Today is the birthday of actress and bombshell Karen Black. She passed in 2013 but would have been 78 today. She was surely a beauty of the seventies and eighties, and a scream queen of her time as many of the roles she chose were in the horror genre. However, she didn’t always play the victim which was a new concept in the genre at the time. An example of this is in the TV movie Trilogy of Terror.
In 1975 ABC Movie of the Week Black starred as each of the stories protagonist. While the term “Movie of the Week” sounds cheesy to today’s standards, this anthology of horror films still mostly stand up today, especially if you can suspend your disbelief due to the lack of special effects which only one of the stories relies upon. Two of the three stories rely upon story and acting ability, both of which are executed extremely well. All three are written by Richard Matheson and directed by Dan Curtis.
Each story in Trilogy of Terror is titled after Black’s character, Julie, Millicent and Therese in which she plays twin sisters, and finally Amelia. Known for her long legs and beauty she was not afraid to play ugly or mousy in these films. This is especially true in Julie where she plays a homely college teacher cloaked in layers of clothing with no makeup, her long hair up in a messy bun, and thick rimmed glasses. It’s hard to make a bombshell like Karen Black not attractive, but their attempt made her look “normal” at best. It’s hard to see past this woman’s beauty. In this story she is the object of one of her student’s sudden affections. His affections turn into a pursuit as the plot continues, and the cat and mouse game begins.
In the latter two segments Black is mainly playing off of herself with very few co-stars and even none at all. This truly portrays her talent to dominate the screen and keep the audience captivated.
In Millicent and Therese Black portrays twin sisters who couldn’t be more different from one another. One is modest and responsible while the other is more wild and irrational as well as with an interest in the occult. Millicent is tired of her sister’s actions and irresponsible ways and decides to take matters into her own hands when no one will help her, not even the family physician. Using her sister’s interest in the occult she gets her revenge.
Lastly the third installment, Amelia, is the most horrific in nature, but probably holds up the least to today’s standards. In this installment of the Amelia buys a Zuni fetish doll for her boyfriend. The doll reportedly contains the soul of a Zuni hunter named ‘He Who Kills.’ The chain around the Zuni fetish doll keeps the soul inside of the figure, but if it’s broken it is released. You can assume what happens next.
Each of the three story lines in Trilogy of Terror have a twist which I’m sure seemed shocking at the time for TV audiences, but are still entertaining today. Each are well written, the characters are all very different from one another despite all of them being played by Black, and she is fully committed to each of the roles. She doesn’t phone it in for a minute. I highly recommend you check out this little known gem of a movie.