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Dark Sky Films presents
Trilogy of Terror: Special Edition (1975)

"Mother, you should see what I'm getting him for his birthday. A genuine Zuni fetish doll."
- Amelia (Karen Black)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: August 29, 2006

Stars: Karen Black
Other Stars: Robert Burton, George Gaynes, Kathryn Reynolds, Jim Storm, Gregory Harrison, Tracy Curtis, Orin Cannon
Director: Dan Curtis

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild blood, horror elements)
Run Time: 01h:11m:55s
Release Date: August 29, 2006
UPC: 030306759395
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BB-B B+

DVD Review

For a television movie, this 1975 horror anthology earned its place in some special part of history for its story about a small Zuni doll statue that comes to life and terrorizes Karen Black in her New York apartment. That's the imagery that has kept this title alive over the years, and it is rarely recalled that Richard Matheson (I Am Legend, The Twilight Zone, Duel) wrote all three stories featured in the film, it was directed by the late, great Dan Curtis (Dark Shadows, Burnt Offerings, The Night Stalker), or that Black gets the chance to uncork one of those damn near one-woman show performances by playing four different lead characters.

Nope, it's the doll. That's what most folks remember.

And now that the barebones Anchor Bay version is long since out-of-print, Dark Sky has stepped up with this new special edition release, something that they have proven they have a fan-friendly knack for. The new extras (see below) feature Black, Matheson and writer William F. Nolan (Logan's Run), who adapted two of three Matheson stories featured here. That's really good news and it sets this one well apart from Anchor Bay's attempt, but like that hard to scratch part of your brain, it's still all about that doll.

To be fair, this is just as much about Black, who stars in the three segments, playing a diverse set of characters, each with their own set of problems. In Julie, she's a bookwormy college professor dealing with a student who tries to blackmail her with compromising photos, in Millicent and Therese she gets to turn it up as a pair of polar-opposite sisters (one's a tight-bunned spinster, the other a mini-skirt wearing tramp) and in Amelia (yes, it's the one with the doll) she plays a woman with some mother issues who also proves she has some major gift-buying problems, as well. And in the same year as her more respected turns in Nashville and The Year of the Locust, Trilogy of Terror gives Black the chance to have a little fun with these characters, especially in Julie and Millicent and Therese.

Coming from the pen of Matheson (and then refined by Nolan), there's an understandably Twilight Zone-ish feel to the first two tales, and while the payoffs may seem a bit obvious, the writing allows for Black to tiptoe easily into weird identities. From suppressed sexuality (Julie) to overt slut (Millicent and Therese), Black plays each role with distinct, definable borders, and over the space of the first 45 minutes it's fun to see her rip through such abrupt character shifts.

Then it's doll time. In Amelia—based on Matheson's short Prey—Black plays a single woman with a over-protective mother, and who has just bought her new boyfriend a very ugly, spear-toting birthday present; one that quickly comes to life and ends up chasing her around her apartment, chattering like some helium-sucking chimp. The Zuni doll effects will probably not be nearly as frightening as your mind remembers them (are they ever?), though simple moments as the doll cutting its way out from inside of a locked suitcase—with Black's Amelia frantically trying to grab the sharp blade with her fingers—still plays very well. It's your basic run-fall-fight-repeat scenario, and the segment ends with a classic final shot that probably sent a boatload of kids to bed that night in 1975 with a bad case of nightmares.

Come for the doll, stay for the Black/Matheson/Nolan/Curtis.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: The transfer (in the original broadcast aspect ratio) isn't the prettiest thing, because color depth varies from story to story, and the rather muted and black levels are somewhat muddy. The overall effect, however, is a cross between just below average and the reality that this is about as good as a 31-year-old television movie will probably ever look. Edge details are soft, with fleshtones inconsistent, often appearing too red, especially during the Julie segment. The print itself has a few age-related problems, and there is some occasional flicker, as well.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: No real issues with the 2.0 English language Dolby Digital mono track. It's a hiss-free presentation, with just some moderate clipping during some of the occasional shrieks. Robert Colbert's overbearing score does sound moderately harsh, as if pushed too far to the front of the mix, and this is most evident during the Amelia segment.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 10 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Karen Black, William F. Nolan
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Another nice one from Dark Sky—easily separating this from the barebones OOP Anchor Bay version—as they continue their clear-case packaging with this special edition, and when opened it reveals a shot of Karen Black battling the infamous Zuni doll.

A new commentary track features actress Karen Black and writer William F. Nolan. Nolan. who adapted the Richard Matheson stories for the Julie and Millicent and Therese segments, actually doesn't show up until about two-and-a-half minutes in, and he politely bails at the start of the third (the Zuni doll story, which he did not have a hand in). Black carries the bulk of recollections, admitting she had no desire to do the film originally, but took it to help her then husband Robert Burton get an acting gig, whereas Nolan doesn't even recall how he got involved. Black is quick to point out her lack of lip liner in a scene, how Burton should have worked out more, how certain glasses made her small eyes look big, and during the Zuni story explains how her input was key in some of that segment's most striking visuals.

A pair of new nonanamorphic widescreen featurettes follow, with Three Colors Black (16m:53s) giving the actress an opportunity to give of quick history of career before launching into some Trilogy-related memories. Some of the content is repeated on the commentary (such as the glasses making her small eyes look big), and she readily admits that in terms of lasting impact that "people kind of get carried away" with Trilogy of Terror. She spends the most time chatting about the Zuni episode, describing how effects shots were done and how the doll often had its arms and legs fall off, much to the amusement of the crew.

The second piece is Richard Matheson: Terror Scribe (10m:59s), with the writer stressing calmly how he would rather be a horror than terror writer, but since the film wasn't called Trilogy of Horror, he's temporarily stuck with that moniker. Matheson expounds his belief on the less-is-more school of scaring people, and after a quick overview of his illustrious career he talks up the hows-and-whys of each of the three chapters of the trilogy.

The disc itself is cut into ten chapters, with optional English subtitles.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

If you saw this on television in 1975, it is likely that the image of a tiny, rampaging Zuni doll attacking Karen Black has stuck with you. It became an iconic moment, and even if the effects now look a little weather-beaten, the mutual experience that has lasted well after its broadcast has elevated this to something beyond cult status. Even if you never watch it, I'm certain if someone sees the title on your shelf it will be enough to rekindle that original shared sensation.

Plus, a nice set of Karen Black-heavy extras from Dark Sky on this special edition makes this highly recommended.

It's the doll.


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