Happy October! It’s officially the Halloween season, even though every day is Halloween for me. I don’t really have the time to do a major Halloween marathon like I see some of the horror bloggers doing, but I wanted to celebrate the season. If you know me, you know I love made for t.v. horror movies and I have a stack of three to watch, so I thought I’d declare this October the Made For T.V. Halloween Season.
The first movie is 1975’s Trilogy of Terror that originally aired on ABC.
In the 1970s, some of the biggest made for t.v. movies came from the ABC network. They generally didn’t cost much to make (Under $1 million) but could draw large audiences. Aging and up-and-coming stars could round out a cast and attract an audience. Trilogy of Terror was directed by Dan Curtis, the creator of Dark Shadows and other outstanding t.v. movies like Night Stalker. Trilogy of Terror was based on the short stories of Richard Matheson, a frequent collaborator with Curtis. Information for this section was sourced from Amanda Reyes’ amazing book, Are You in the House Alone? A TV Movie Compendium 1964-1999.
The movie is divided into three segments. There’s no narrative book-ending the stories. The closest we get to that is that Karen Black acts as different characters in all three segments.
There are spoilers in this review, so if you don’t want a 44-year-old t.v. movie to be spoiled then don’t read further.
Karen Black plays a mousy college English professor, Julie Eldridge. Robert Burton plays Chad, one of her college students that’s suddenly obsessed with her. He asks her out on a date and uses the opportunity to drug her, take compromising pictures of her, and rape her. He uses the pictures to blackmail her. Until Julie turns the tables on him, implying that she manipulated him to be obsessed with her and that she’s bored with him. She poisons him and burns his house down. She’s had many victims and he’s just the most recent one.
This was my second favorite story in the anthology. It’s deeply satisfying to see the tables turned on Chad. He’s such a predatory creep.
The cinematography in this part stood out the most for me of all three stories.
There were some fun horror easter eggs that I think horror fans would enjoy. Chad checks him and Julie into a hotel as Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Harker. The movie they see at a drive in is a vampire movie. Possible nods to Curtis’ past work on Dark Shadows?
Also, her last name, Eldridge, sounds very close to the word “eldritch.” The story doesn’t really explain how Julie manipulated Chad. Was it psychology or magic? I wouldn’t attach much significance to it if anyone but Matheson had written the original short story, he’s a very deliberate writer.
“Millicent and Therese”
Karen Black plays dual roles as the two sisters, Millicent and Therese. Millicent is repressed and prudish and hates her sister, Therese. She accuses her of dark magic and being generally evil.
Therese is loose and just generally evil.
Millicent decides to exact justice on Therese using Therese’s own tricks, voodoo. She makes a voodoo doll of Therese. The family doctor finds Therese dead next to the doll. But, the twist is, Therese is Millicent. Millicent had multiple personalities. Killing Therese was suicide.
I wish I could say more about this story but it felt like filler between the first and last sections. Karen Black is good enough with the material but neither character is very three dimensional. I was bored the whole time until the twist was revealed. I just wished the story could have made both of the sisters more ambiguous–Millicent more evil and cruel, Therese more kind and nice–so it wasn’t just a black and white “I’m going to KILL my sister story.”
Honestly, the most impressive part to me was how mousy and unappealing they made Millicent and how horrible Therese’s wig is.
This is the most famous, iconic story from Trilogy of Terror and also my favorite. I can’t help it, I’m simple.
Amelia has a night planned with her anthropologist boyfriend. She bought him a Zuni fetish doll named “He Who Kills” for his birthday.
It is the ugliest scariest doll.
A gold chain binds the hunter’s spirit to the doll. The chain falls off and Amelia is terrorized by the suddenly sentient, murderous doll.
The story is effective because a lot of the action is implied. We hear the doll’s creepy little feet running. We see the knife it takes stabbing. What we do see of the doll moving looks surprisingly good for a t.v. movie from the 70s. Less is definitely more with this story.
The story is reminiscent of “The Invaders” episode of The Twilight Zone, which Matheson also wrote. Karen Black is entirely alone for this story and delivers a chilling performance as someone hunted by the absurd. Like Agnes Moorehead in The Twilight Zone, Karen Black manages to convey terror without anyone to act against.
I loved the ending. You think that Amelia has outsmarted the doll. Instead, its spirit possesses her. We see her call her mother to invite her over, and then she starts rhythmically stabbing the ground with a knife. Her whole physicality changes as you realize she’s possessed. The movie ends with her smiling with teeth like the evil doll’s.
I love anthology films. They’re some of my favorite in the horror genre. The thing with them is that they’re not always even. So, while I personally didn’t like the “Millicent and Therese” story, you might find it enjoyable. Even with the weak second story, I’d still recommend this because it really is an iconic cult movie. It’s spooky despite the limitations imposed on t.v. in the seventies, both budgetary and regarding content.