Trilogy of Terror (1975)

Genres - Horror, Thriller  |   Sub-Genres - Supernatural Horror  |   Release Date - Mar 4, 1975 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 77 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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As much a camp classic as Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, this horror anthology paved the way for actress Karen Black's precipitous '80s and '90s career decline and terrified an entire generation of TV kids with the devilish antics of the Zuni fetish warrior doll -- certainly the most hilarious/horrific bit of puppetry ever to grace either the silver or small screen. Yet only the final ten minutes of this flick feature the diminutive African warrior. The more lasting pleasure is Black's simultaneously genius and goofy acting and the exploitation thrills of the thematically interlocking story lines. It's easy to dismiss the first and second segments, both written by William F. Nolan, and praise the third, written by Richard Matheson, veteran of countless horror novels and Twilight Zone episodes. Yet all three stories are based on Matheson's work, and they all play with virgin/whore archetypes in ways that allow Black to make good use of her early training in exploitation films. With impossible cheekbones and pouty lips that anticipated the exaggerated glamour of comic actress Jennifer Coolidge, Black's got sin written all over her face. Yet she spends most of Trilogy of Terror hiding behind a succession of glasses, severe hairstyles, and schoolmarm clothing. That makes it all the more campily wondrous when she does get to break out of her sexual shackles: for the implied gang-bang and gothic degradation of "Julie"; for the blue eye shadow flirtatiousness and bewigged vamping of "Millicent and Therese"; and for the shockeroo finale of the incomparable "Amelia," which finds Black borrowing a gesture or two from her pal, the Zuni fetish doll. The little warrior himself became a permanent horror icon, but the image of Black literally becoming the doll both proved her considerable acting chops and destroyed any chance that she'd ever be taken seriously again. That's quite an accomplishment for a TV movie.