“This can't be happening! This can't be happening!” - Amelia
Remember that spate of made for TV movies in the early to mid seventies?
We had some really great films, usually shown here in the UK on a Friday night. Films like Steven Spielberg’s Duel, for example, the original Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, which very nearly made the cut (so to speak) for this year’s 13 Frights.
One of the best of the best though, without question, was Trilogy of Terror.
I’ve spoken to a lot of people over the years who saw this when it was shown. Okay, admittedly not everybody remembers the title – a few remember the first two segments, but nobody I’ve spoken to has ever forgotten the final story in this anthology movie. More of that later.
For those of you who’ve never seen Trilogy of Terror, I’ll just say this. You NEED to.
It’s a study in mounting unease, sting in the tail endings but more than that, it’s a masterclass in acting by the late Karen Black, who stars in each of the three segments, each based on short stories by one of my favourite authors, Richard Matheson, and directed by Dark Shadows showrunner Dan Curtis.
Okay, let me explain, I’m not using the word “masterclass” lightly here. Karen Black plays a completely different character in each segment, each portrayal is strong enough to bring the viewer straight in to the story fresh, with no residual thoughts of the story that’s just been. It’s a powerhouse performance of electrifying proportions.
Thus is the first story, concerning an English tutor, Julie Eldrich (Karen Black) – a plain, mousey woman. As she passes Chad, a student – he suddenly has the notion to see what she looks like under all those clothes, and starts to daydream about her.
Chad is used to having his own way with women and seduces Julie despite her protests. On their first movie date, he uses a date rape drug in her root beer to knock her out, checks into a hotel and takes some photos of her in a few suggestive poses before presumably (it’s implied) raping her.
He then uses the photos (we assume he has quite a collection) to blackmail her into doing exactly what he wants.
After a few weeks, she announces that the game is over, she’s bored.
Chad has been manipulated by her since the first time he saw his tutor. She’s been pulling his strings all along and was controlling his every move in a role play of her own design. But now, she’s had enough and has poisoned him.
Later, she adds his obituary to her large scrapbook collection of obits. She’s been doing this for a long time, and her next victim is at the door, asking for English tuition.
Millicent and Therese
Millicent is a prudish, nervous spinster, at odds with her nymphomaniac sister Therese (Karen Black in both roles), whom Millicent is convinced is evil. Therese has a collection of books about devil worship, voodoo – and even, as a child seduced their father!
Millicent decides that Therese must die, and uses a voodoo talisman to kill her.
The attending doctor, who had earlier suffered a verbal berating by the platinum blonde Therese reveals that both sisters are the same person. The most advanced case of multiple personality disorder he’s ever seen. The long blonde hair is a wig. She had seduced her father and had subsequently killed her mother. Her actions had caused her to create “Millicent” as a repressed personality to counteract her actions. The recent death of her father had nudged her further into madness – and suicide.
Amelia (Karen Black) lives in a well appointed high rise apartment, having recently moved there to get away from her domineering, self pitying mother. Her life is getting better every day. She even has a boyfriend now, and has bought him a birthday gift of a Zuni fetish doll. But the doll comes with an unwanted extra.
It contains the spirit of a Zuni hunter. (The Zuni were a savage, violent African tribe, we gather). But as long as the golden chain remains about the doll’s middle, then the hunter’s spirit will remain in the doll.
It falls off.
The segment then becomes a nerve wracking game of cat and mouse as the fetish doll stalks Amelia through the house, hacking and slashing at her.
Bad point, the noises the doll makes actually make him sound like an angry Minion! Great point, the camera doesn’t linger on the doll as it attacks, but rather on Amelia’s reactions to him, so the giggle factor is diminished and we become more concerned about what’s happening to her than we do about the ridiculousness of her situation.
I’m not exactly sure whether it was the bite of the Zuni doll on her neck that does is, or the smoke from the over as she burns it, but at the end, Amelia calls her mother, who’s been making her feel guilty about seeing her boyfriend on his birthday rather than spending her Friday night as usual with her and invites her round.
A slow close up of her face reveals Amelia is now possessed by the doll and is crouched, with a kitchen knife, waiting for her. Pointed teeth bared, eyes, manic with malevolence.
Awesome film, though sadly available on region 1 DVD only. If you have a multi region player – check it out here.
Copyright © 2010 - 2015 Robin Pierce. All Rights reserved.