Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Review: Trilogy of Terror

I thought we'd go back in time just a wee bit. Heck even before I was born. Trilogy of Terror debuted in 1975 on ABC as a made-for-TV movie. It was actually supposed to be the pilot for a new horror anthology series but sadly it was never picked up.

The movie is made up of three segments all played by the beautiful and talented actress Karen Black who was previously in the epic movie Easy Rider. The three segments are based on stories written by Richard Matheson who may be best known for writing I Am Legend and various Twilight Zone episodes including Terror at 20,000 feet. Since there is no wraparound for this movie why don't we just start at the beginning yes?

Our appetizer course in this terrifying feast is brought to us in the form of "Julie". Did I mention that all three segments are named after the titular character? No? Well let's move on.

 She's a horror movie multitasker. Say that five times fast!

This story revolves around the bookish and shy college professor Julia. She is being pursed by a creepy and voyeuristic sleazebag student name Chad (Robert Burton). Yeah, Chad. She resists his advances but finally gives him a shot. After slipping Julia a roofie during their date he takes her to a sleazy motel and proceeds to take staged photos of her. There is also an implied rape which just makes me sick. Chad then uses those same photos to keep her under his control after she tries to break things off with him. But we slowly learn that Julia is not all that she seems and start to question who is really being manipulated here?

She's thinking what we all are. I want to punch you in you smug face Chad!

Unfortunately as with most horror anthology films the first segment is the weakest and this one is no exception. This was my least favorite of the three. I found the writing to be very bland and the dialogue delivery was at times awful. Sometimes bad dialogue can be good but this is just plain bad.

The silver lining here is of course Karen Black. She isn't give much to do or to say in the first half of the segment. It's only in the latter half that she really starts to shine. Julia comes out of her shell so to speak and we get a sense for the power she can command. I found myself wanting more of this Julia but it came too little too late to save this one for me.

For the main course we are served up "Millicent & Therese". This segment tells us the tale of two very different sisters living under the same roof after their father dies. This is already trouble am I right? Right? Ok I'll stop. One is the old maid and very prudent sister Millicent. The other is fast living, beautiful and hard partying Therese.

 She's writing her grandchild a check for 5 bucks no doubt.

Well I will have a seat right there thank you.

Our story starts out shortly after the funeral of their father with a visit from Therese's boyfriend. Millicent convinces him to leave her after telling him tales of witchcraft, devil worship, and incest all at the hands of out of control Therese. This, for obvious reasons, enrages Therese and she threatens to kill Millicent. This is when Millicent calls on Dr. Ramsey (George Gaynes) and he offers to come by. everyone has a doctor for a friend right? Unfortunately for him he runs into Therese instead and after a failed seduction she berates him and tells him never to come back. Millicent then calls her friend Dr. Ramsey once again and says she knows how to defeat her evil sister once and for all. With her own medicine. Black magic and voodoo. Will she succeed and should she be playing with forces she doesn't know how to control? You'll just have to watch and see.

As the order implies, this is my second favorite segment of the bunch. We get to see more of Karen Black's acting chops in the form of two very different characters here. I love the transformations and the subtle use of makeup to make Millicent look much older and plain while the Therese character uses the same makeup to amplify Karen's already apparent beauty. Ms. Black plays both equally well. The sexy and seductive Therese oozes confidence and cunning reminiscent of Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, while Millicent shows almost biblical conviction and determination similar to that of Mrs. Carmody in Stephen King's The Mist.

There isn't too much bad to say here other than I wish the story would have been fleshed out a little and we had more of a back story. In that sense it could have been much more interesting. As with the first segment, this wasn't very scary. At least not to me. Interesting? Yes. Scary? Sadly, no.

Our final tale is the icing on the cake and it's brought to us courtesy of "Alice". This story concerns the lovely Alice who lives alone in a large high-rise apartment complex. Alice has just returned from shopping for a present for her Anthropology professor boyfriend. She first calls her controlling mother to tell her that she has a hot date and can't see her tonight. All is not well with these two but that's another discussion. The bad news about her shopping extravaganza is that she got a hideous looking and sharp-toothed Zuni fetish doll. Ok. Sure. Why not? Worse presents have been had. Except for the fact that it comes with a cryptic scroll that says this Zuni fetish doll is named "He Who Kills" and claims to be the resting place for a Zuni hunter spirit. Does this place offer refunds? Who am I kidding? I would have taken it home too, but for myself. The scroll also warns that the chain binding the doll should never be removed lest grave danger befall that person in the form of a homicidal doll. Oh Alice.Of course the chain comes off and then the fun really begins. This doll is out for blood and begins violently stalking, attacking and chasing her around her apartment. Will Alice pull an "Alice" of Resident Evil fame and kick some undead ass or will the doll claim another victim in what I'm sure is a long career written in blood.

No mother I don't want to hang out tonight. I have a hot date!

I definitely recommend that you watch and find out even if you are afraid off dolls. This is my favorite segment (I'm sure many others as well) and the scariest of the bunch. This third leg of the tour is based off of a short story by Matheson called "Prey". The first two were teleplays written by him. Maybe this says something about his stories via book vs. TV? Or maybe not. He wrote some really good Twilight Zone episodes such as The Invaders and Once Upon A Time.

Karen Black again shines, and all by herself I might add. She might just be the original scream queen. Eat your heart out Jamie Lee Curtis. She does a terrific job of conveying the fear and terror one might feel being locked up in a dark apartment with a tiny killer doll looking to use your intestines as Christmas tree decorations.

I love the sense of isolation and foreboding this story conveys. Being trapped alone gives me the sense of some sort of claustrophobia but throw in the Zuni doll? Forget it.

I also applaud the look of the doll. Whoever designed the doll really made it look quite menacing. The Zuni warrior also makes these screeching and screaming noises that add to the fear and tension. You occasionally hear little footsteps tapping. Subtle shadows moving. What was that? Is that him? Aaaahhhhhh!!

This may not be the first thing you want to see when you wake up in the morning. Or maybe this is an upgrade?

All in all this horror anthology movie was just ok for me. One thing that I didn't like was the twist endings for the first two segments. You could see them coming a mile away. I'm not sure if this is due to bad writing or that audiences nowadays are just too used to that. Now you would have to throw 3 or 4 curve balls their way (and mine) just to be surprised. Or we are just too jaded? Maybe both. Conversely the third segment twist was a very happy exception to this rule.

Again, I will say that Karen Black is a gem in this and really put her heart and soul into every part of this film. She really should have went further with her career in my humble opinion. Sadly she was typecast and like many others only received cult status much later in life. I would recommend you watch this film at least once if not just for the last segment. It's also a short film by today's standards if that's a concern for you. With a running time of 72 minutes you could breeze through it and be back in time for happy hour! I give it a 5/10 but judge it for yourself. Love you all!