Here are three stories of horror, each named after the women they concern, beginning with Julie (Karen Black), a university tutor who catches the unhealthy attention of one of her students, Chad (Robert Burton). He makes it his mission to have her be his next sexual conquest, but she is so buttoned down that she reminds him staff do not date students - even so he manages to persuade her to come with him to the drive-in to watch an old vampire movie revived there, then slips something into her drink. But all is not as it seems...
Trilogy of Terror was one of those near-legendary Dan Curtis productions for American television; if Rod Serling had been the man to go to in the sixties for chilling stories with his Twilight Zone series, then Curtis seemed to be making a play for that same title in the following decade. He had produced the cult soap Dark Shadows, and graduated to higher budgets with his Kolcak films and series, and an adaptation of Dracula, guaranteeing sleepless nights for the kids of the seventies, but perhaps his greatest achievement in that field was this. Or rather, not the first two instalments in the trilogy, but the last one which stuck in the minds of all who saw it.
Each segment was based on a story by the revered author of science fiction and horror Richard Matheson, with the first two scripted by William F. Nolan, a regular Curtis collaborator who was best known for co-writing Logan's Run. Those two were rather ho-hum affairs, with the first featuring the dubious prurience of date rape as its selling point, though predictably the tables were turned before the twenty minutes it took to tell the plot were up. The second part was, if anything, even more predictable, as it was obvious what was going on as Black - who starred in each tale - played sisters, one good (or prim and proper at least) and the other bad, distinguished by their different hair colour.
For that one, Therese and Millicent was typical twist in the tail TV fare, reminiscent of something you would watch on Serling's contemporary Night Gallery, a Twilight Zone-esque anthology series where he tried to recapture past glories to variable effect. There was probably a reason for that as Curtis had planned to make Trilogy of Terror the pilot for an anthology series of his own, though it was not to be, in spite of the strength of the final episode: perhaps the TV execs saw the first two underwhelming instalments and decided that would be more indicative of the quality. If Curtis had come up with a series which had a kicker of a yarn like Amelia every week, there would have been a lot more memorable moments.
As it was, Amelia was sufficient for many as a childhood memory. How it played out was as a small masterwork of thrills, as Black returns to her new apartment with a present for her lecturer boyfriend, but first has to phone her controlling mother to tell her she won't be over tonight for a change, much to her parent's chagrin. Actually, Amelia was the only person we saw for the whole running time, but that doesn't mean she was alone, as there's that present to take care of - or does it want to take care of her? With Matheson scripting this time, this was up there with his finest teleplays as the Zuni fetish doll the heroine has just bought springs into life and begins rampaging after Amelia, leaving her panicking and horrified as this impossibility violently stalks her around the apartment. Reaching feverish heights of action, this far made up for the mediocre first two segments, and Black's performance sold it well - she was truly committed to this, making suggestions to render this all the more effective, and is her lasting legacy to horror on television. Music by Bob Cobert.