It’s not at all surprising that “Trilogy of Terror” has risen to cult status based solely on the success of Richard Matheson’s “Amelia” segment involving the murderous Zuni Fetish Doll as it is sadly the only remotely entertaining and spooky sequence in the 1975 anthology of three mixed tales. While the film has managed to become a bonafide horror classic I found myself wondering when the terror actually was set to begin, primarily because “Trilogy of Terror” is less centered around invoking terror and more on exploring the psyche of the mind and nothing else. The first two stories are just mere psychological thrillers, while the third story entitled “Amelia” is a straight forward monster in the house cat and mouse story but with a psychological twist setting in to question the mind set of its protagonist. “Trilogy of Terror” is one of the most underwhelming anthology horror films I’ve ever seen and one that’s based around a sense of self-importance that keeps it from sticking true to its nature of television movie horror.
Only in “Amelia” do we see the movie for what it is and what it should have been all along, all the while leaving potential new viewers just going through the motions awaiting the final short about the Zuni fetish doll. Prior to that there are two very forgettable segments, one of which entitled “Julia” about a reclusive literary teacher who becomes the target of sexual blackmail from an elitist student. This is a story that requires great patience and even when it offers a pay off, it’s really quite disappointing. Karen Black is hammy in this performance and there is a lot of plot twists and unanswered questions that never quite settle the audience in and leave them satisfied. The entirety of the story is based on the manipulation, seduction, and rape of the teacher leading in to black mail that involves Julia becoming a sex slave all of which comes full circle when we discover it was all a game of hers.
Why? We’re never truly told, but the story has to end, and it finishes on a question mark that I never wanted completed. There’s also “Therese & Millicent” a story of two sisters, one a sexually repressed upright woman who is convinced her voluptuous whorish sister is pure utter evil. We’re allowed a look at both women whom are never quite what they seem. Even without knowing the big twist in the end, I figured out the surprise twist from minute one, and in spite of some crafty editing, the pay off doesn’t work and is rather clunky and pointless. Sexual repression and unrequited desires lead to mental illness. Case closed. “Trilogy of Terror” really convinced me it was destined to become one of my all time favorite horror films, but ultimately it’s one big grand build-up all of which ends with a groan.
The one truly entertaining and creepy story in “Trilogy of Terror” is the most popular that has brought the film to cult status and it’s “Amelia” the story of a young tortured girl named Amelia who brings home a Zuni fetish doll for her boyfriend. Torn between her domineering mother, and independent boyfriend, Amelia has to decide who she wants to be loyal to, but that’s generally a backdrop for the true horror when she accidentally drops a chain from the doll that sets its to life. With some fantastic puppetry and masterful editing, Richard Matheson’s short story experiences a rather creepy adaptation with Karen Black going face to face with the dreaded Zuni Fetish Doll, a merciless and monstrous little demonic doll that will stop at nothing to hunt down and mutilate Amelia who fights for her life and matches wits with the supernatural hunter. Thankfully the psychological analysis is kept as a secondary thought as the focus of the final story is Amelia battling with the doll and the doll discovering new ways to maim and hurt her.
The pay off in the final scene is not only disturbing and harrowing but also takes a second look at the character Amelia who by the final scene has lost all sense of herself asking us to wonder if this all happened, or if this was one large case of insanity from a woman pushed over the edge by her torturous life. Whether it’s just a blunt horror story or something else matters little since the final scene of Black hunched down with her large blade is spooky and nightmarish. Save for the spooky and intense final segment with the infamous zuni fetish doll, “Trilogy of Terror” was an all around disappointing film with a steady focus on psychological torment and less on actual terror or scares. I wish I could join along with the crowd and praise this film, but I would have had to be entertained to do so.