
I love Karen Black. She’s one hard-working woman, and I don’t think she ever got the accolades (or the career) she should have. I love her in The Day of the Locust and especially Burnt Offerings, but we’re not talking about those today.
So. Part one of ToT is called “Julie”:
Karen is Julie, a college literature professor who is seemingly dull and virginal, who is beset upon one of her students, who decides that he wants to … well, make her a little sex slave, essentially, all the while blackmailing her with provocative pictures he took of her when he slipped her a Mickey.
Julie, however, one night announces that the game is over, and that she has been playing him the whole time with mind control. True? Maybe. Who cares? Julie kills the jerk, burns down his darkroom with him in it, and collects the newspaper clipping in a scrapbook. At this point, a young Gregory Harrison (squee!) comes to the door, asking for tutoring, to which a grinning Julie gleefully agrees.
See kids? This is what happenens when you get all worked up about Shaw, Faulkner, and Hemingway. Especially Faulkner. He was a freak.
Part 2 of ToT is “Millicent and Therese”, with both parts played by Karen:
Millicent is a prude who thinks her sister Therese is a whore who seduced their father and killed their mother. Now, since the two sisters don’t appear in the same room together, and they’re both seeing the same long-suffering psychiatrist … yeah, you got it. You don’t have to be Fellini to figure that one out. Moving on.
Part three is the story that everyone remembers seeing, whether it was on the original broadcast, on future episodes of Night Flight on the USA channel, or on copies of copies of copies of VHS tapes that circulated among your classmates. Althought the story is called “Amelia”, this is what you remember it for:
Yes, boys and girls, it’s the one with the KILLER ZUNI DOLL! Karen, for some weird reason, decides that this is the perfect gift for her boyfriend, Arthur.
Amelia fights with her mother on the phone, and then accidentally knocks over the Zuni, breaking off the chain that apparently binds the critter into submission. Karen then spends the next 15 minutes doing her best Bill-Shatner-I-Have-To-Hold-On-To-Whatever’s-Attacking-Me impression while you get a lot of Zuni POV camera work. Well, you think that Karen’s destroyed the monster via setting the oven broiler on high, but then you see her call her mother, asking her to come over in a lovely lilting voice just before she cops a squat with a big ol’ knitchen knife:
Then the camera does a lovely pan-in to reveal:
Oh Karen, oh Karen, you’re one brave chick.