How much do you love Academy Award-nominee (Five Easy Pieces) Karen Black?
How much Karen Black do you think you can handle?
Can you handle 2 Karen Blacks? How about 3?
I’ve got a movie that gives you not one but FOUR Karen Blacks, all of them in peril. 1970s TV movie Trilogy of Terror (now on Amazon Prime) delivers three stories about women being mentally and/or physically terrorized by either society or themselves. Yes, fair readers, October continues and we’re still reveling in the horrors of the human race.
Don’t watch Trilogy of Terror expecting a blood-and-guts-fest, or even jump scares. Written by Richard Matheson (I Am Legend, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet), the terror in Trilogy of Terror is less frightening and more what kind of terror do women face on a daily basis and how the fuck do they deal with it? Each story comes with a Tales From The Crypt-style twist ending that alters each story.
Each segment is named after Karen Black’s character(s) who are subject to the film’s sufferings. In the first segment, Julie is a demure and mousey college professor living in a women’s dorm who has become an object of lust for one of her students, Chad (then-husband Robert Burton). Chad takes her out on a date where he drugs her, takes incriminating photographs and then proceeds to blackmail her for sex.
In the next segment, Millicent is a demure, worldly, chaste woman who lives with her free-wheeling rambunctious blonde sister Therese. Therese seduced her father at sixteen and killed their mother, but now that Daddy has died, the whole world is collapsing in on itself. Both “Julie” and “Millicent and Therese” are male attempts to wrangle with female sexuality. Julie waffles between her own desires and what men expect from her while Millicent and Therese are women unable to deal with their newly found sexual freedom. Both are trying for something political but neither come off very well for it.
The final segment is the kicker. It’s simultaneously the best and the worst segment. “Amelia” showcases the best use of a limited budget to create tension by keeping a high stakes game confined to a small set (see also: “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”). But, it’s also a rather racist offensive piece of disturbia whose meaning seems so bizarre that I can’t fathom it.
Amelia is going on a date with her college professor Arthur, and got him the gift of a Zuni Warrior Fetish Doll, which is an African-looking statue with sharp teeth and a spear (yes, I know Zuni is first nation and not African; I didn’t make this movie). The chain currently keeps the doll in tact, but when the chain is broken, the doll will become one with the owner. Which means a lot of cat and mouse hunting with Amelia trying to defend herself against a Native American doll armed with a knife. It’s kind of like that scene from Barbarella with the chomping dolls, except Amelia can fight back. Once you ignore the racial aspects, this segment is deliciously tense. And, ignoring the Zuni part of this segment, one could argue that this is about men attacking women with tiny little cuts until the women embrace the patriarchy and become men.
Trilogy of Terror doesn’t overstay its welcome (I think that some episodes of American Horror Story are longer), and Karen Black is always a delight.