A Look Back at ‘Trilogy of Terror’

Today marks the 43rd anniversary of the release of the TV movie Trilogy of Terror, a high-class entry in the world of horror anthologies that has survived in the minds of fans for the stellar acting by Karen Black (1939-2013) and that terrifying doll.

You know the one.

In the first segment, "Julie," Black plays the titular mousy professor who is targeted by a handsome but sociopathic student (Black's real-life husband, Robert Burton, b. 1946). Burton's Chad decides he's curious what his teacher looks like "under all those clothes," eventually persuading her to go on a date with him — a date that ends with her being drugged, photographed in suggestive poses and raped while unconscious.

Julie, the spinster teacher with a secret (Video still via ABC)

Chad, Chad, Chad, Chad boy (Video still via ABC)

Pretty perverse for a 1975 TV movie. (Video still via ABC)

Faced with the prospect of being exposed as a pervy teacher, she's pressured into servicing his friends and more.

But "Julie" has a twist, one that leaves the viewer wondering if the story is meant to be taken as a condemnation of feminine wiles, or a feminist revenge tale.

Gregory Harrison (b. 1950) appears as a student in "Julie" (Video still via ABC)

Story two is "Millicent and Therese." Black was just 36 when this telefilm came out, but as taciturn Millicent, she looks 10 years older. Millicent rages against her sister Therese's (also played by Black) carefree attitude in the wake of their father's death.

Frantic Millicent (Video still via ABC)

John Karlen (b. 1933), the latest man on Therese's list (Video still via ABC)

In fact, Millicent claims Therese seduced their father when she was 16 and killed their mother, forcing Millicent to live on eggshells in the house they shared. Worse, Millicent believes Therese uses books on "demonology, pornography, satanism, witchcraft" to "capture the souls of others."

Come sit by me! (Video still via ABC)

Therese trashes Millicent's room, leading to a visit from Millicent's shrink (George Gaynes,  1917-2016). When he rebuffs her lewd advances, Therese implies he must be gay.

The ending won't fool modern viewers, but there is again a nod to sexual abuse and its corrupting affects.

There's something about "Amelia," the final installment, and the one everyone remembers so fondly.

In it, Black gets to play a nice, normal, atractive young woman, one fighting with her mother for independence.

Boy, are you ugyl (Video still via ABC)

She returns home one day with a fearsome-looking Zuni Fetish Doll clasping a spear. "He Who Kills" is the doll's name, according to a scroll that comes with it. The doll is a gift to Amelia's boyfriend Arthur.

"Boy, are you ugly," she says aloud, playfully, to the inanimate object, an echo of how Julie had been assessed  by the twoin the first episode.

After an anguished call with her guilt-tossing mom, Amelia puts the doll down too roughly, detaching an amulet the scroll had warned must always remain with the doll; removing it was said to make a real Zuni warrior's spirit, trapped inside, come to life.

Doll vs. doll (Video still via ABC)

Unfortunately, Amelia chooses her pushy mom over her boyfriend, deciding to cancel her date with him to celebrate his birthday. That leads her to discover later on that the doll is missing.

What ensues is a nightmarish 15 minutes as she attempts to find the missing beast, slowly realizing he has come to life — and has come to take hers.

It's a tour de force for Black, who is the only person in the entire segment. If only she'd left the apartment, but even her rental seems to be conspiring against her.

Watch the entire film here:

2 Responses

  1. JCW

    Worked for one of the first online movie rental/purchase startups Reel.com back in the late 90s. We specialized in obtaining hard to find and out of print items. Trilogy Of Terror had long been out of print when we were requested to obtain a copy for purchase by none other than Tim Burton… I’ve often wondered when we can expect his remake of this.

  2. Tim

    I was 10 years old when this movie came on TV. I still remember how much the last segment scared the crap out of me!

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