The Richard Matheson/Dan Curtis trilogies of sporadic terror

Writer Richard Matheson has managed to have his hand in the horror genre for decades yet somehow stayed under the radar, never reaching the name status of the likes of Stephen King or Clive Barker. Many of his stories can be found in this awesome fiction collection, which I snagged back in the 90s when I was working at Barnes & Noble (it was a store you used to actually go inside to buy books).

Aside from writing loads of short stories that have landed on numerous horror anthology shows, and novels that were adapted into movies, like The Incredible Shrinking Man, Stir of Echoes, and I Am Legend (from which the Will Smith film as well as movies like Omega Man, I Am Omega, Last Man On Earth, and Night of the Living Dead are based), he has written loads of horror and sci-fi screenplays, including a bunch of Vincent Price flix in the 1960s, Die! Die! My Darling!, the original Kolchak: The Night Stalker TV pilot movies, and Jaws 3-D.

Director Dan Curtis has proven to have the same effect on the horror genre in the directing realm. Aside from producing tons of horror faves over the decades, he goes all the way back to directing episodes of the original Dark Shadows, and went on to make many films including Burnt Offerings. But a good number of his films were made-for-TV collaborations with Matheson, including: Scream of the Wolf, Dracula 1974, Kolchak’s sequel The Night Strangler, and the three anthologies I’m about to cover.

In the 1970s, the first two made-for-TV anthologies by this duo made an impression on the horror genre, each because of one particular standout tale. So, during the 1970s revival in the 1990s, the bigger of the two films got a made-for-TV sequel. 3 movies, 3 trilogies, should be 9 stories in total, but…not exactly….

TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975)

Their first, famous anthology really doesn’t need an introduction thanks to the starring role by Karen Black…and the Zuni fetish doll. But Karen also appears in the two stories that come before that zinger finale…

1st story – Karen plays an uptight teacher who becomes the lustful object of her male student’s desire. There’s an occult twist, but this isn’t a scary story.

2nd story – Ridiculously predictable, this tale has Karen playing a dual role as sisters—one good and one bad. Total filler that could have bored many viewers into changing the channel before even reaching the climactic…

…screams that have echoed through horror time since 1975. The infamous third story sees Karen battling a freakish voodoo doll in her apartment.

The final frame destroyed the souls of many young GenXers back in the day.

DEAD OF NIGHT (1977)

This follow up to Trilogy of Terror doesn’t focus on one star, so each story has a unique cast. Once again, the first two stories are lame—like something you’d see on a boring episode of Amazing Stories in the 80s. A narrator voiceover introducing the tales openly admits that only the third one is really horror…

1st story – Agonizing. Ed Begley Jr. drives on old car…back to its year of creation, where he has to try to avoid interacting with people from his future for fear of changing the course of history.


Oh, look. It’s that blonde chick that was in EVERYTHING in the 1970s.

2nd story – I mean, it’s a period piece (blech) vampire story, but it’s told from the perspective of humans…and the POV of the vampire’s coffin? Yawn.

3rd story – This horror zinger is no Zuni fetish doll story, but it’s right up there with the best stories we’d see on episodes of Tales from the Darkside and Tales from the Crypt in the next decade. A woman grieving the loss of her drowned son does a magic ritual to bring him back to life. But he’s not exactly the same, and pretty soon he he’s playing a creepy game of “hide and seek” with her during a thunder and lightning storm. Eek!

TRILOGY OF TERROR 2 (1996)

Actress Lysette Anthony steps into Karen Black’s shoes for this “sequel” (but they totally don’t fit…), which is essentially just a vehicle to introduce the Zuni doll story to a new generation. Two of the three tales here are recycled from the first two movies! Yeah, it’s like a “best of” movie with a bonus tale.

1st story – When a woman and her lover kill her nasty old husband to cash in on his money, they discover his fortune is buried with his body. So, they decide to go dig it up…despite warnings about the RATS. Eek!

2nd story – This is a duplicate of the good story from Dead of Night, only in this one the monster the mother faces is more like a demon than just the boy in creepy makeup.

3rd story – Picking up right where the original Zuni doll story left off, it’s brought to a museum for a scientist to examine while she’s alone at night. This is simply a carbon copy remake with all the same camera angles, chasing, and leg stabs, the Zuni doll poking its knife under a door, her catching him in a suitcase and trying to grab the knife blade as he saws out of the suitcase (it was stupid enough when Karen tried to do it, even dumber that a scientist would), the doll biting her neck, and her burning him to “death” (in a vat of acid instead of an oven this time).

Unfortunately, the attempt to make the final frame slightly different than the original is weak as hell, especially if you’ve seen the original and already know what the general outcome is going to be.

About Daniel

I am the author of the horror anthologies CLOSET MONSTERS: ZOMBIED OUT AND TALES OF GOTHROTICA and HORNY DEVILS, and the horror novels COMBUSTION and NO PLACE FOR LITTLE ONES. I am also the founder of BOYS, BEARS & SCARES, a facebook page for gay male horror fans! Check it out and like it at www.facebook.com/BoysBearsandScares.
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