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Trilogy of Terror (Dan Curtis, 1975)


      Trilogy of Terror, a horror story triptych starring an unforgettable Karen Black, stands as one of the all-time classic television movies. Its three tales involve a teacher who gets pressured into a relationship with a student with deadly results, a mysterious murder involving an evil twin, and, in what is surely the best remembered of the trio, a dangerous encounter with an animated tribal fetish doll. Although each of the three stories is solidly told, there is no doubt that most viewers will prefer the third among them. Penned by Richard Matheson, a master of this sort of short-form shocker, it executes its familiar conceit, involving a homicidal living doll, about as well as could be expected. One would be hard pressed to find even a feature film along these lines that can compare to the excitement that is offered once Trilogy of Terrorís final segment gets rolling.


      Short and to the point (the three stories are told in a scant seventy-two minutes), Trilogy of Terror wastes little time on clumsy exposition or subsidiary characters. Throughout the trilogy, Karen Black gets ample opportunity to demonstrate her range. Her four roles over the three episodes (in the middle entry, she plays twins) see her play prim and passionate, twins and terrified. Itís a real showcase for the actress, who is asked to carry the entire film. Her performance is to credit for most of the tension that the first two tales manage. In many scenes, sheís the only person on screen, whether she is having a phone conversation with an off-screen character or merely talking to herself at length. The slightly demented demeanor that Black brings to all of her roles pays major dividends here, whether she is playing a creepy seductress, engaging in a deadly mind game, or ensuring us, with a look of complete fear in her eyes, that the doll that is stalking her is truly alive.


     Anthology films inevitably are handicapped because some segments will invariably be stronger than others. While Trilogy of Terrorís third section is almost indisputably superior to whatís come before, the lack of a stinker among the trio is a saving grace. Furthermore, since the three tales here are structured in a way that makes them increasingly compelling as they unfold, thereís little sense of disappointment as one story draws to an end and another begins. By the time the Zuni fetish doll bursts onto the screen and worms its way into your nightmares (or your heart), youíll be fully convinced that youíve seen at least one-third of a genre classic.



Jeremy Heilman