Weekend Film Recommendation: Trilogy of Terror – Amelia

trilogy-zuni

Our Halloween month of scary movie recommendations continues this week with an exercise in “doll horror”, which is almost its own cinematic sub-genre. Villains like the murderous clown doll in Poltergeist, the knife-wielding Chucky, and the ventriloquist’s dummy in Dead of Night, have an uncanny ability to scare the pants off of audiences. This week’s film recommendation is another triumph of doll horror: The Amelia segment of the 1975 movie Trilogy of Terror.

Trilogy of Terror was an entry in a high-quality made for TV movie series: The ABC Movie of the Week. The series was a playground for rising directors and future stars as well as a chance for some old hands to enjoy a last hurrah. I have previously recommended the ABC Movies of the Week Seven in Darkness, Night Slaves, and The Screaming Woman. But Trilogy of Terror is better remembered than any of those films, probably because of the nightmares a generation of Americans experienced about “that doll”.

The movie comprises three distinct stories, all starring Karen Black. The first two are about as good as any average-quality episode of Night Gallery, Twilight Zone or Outer Limits, i.e., serviceable but unremarkable entertainment. But the third, titled Amelia, is a grab-you-by-the-throat masterpiece. The plot is simple: A young woman has purchased a Zuni hunting fetish which is alleged to contain the spirit of a savage warrior who will be contained as long as the gold chain around the doll is never removed. Guess what happens!

Karen Black’s acting gifts are essential to making this segment of the trilogy work. In a single phone call to her mother, she reveals Amelia to be a woman who has trouble asserting herself, is easily bullied and wants to avoid confrontations. Black’s establishment of her character makes what happens next more emotionally intense. Black also does an excellent job selling the physical confrontations with her foe, which very easily could have been too campy to be scary.

The segment was made by horror masters Dan Curtis and Richard Matheson, whose fine update of Dracula I recommended a few years back. As a director-writer team they were consistently creative yet simple in their artistic goals: They aspired only to scare and entertain people, and they were very good at it. Amelia also benefits enormously from creative camerawork by Paul Lohmann and terrific editing by Les Green, which never lets the audience catch its breath.

Amelia is 16 minutes of tension and a bloody scary good time. I embed this minor classic of the horror genre below for you to enjoy.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. He served as a senior policy advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2009 to 2010.