Anyone familiar with Dan Curtis’ Dark Shadows instantly recognizes his presence once Trilogy of Terror begins. Whether it’s the spooky Robert Cobert score or the awkward cinematography, Trilogy of Terror has Curtis’ fingerprints everywhere. The film has become enshrined in American pop culture, largely for the last story in the trilogy. However, how does it hold up, and is Trilogy of Terror more than just one excellent tale?
The talented and accomplished Dan Curtis.
Dan Curtis proved to be the go-to producer when it came to made-for-television movies, particularly those dealing with the supernatural. Whether it was The Night Stalker, The Night Strangler, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Scream of the Wolf, or Dracula, Curtis all but guaranteed viewers an entertaining ride, whether it was new takes on classics, or new forays into terror. Trilogy of Terror proved no exception, and has gone down in cultural history as one of the most fondly remembered (if by fond you mean having nightmares from it) horror made-for-television movies from the 1970’s. Dan Curtis was a talented director and producer, and although he made a number of films dealing with the supernatural, his crowning achievement would be his work on the two mini-series The Winds of War and War and Remembrance.
Originally broadcast on March 4, 1975 on the ABC Movie of the Week, Trilogy of Terror is broken up into three stories, each starring Karen Black. Although the movie is best known for its third story, all three are excellent, although the third story is certainly the best. Karen Black excels in the roles she plays, particularly her role in the third story which revolves around her alone against a murderous doll. Dark Shadows alumnus John Karlen shows up for the second story in a brief appearance, but the film is largely about Black’s characters, giving her a chance to showcase her acting talents, but also placing a burden on her to carry the show.
Karen Black in one of several roles in Trilogy of Terror.
As I discussed with other made-for-television horror movies, the problem with watching forty-year-old films is that you’ve probably seen some of these conventions since the film was made. What was novel for Trilogy of Terror when it came out may be old hat to people who have watched horror films. It reminds me of when I watched The Exorcist for the first time a couple years ago. I’d seen so many parodies of the film that the original had little shock value. While I appreciated the film’s artistry and historical significance, I’d been exposed to so many of its defining tropes that it didn’t do anything for me. You may run into this with at least two of the three stories in Trilogy of Terror.
Trilogy of Terror's iconic doll.
Nevertheless, the movie is worth checking out. The first story would have been shocking had I not stumbled across its ending before I watched it. The second story is interesting, but the cinematography is weak. As mentioned, the twist endings that were novel at the time of the film’s release may not be so shocking, but the journey in getting to them is still fun. Trilogy of Terror may seem old-hat to you, but when it came out, it left a lot of people screaming in terror and you might find yourself screaming a bit too, even if you think you know what to expect.
Marill, Alvin. Movies Made for Television: The Telefeature and the Mini-Series: 1964-1986. New York Zoetrope, 1987.
McKenna, Michael. The ABC Movie of the Week: Big Movies for the Small Screen. Scarecrow Press, 2013.
Reyes, Amanda. Are You In The House Alone?: A TV Movie Compendium 1964-1999. Headpress, 2017.