"Trilogy of Terror" is a made-for-TV anthology horror film that originally aired on ABC in 1975. While TV movies are not typically known for their quality, this particular film is enjoyably silly and even has a few mildly spooky moments. The three stories featured in the film are all based on short stories by acclaimed sci-fi/horror/fantasy writer Richard Matheson, which is a large part of why the film succeeds. Matheson wrote several episodes of "The Twilight Zone" during its original run, and the three stories in "Trilogy of Terror" all bear a strong similarity in tone and structure to that show.
The three stories, "Julie", "Millicent and Therese", and "Amelia", all feature actress Karen Black in the leading role. She is by far the strongest part of the first two segments. In "Julie", she portrays the titular character, a college professor who is being blackmailed by one of her students. Bad news for the student, because the tables quickly turn and it becomes apparent she is not merely a meek academic type. The content of this shot is dicey (there is a heavy implication of date rape), but the last five minutes shine. Black transforms from mousy teacher to vamping femme fatale. For fans of high camp acting, this film should not be missed.
The second short is the weakest by far, due to its obviously telegraphed "Twilight Zone"-esque twist. Still, Black remains the high point in her duel role as antagonistic sisters. Millicent, who looks like a schoolmarm version of the Goblin Queen from "Troll 2", believes her sister Therese is responsible for various misfortunes throughout her life. Or is there even an evil sister at all? (Three guesses what the twist is.) Black gets another opportunity to cut loose as the evil sister Therese, a comically tawdry character that embodies every "bad girl" trope imaginable, and it is truly a sight to behold.
The third short actually has the weakest of Black's performances, but overall remains the strongest of the bunch. It centers on Amelia, a woman who is terrorized by a tiny Zuni fetish doll that she bought for her anthropologist boyfriend. The doll wears a gold chain that prevents the evil spirit trapped within it from escaping, and of course Amelia accidentally lets the chain fall off. Soon the pint-sized figurine is up and running, chasing Black around her apartment whole wielding a paring knife. This short is relatively small-scale, focusing on Amelia and the doll in a singular setting, which keeps things suitably terse and suspenseful. Unfortunately, Black does not get an opportunity to ratchet her performance into over-the-top overdrive, but the freaky little doll more than makes up for that. It skitters around, chattering like the Tasmanian Devil from the Looney Tunes. The ending for this one is also the best of the three, as it is not nearly as predictable as the preceding shorts.
Sadly, there is no wraparound story in "Trilogy of Terror", no through line to connect the stories in any way. This is likely due to the time constraints of the TV movie format, but I do wish there had been some connection to tie all three stories together other than the loose theme of "Karen Black gets repeatedly terrorized". The movie sets out with a modest goal, to string together three vaguely "Twilight Zone"-ish stories into an ABC Movie of the Week. In that regard, it accomplishes its goal. Karen Black is an incredibly fun actress and it is a treat to watch what is often a one-woman show. It may not be a horror masterwork, but it is certainly a decent way to spend 75 minutes.
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