Trilogy of Terror – also known in the United States as Tales of Terror and Terror of the Doll – is a made-for-television American horror film, first aired as an ABC Movie of the Week on March 4, 1975.
The film, directed by Dan Curtis and starring Karen Black, was originally a failed pilot for a horror anthology television series.
In the first story, Julie Eldridge is a sexually-repressed college teacher who is blackmailed by one of her students for a past indiscretion in which she played an unwilling part. But the student is unaware that Julie plots to turn the tables on him the first chance she gets.
In the second story, Millicent Larimore is a plain-looking, almost reclusive woman who lives with her amoral twin sister Therese who delights in tormenting her. However, only their doctor who visits from time to time knows the real thing behind the scene.
In the final story, Amelia in a solo horror story monologue is a mother-dominated woman who buys an African Zuni fetish doll for her latest boyfriend in which the doll comes to life and terrorizes her in her own apartment
All three segments are based on unrelated short stories written by Richard Matheson. Each segment title is the name of each story’s protagonist, all played by Black. Black initially turned down the project but reconsidered when her then-husband, Robert Burton, was cast. The film built a cult following and a belated sequel, Trilogy of Terror II, written and also directed by Dan Curtis was released in 1996.
Jon Niccum, Lawrence Journal-World wrote, “The third segment in this trilogy is arguably the scariest piece ever crafted under the made-for-TV label.” Black felt the film led to genre typecasting, forcing her to accept many roles in B-grade horror films following the film’s release. She stated, “I think this little movie took my life and put it on a path that it didn’t even belong in.”
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Kino Lorber Studio Classics released Trilogy of Terror on Blu-ray via a 4K transfer on October 2, 2018.
- Audio commentary by film journalist Richard Harland Smith (new)
- Audio commentary with actress Karen Black and writer William F. Nolan
- Interview with composer Bob Cobert (new)
- Richard Matheson: Terror Scribe featurette
- Three Colors Black featurette
A Special Edition DVD was released on August 29, 2006, by MPI Home Video and distributed by Dark Sky Films, containing the original film plus additional material, including an audio commentary by Karen Black and screenwriter William F. Nolan.
“As TV movies go, Trilogy of Terror is actually pretty good and, while it may seem derivative in retrospect, it’s really not. Things that seem familiar here are only so because they were ripped off later. You may get the twists long in advance, but only because you’ve seen the imitations so many times since.” Jon Bastian, FilmMonthly.com
“No one had ever talked about the other two tales – in fact, I still didn’t even know what their basic premises were. Well, now that I’ve seen the film, I can understand why – they suck. Even the Zuni one isn’t that great, but it’s got a good villain, some surprising violence, and a terrific closing shot, giving people with vague memories something to latch onto.” Horror Movie a Day
“Though way before the ascent of digital graphics, the herky-jerky stop-motion effects, punctuated by awful-sounding low growls, add to the scares, rather than detract from them. That and Black’s emotionally compelling performance will keep you awake at night.” Michael Karol, The ABC Movie of the Week Companion
Cast and characters:
- Karen Black … Julie, Millicent, Therese, and Amelia
- Robert Burton (Black’s husband at the time) … Chad Foster in “Julie”
- John Karlen … Thomas Amman
- George Gaynes … Doctor Chester Ramsey in “Millicent and Therese”
- Jim Storm … Eddie Nells in “Julie”
- Gregory Harrison … the new student in “Julie”
- Kathryn Reynolds … Anne Richards
- Tracy Curtis … Tracy
- Orin Cannon … the Motel Clerk in “Julie”
- Walker Edmiston [uncredited] … the voice of the Zuni doll
In December 2019, the Zuni doll prop used for close-ups (one of the three made) was sold for auction at Profiles in History and was expected to go for a price in the $12,000 to $15,000 range. However, including the buyer’s premium, the doll was purchased for a whopping $217,600.