MAY 24, 2012
As with Lemora, Trilogy Of Terror is among the few movies featured on a documentary I’m editing that I hadn’t already seen, so I was eager to check it out. But I was puzzled after watching the interviews pertaining to the film, as no one had anything to say about the first two parts of this three story film – they only wanted to talk about one with the Zuni doll. I then realized that over the past 20 years or so (whenever I started paying attention to horror that existed before I was born), NO ONE had ever talked about the other two tales – in fact I still didn’t even know what their basic premises were.
Well, now that I’ve seen the film, I can understand why – they suck. Even the Zuni one isn’t that great, but it’s got a good villain, some surprising violence, and a terrific closing shot, giving people with vague memories something to latch onto. And those things make it easy to forget that it starts off just as bad as the other two stories, focusing on Karen Black talking on the phone to her mother, offering up more exposition than you’d find in an entire season of 24, including the directions for the Zuni doll. As if a woman old enough to be Karen Black’s mother would have the slightest bit of interest in the method of unleashing the power of a murderous fetish toy? That we don’t hear the mother utter a word doesn’t help, but at least it fits in with the next few minutes, where Black just walks around talking to herself. She seems shocked when the doll comes to life, but I don’t understand why – she was asking it questions and seemingly carrying on a full conversation with the damn thing just moments before.
But then the doll attacks, and it’s pretty awesome. Full body shots of the thing in motion are scarce, but the closeups are great, and I loved its voice – sort of a Gremlin meets Donald Duck. And he’s no pushover – he bites and stabs the hell out of Black (and her furniture), and doesn’t go down easy, either. She drowns him, traps him in a suitcase, smashes him into a lamp, and finally immolates him, yet he still keeps coming. That’s the benefit of a “genuine” Zuni fetish doll (she stresses “genuine” when explaining her purchase to her mother, as if there were a bunch of cheap knockoff Zuni fetish dolls in the market), I guess.
As for the others, I’m already forgetting chunks of them. In the first, a douchey college student suddenly becomes obsessed with his teacher (Black again – she’s in every story), and convinces her to go on a date to the movies, where he drugs her. He then takes photos of her in lewd poses and uses them to blackmail her to… uh, hang out and listen to music with him. Seriously, I have no idea what his end-game was here; if he just wanted to bang her, why not do it while she was drugged? Or does he cross the line there despite not having a single positive trait to his name? Well, joke’s on him – she put a spell on him, which is why he became so obsessed with her (no shit!), and now she’s bored with him so she drugs/kills him. Then we learn he’s just the latest in a long line of students she’s “seduced” and then killed, something I guess the authorities never noticed.
The next story is even more obnoxiously obvious from the start. Black plays twins (as if the promise of her in every story wasn’t enough, now they’re doubling down?), one who is meek and spiritual, the other a loud mouthed broad. The two hate each other, and explain as much to their doctor (George Gaynes!), and finally the meek one decides to kill the other. But it’s not the primitive FX that keeps the two from ever sharing a scene together, it’s (SPOILER!) the fact that they are in fact the same person! Wow, I bet you didn’t see that one coming… is something I might say to a person who was inexplicably making Trilogy Of Terror the first movie they ever saw. For a while I wondered if we were SUPPOSED to be aware that they were the same and make it a “twist” of sorts that there were indeed two of them, but then I remembered that this was a TV movie from 1975 and thus they probably didn’t think it would be necessary to be that clever.
But that’s the problem with both of these first two entries – they’re entirely built on twists that are kind of obvious to begin with. The guy in the first story literally says “All of a sudden I just want to see her naked!” (or something equally awkward), so the fact that he’s being manipulated is obvious before he even acts on it. Likewise, in the second story, Gaynes is clearly just humoring her when he asks about her “sister”, and the story takes place entirely in their house, which makes the fact that they don’t share a scene blatantly apparent. The third works because it’s a straightforward tale – a doll comes to life and tries to kill its owner. Done. Then they spring the little epilogue (with Black now possessed with the Zuni spirit) on us, and it totally works – it wasn’t the story’s sole reason for existing.
And it’s a bummer, because while the movie was produced/directed by Dan Curtis (who I have yet to see anything I really like from, though I’m sure Night Stalker would be up my alley if I ever get around to it), the stories were all written by Richard Matheson, a writer I like quite a bit. I think the 2nd one would work better on the page, because any number of narrative structures could obscure the fact that the two sisters never converse (first person diary accounts, for example). I have no theories as to how the first one could ever work though, it’s just a completely stupid premise.
Curtis made a sequel in 1996; the Zuni doll returned for the final story, with the first being about giant rats, and the middle story being a remake of “Bobby” from Dead Of Night (which was the best story in that one). So the movie is essentially 2/3s rehashed - clearly there were only creative motivations behind this endeavor. Somehow I doubt I’ll get around to seeing it before I wrap things up.
What say you?
P.S. Oddly enough when I went to search for the ToT trailer I found a spot that the director of the documentary put together a while back (before I was on board as editor, but I had shot a segment as one of the subjects - look for me!), so here's that instead.