TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975)
Director: Dan Curtis
Dark Sky Films/MPI

In the late 1960s, producer Dan Curtis reinvented terror on television with the landmark supernatural soap opera, “Dark Shadows.” It lasted for four seasons and spawned two theatrical films, but Curtis still remained one of the prime providers of small screen shocks for the decade to follow. His productions of THE NIGHT STALKER and THE NIGHT STRANGLER (both starring Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak) proved to be trendy ratings winners, eventually leading to a number of other telelfilms, including the highly memorable TRILOGY OF TERROR, which he also directed. Scaring the bejesus out of the many tykes who originally witnessed its final episode on prime time, TRILOGY OF TERROR is being re-released as a special edition which also works as a tribute to the recently deceased Curtis.

TRILOGY OF TERROR gathers three short stories by legendary writer Richard Matheson; the first two were adopted for the film by William F. Nolan (LOGAN’S RUN, BURNT OFFERINGS), while Matheson himself adopted the third one. During her peak as a Hollywood leading lady, actress Karen Black was brought in to play the primary roles in all three stories, and pretty much holds the whole thing together. In "Julie," Black plays an uptight college professor who reluctantly goes out on a date with one of her students. He drugs her soft drink, takes some very incriminating photos of her, and blackmails her. In "Millicent and Therese," Black plays two very different sisters, one a repressed spinster and the other, well a blond tramp, both who use witchcraft to outfox one another. Lastly in "Amelia," Black is a woman who purchases a Zuni fetish doll to give to her new boyfriend as a present. A scroll included with the doll states that it embodies the spirit of an ancient hunter, and if the gold chain it wears is removed, the doll will come to life. Of course, the chain is fall off and the wicked little bastard goes on a rampage, assaulting the unsuspecting Amelia in her lonely apartment. All three stories have twist endings.

Employing a well-known movie actress who (at the time) didn’t do much television proved to be a good idea, and Black does an impressive, if sometimes campy job of portraying the various central characters and giving them each their own identity. Curtis, an underrated genre director if there ever was one, does a proficient job of sustaining a tense 72 minutes, even though the first two stories are somewhat ordinary and overshadowed by the third, almost being played out as an extended warm up to get to it. It’s the repulsive, noisy, toothy, unstoppable Zuni doll that has kept this film in the public eye all these years. The rather graphic depiction (especially for a 1975 TV piece) of it biting and stabbing Amelia as she fights back is brilliantly edited (despite the limited special effects of the time), complemented by ingenious ground-level point-of-view shots of it in action, along with a very clever finale which make this one of the most flawless yarns in any anthology movie.

Although it is Black that really carries the film (in "Amelia," she is the sole cast member, interacting only with the dreadful doll and several others on the phone) with her thoughtful characterizations, there’s still a good supporting cast on hand. Also appearing are Robert “Skip” Burton (Black’s husband at the time), John Karlen (of “Dark Shadows” and DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS fame), George Gaynes (from the “Police Academy” series), Jim Storm (NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS), Gregory Harrison, Orin Cannon and Kathryn Reynolds. Dan Curtis’ youngest daughter Tracy appears in the "Millicent and Therese” episode, as does Curtis himself as an ambulance driver. Walker Edmiston, known for his character work on numerous “Sid & Marty Krofft” Saturday morning shows, voiced the disturbing utterances of the Zuni doll, uncredited.

Dark Sky Film’s DVD of TRILOGY OF TERROR is a definite improvement over the out-of-print Anchor Bay edition. Presented in its proper full frame ratio, colors look accurate, and there is an excellent amount of detail. The original source material shows no noticeable blemishes, and there is only some minor grain in a few brief parts. The Dolby Digital mono audio track is as clear and crisp as it can be, and optional English subtitles are included.

Extras on this Special Edition include a running commentary with writer William F. Nolan and star Karen Black. Black describes how she approached the different characters, while Nolan makes note of some of the touches he added to the Matheson stories he adapted. There is no moderator, but Nolan and Black get on well together, often asking each other questions concerning the project. Nolan signs off before the third story "Amelia" (since he had nothing to with it), giving Black the opportunity to go into detail about everyone’s favorite episode. She talks about how she re-wrote much of her character’s phone conversations with her mother, the difficulties with the Zuni doll, how some of the effects were conceived, coming up with the idea for the final shot and much more. Black is also interviewed for a featurette entitled “Three Colors of Black” (16:54). Here, she talks about her early days on the stage, a bit about EASY RIDER and FIVE EASY PIECES, and how her agent had to convince her to except TRILOGY OF TERRROR, which she was very reluctant to do at first, and then goes into a lot of interesting facets about making it and how people have reacted to it over the years. “Richard Matheson: Terror Scribe” (10:57) is an interview with the famed writer, as he discusses various films and television in his career, meeting and collaborating Dan Curtis, his three stories for TRILOGY OF TERROR, and deciding to adapt his “Prey” (the original short tale for which “Amelia” is based on) himself. (George R. Reis)

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