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Trilogy of Terror (1975)

Trilogy of Terror is a 1975 made-for-television horror/thriller anthology film that remains a cherished cult favourite.

Karen Black plays the lead in all three stories and as one of the segments involves twins, she plays no less than four different characters in the film.

The first story is called ‘Julie’ and revolves around a creepy and smug college student named Chad (Robert Burton) who declares himself unimpressed with the girls on campus but becomes obsessed with his English professor Julie Eldrich (the first of Black’s multiple roles) after catching a glimpse of her thigh during class.

His friend Eddie (James Storm) is not entirely convinced but Chad believes that behind the spectacles, hairpin, and frumpy clothes their teacher is a ravishing beauty. Chad – who is a very nasty piece of work – decides that Julie will be his next conquest and secretly spies on her before persuading the initially uncertain teacher to go to a drive-in cinema with him.

He spikes her soft drink and takes revealing photographs of her while she is knocked out. Now armed with blackmail material, Chad believes he can make Miss Eldrige do anything he wants.

Unfortunately, Chad has assumed that he is in control of the situation and that Miss Eldrige is who and what she appears to be. It turns out that he’s wrong –  and Miss Eldrige teaches an important life lesson to the “singularly unimaginative” Chad.

The middle segment is called ‘Millicent and Therese’ and features Karen Black playing very different twins named (natch) Millicent and Therese.

Millicent is a plain, bookish and timid spinster with big spectacles and sensible clothes while Therese is garish, flirtatious, confident, vampish, and favours bright lipstick, platinum blonde hair and short skirts.

Millicent is convinced that Therese is evil and even suspects she might have somehow been responsible for the death of their parents. She determines that Therese must be stopped and deploys a voodoo doll.

The biggest factor in Trilogy of Terror‘s cult fame is the third and final story, ‘Amelia’ – where Black plays a woman alone in a highrise apartment being stalked and hunted by a small but relentless and ferocious Zuni fetish warrior doll complete with miniature spear and razor-sharp teeth.

The story begins with her arriving home with a package and then having a strained conversation on the telephone with her mother. Amelia is trying to assert her independence but her mother is needy and manipulative.

Amelia’s package contains a wooden Zuni fetish doll that she bought as a gift for her professor boyfriend.

The doll is said to contain the spirit of a Zuni warrior (“He who kills”) with a gold chain around the doll – so the legend goes – preventing the spirit from reanimating the doll.

It’s supposed to be a fun novelty gift but when Amelia sets the doll down and unwittingly allows the chain to fall off, the ugly little doll springs to life, grabs a steak knife and soon has our plucky heroine trapped in her apartment and fighting for her life.

Karen Black battling a little toy doll could so easily be ridiculous but the doll is so relentless in its pursuit of Amelia around the apartment that we genuinely fear for her as it stabs away at her ankles and even survives an attempt to drown it in the bath.

A 1996 sequel – Trilogy of Terror II – starred Lysette Anthony stepping into the shoes of Karen Black in three different roles.

Julie Eldrich/Millicent Larimore/Therese Larimore/Amelia
Karen Black
Chad Foster
Robert Burton
Thomas Amman
John Karlen
Dr Chester Ramsey
George Gaynes
Eddie Nells
Jim Storm
Arthur Moore
Gregory Harrison
Anne Richards
Kathryn Reynolds
Tracy Curtis
Motel Clerk
Orin Cannon

Dan Curtis