Trilogy of Terror (1975)
Trilogy of Terror (1975)

Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 12 min.

Release Date: March 4th, 1975 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Dan Curtis Actors: Karen Black, Robert Burton, John Karlen, George Gaynes, Jim Storm, Kathryn Reynolds, Tracy Curtis




n the first of three stories, entitled “Julie,” Chad (Robert Burton) can’t seem to concentrate in his college literature class, thanks to the teacher, Julie Eldridge (Karen Black), who must surely be concealing a sexy figure underneath her formal clothing. As a photography novice, Chad has quite the imagination – which coerces him into spying on Julie after hours. In short time, he asks Julie on a date to a drive-in movie, which is against the rules of the school – but both of them think they can keep it under wraps. After all, Julie could use a romantic diversion, considering that even her coworker Anne (Kathryn Reynolds) comments on how attractive Julie could be if she only tried. Although the date seems harmless enough, it takes a dark turn when Chad drugs Julie’s drink, then drives her to a motel.

Though Chad is initially good-natured, his behavior deteriorates drastically when Julie insists that they shouldn’t see each other anymore. Far from the expected horrors of serial killers or monsters (there are interesting references to famous authors’ works about violence, including Faulkner and Hemingway), “Julie” examines blackmail, harassment, manipulation, and rape – a daunting series of events that is both realistic and well-conceived. It also features a stellar twist, which is far more electrifying than it is convincing. Black makes the whole thing more credible, even if the plot has a few holes that aren’t so easy to dismiss (unless, perhaps, witchcraft is offered up as an explanation).

The second story, “Millicent and Therese,” once again stars Black, but this time in a dual role as two sisters: Millicent, a homely, shrewish woman who despises her sibling; and Therese, who is loud, uncontrollable, promiscuous, and a boisterous partier. Millicent insists that Therese is a murderer and had conducted an incestual relationship with their father (before he passed away), the details of which were jotted down in a journal. She relates this information to Mr. Anmar (John Karlin), one of Therese’s lovers, and to family physician Dr. Chester Ramsey (George Gaynes), though neither one fully believes Millie. Amusingly, this chapter is told initially from the point of view of Millie, with Therese mysteriously absent from the picture. But when the sultry sister finally makes an appearance, it’s too obvious that the editing is struggling to cover up a morbid surprise. As a result, the shock ending couldn’t be more predictable.

The middle narrative boasts a hint of the supernatural, which carries over into the final tale, entitled “Amelia.” Playing yet another distinct persona (actually, the most normal of the lot), Black is Amelia, a young woman distraught to tears by an overbearing mother who demands far too much time and attention. When Amelia cancels a Friday night dinner with her mother, in favor of seeing city college anthropology teacher Arthur (Gregory Harrison) on his birthday, her exhausting phone call finishes abruptly with her mom hanging up on her. Flustered, Amelia nevertheless prepares for her date – but not before a wooden Zuni fetish doll, supposedly inhabited by a hunter’s spirit, which she bought as a gift for her boyfriend, begins to cause some mischief.

All three shorts in this television anthology, adapted by William F. Nolan from stories by Richard Matheson, seem to inhabit the same universe. From schools to neighborhoods, it’s sensible that these tales could overlap, especially with the voodoo link of the last two thrillers. Also tying them together is Karen Black, who not only headlines each episode, but virtually stars alone. She’s the main character and has the majority of the speaking lines, especially when she talks to herself or narrates; everything is centered around her star power. Without her exceptional performances, this trilogy of terror wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining. Even “Amelia,” which is the most over-the-top of the bunch (it’s as unintentionally comical at times as it is unnerving), possesses a certain severity, thanks to intermittent bloodshed and her insistence on taking the scenario seriously. It’s also the most chaotic, quirky, and traditionally frightening of the storylines – as well as the most memorable.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10