After watching this 70s made-for-T.V. movie, you will come away with this starry gem: nothing is as it seems. That's right - just as this innocuous review is actually a rousing critique of society, and peanut butter is really where grandma went after her "long rest" - nothing is what you'd expect it to be. Unless, of course, you've seen enough movies to know that "nothing is as it seems" is a pretty reliable plot twist, and you're just waiting for it to happen.
Enter Trilogy of Terror, where the unexpected is their specialty...or their ketchup. Featuring three short films based on Richard Matheson tales rolled up into one seventy-nine minute burrito of thrills, the Trilogy stars the inimitable (and purportedly difficult to work with) Karen Black. The first set-up, entitled "Julia," places Ms. Black as a dowdy professor embroiled in a studly student's obsessive sexual goals. Will the professor find a way out of her naughty student's games, or will she merely give him an "A" at the end of the quarter? The second short flick, "Milicent and Therese," has Ms. Black working overtime as both sisters Milicent and Therese. When the sisters's father dies, good girl Milicent decides to stand up to her Satan-worshipping, good-time sister Therese once and for all. After warning off Therese's boyfriend about Therese's wicked ways, Milicent next attempts other, harsher means (Satan comes into this) to get rid of the bitch...against the local doctor's orders. Lastly, we have "Amelia," which pits Karen Black against a birthday present she bought for her boyfriend. The present, an "innocent-looking" Zuni doll that is supposed to contain the soul of a deceased hunter, proves to be a regular ankle-biter once Amelia opts to spend the night in. The lesson being: always go out on a Friday night, of course!
"Julia" and "Amelia" are the most interesting of the three tales - if only due to the fact that they contain sexual blackmail and violent figurines. Ms. Black's acting is believable, and the stories are easy enough to view in a mindless sort of way.
The problem with the tales lies in their predictability, and thematic similarity. While the acting is fairly strong overall, some directorly no-nos make it an agonizing ordeal - especially at one point early on in "Amelia" where Ms. Black interacts with not one, but two actors entirely over the phone - resulting in the monologue that just wouldn't die. "Milicent and Therese" faces the problem of being entirely too long, especially since there is little action, much talking, and the ending is clearly broadcast within the first five minutes of the film or so. The ending, which is supposed to be unexpected, would only be found so if the viewer is exceptionally tucked away from society and film-viewing at large. Perhaps a child raised by hobos, or hideously strict parents with an aversion to "talkies," would be surprised. Personally, I was surprised that a general practitioner was clearly giving psychiatric advice to Milicent. I had no idea that he was so qualified, and I really can't think of anything better than a psychiatrist that takes your blood pressure and gives you a lollipop at the end of the session.
Although most of the films are shot in a very visually straightforward way, some nice cinematographic touches do come into play. In "Julia," a shot of the furious bespectacled professor with flames reflected in her lenses comes off nicely, while in "Milicent and Therese," amid a flurry of annoyingly low angles, comes one brilliant one that seems to put a halo around goody two-shoes Milicent's crown. The musical theme, with stings aplenty, created by Robert Cobert, is memorable and fun.
This made-for-T.V. movie comes in a very watchable print brought to you by Dark Sky Films. The DVD also comes with a feature-length commentary with Karen Black and writer William F. Nolan, a "Three Colors Black" featurette, and a "Richard Matheson: Terror Scribe" featurette. Both featurettes include horrormeisters Karen Black and Richard Matheson denying that trilogy of terror has anything to do with the horror genre, despite evidence to the contrary. Apparently Matheson prefers to be thought of as a Terror writer, and as for Black, she makes herself look terribly silly by claiming that Trilogy of Terror is a work of Science Fiction! Apparently horror is a dirty, dirty, word (perhaps due to the homophone "whore" that matches the first syllable of "horror"), and Black tries hard to come clean from the grime that still, apparently, clings to her soul a la Lady Macbeth.
If you've got nothing to do on a Friday night, and want to risk the danger of staying in, you could do worse than watch Trilogy of Terror.