Karen Black is too frightening for mainstream cinema. You couldn't watch her in a romantic comedy without wondering whether she's going to kill and devour the male lead. But those freaky crossed eyes and that off-kilter sexuality make her a magnetic screen presence and we're all lucky that she found a handful of directors who were able to use her well without rendering her ridiculous ("Five Easy Pieces" by Rafelson) or shrewish ("Nashville" by Altman). Of all Karen Black's worthy star vehicles (an extremely short list), "Trilogy of Terror" is far and away the standout.The first two pieces are mildly diverting -- the first, "Julie," has an entirely untelegraphed twist that feels like a cheap trick, so it's the weakest link. Still, it coasts along nicely on its creepy camera angles and Karen's dark-star power, and the last couple of scenes are just unsettling enough to whet your appetite for the delights to come. The second segment, "Millicent/Therese," is some standard mid-70s horror fare, laced with madness and hints of sexual perversity, that would be a "Flowers in the Attic"-style yawn if it weren't for the lovely Karen, who plays warring sisters: prim, evangelical Millicent and slutty, predatory Therese. As Therese, she wears a ridiculous blonde wig and sashays around the set like a drag queen, a fully intended foray into pure camp made even more bizarre by Karen's much more nuanced performance as repressed, mousy little Millie. Slowly you wonder if all of Therese's evil is a figment of . . . well, I don't want to spoil it for you.Ol' Karen saves the best for last: "Amelia." As played by Karen Black, Amelia is a complex, very modern, very normal woman confronted with an utterly conventional dilemma: does she spend Friday night with her boyfriend or her mother? But this isn't a sitcom starring Valerie Harper, it's a horror movie starring Karen Black and something intensely weird happens -- the Zulu doll she has bought as a present for her boyfriend comes to life and starts chasing her around the apartment! (Sound familiar, "Chuckie" fans?) It sounds ridiculous, and it would be if it weren't for the magnificent Ms. Black. She believes. There is no ironic distance between actress and character, no winking acknowledgment of the absurdity of the situation, no excess of histrionics. Dammit, Karen is being menaced by a vicious, spear-wielding figurine and you are terrified for her! Maybe you could make the argument that the vignette is an attempt to juxtapose the civilized and the savage and to expose our true uncivilized nature. But no. It's an ugly doll attacking a cross-eyed actress. It's silly. It's stupid. It's pure entertainment. If you haven't seen it yet, go get it now.
EVERYONE I know that's ever seen it says the same thing. That doll freaked them out! The doll in the last story is worth it all! You watch this and you won't be able to go to sleep till you make sure any dolls in your house are locked away! I think the dolls face is so well done, so damned creepy that even with the somewhat limited "special effects" that were used to do the doll, it just freaks you out and afterward any little sound in your house will make you jump or send a shiver down your spine! For a made-for-TV movie from 1975 it is fantastic! I forget how much they paid to get the doll to work, but I think it was something like $100,000. Lots of money back then just for a single item for a movie, but well worth it! The stories are pretty good too! Worthy of the Twilight Zone, or Outer Limits! Karen Black is great in this. Of course, this was her time to shine in the mid '70's. If you like the Chucky movies, then you'll love this one.
I long for the days when an odd, slightly exotic/slightly zonked actress like Karen Black can make it in Hollywood. There was a time in the mid-'70s when--every time you turned around--Karen Black was in a new movie. I'm still discovering early movies she starred or co-starred in that I never knew about ("Cisco Pike", "Portnoy's Complaint", "The Pyx"). She and director Dan Curtis were quite a pair, here masterfully zipping through three short creep-outs in which Karen plays four fascinating women. The last segment, "Amelia", has incredible point-of-view camera-work, seamlessly swooping around corners, which rivals even "The Shining". Karen is very much attuned to the eccentricities of character (in fact, when she played a 'normal' woman, like the lead in "Day Of The Locust", she came off almost colorless), but Dan Curtis winds this toy up and Karen runs with it. The first two segments are psychological suspense studies of ruined-women-turned-triumphant, the third story turns the tables and makes woman the victim. It's a terrific feat, worth talking about even after 26 years.
Karen Black excels playing four different roles in this made-for-TV horror trilogy adapted from the works of Richard Matheson. In `Julie,' a meek college professor turns the tables on a student who drugs, rapes and attempts to blackmail her. `Millicent and Therese' details a pair of feuding sisters; a frigid, jealous brunette and a kinky, malicious blonde. Finally, 'Amelia' (also known as `Prey') details Black's horrific battle with a re-animated Zuni fetish doll inhabited by the spirit of a bloodthirsty African warrior. Although the first tale doesn't hold together very well and the second is too predictable, this is well worth sitting through for the final segment and, as always, Karen Black rocks in all four roles. `Amelia' is also available separate on video as TERROR OF THE DOLL, by the way. It was followed by an OK 1996 made-for-cable sequel starring Lysette Anthony.Score: 7 out of 10
Three stories and each story gets better than the last. And yes the last story is the creepiest - freakiest - the Zuni fetish doll. The first story "Julie" and the second "Millicent and Therese" are suspenseful thrillers that are well worth watching. The third story "Amelia" is horrifying - it will scare the pants off of you.If you have not seen "Trilogy of Terror" do so!! It is one of the best made for TV horror movies that you will ever see.By the way, the Zuni fetish doll you will see in the third story of "Trilogy of Terror" makes Chucky look just like "Child's Play". Chucky cannot hold a candle to the Zuni. Zuni rules, Chucky drools.9/10