Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Trilogy Of Terror II (1996)

Reviewed By: Billy

The first one was a network television event, starring an Oscar-nominee and garnering huge ratings while scaring an entire generation. The second one was a USA Original Movie, featuring the star of Dracula: Dead And Loving It and going by largely unnoticed while maybe scaring one person. know us. Is there any question which one we’re going to enjoy more?

I remember being really, really excited by the commercials for Trilogy of Terror II, mainly because it was produced by Dan Curtis and starred Lysette Anthony, who a few years earlier had been playing Angelique on the single-season resurrection of Curtis’s vampire show “Dark Shadows” (JM and I were disturbingly obsessed with this show…so much so that I left a permanent scar on JM’s hand as we fought over who got to keep a black and white TV Guide ad featuring Ben Cross as Barnabas Collins. Sorry, bro!). I’d never even heard of the first movie, and therefore had no idea that this one would basically be a cheap remake of the original, albeit with a couple of new storylines. Yes, that’s storylines plural, as – for those of you who’ve never seen either one – these are anthology movies. The gimmick is that same actress stars in all three episodes, playing different characters in each one. When Karen Black did this in the original, it was hailed as something of a tour-de-force performance. When Lysette Anthony does it in the sequash (sequel-rehash), it’s…well…really silly.

But hugely enjoyable, of course.

First up – after an embarrassing title sequence featuring what sounds like a lazy remix of the “Dark Shadows” theme song and a CG headstone (and remember, this is the mid-90s, so CG means it probably came off an Apple IIe) – is “The Graveyard Rats,” with Lysette headlining as the sexy blonde wife of a rich old guy in a wheelchair. Hmmm...this character sounds familiar. But, rather than focusing her energies on Trimspa and Howard K. Stern, Lysette’s character is busy cheating on the old man and plotting his death. She and her lover finally push the old guy down the stairs, only to make the idiotic mistake of burying him with the codes needed to access his entire fortune. So, down in the grave she goes, only to come face-to-face with rats the size of healthy golden retrievers.

Now, I ask you this: if you were crawling through tunnels in a graveyard and came upon the above-pictured rats (which, by the way, have red eyes and are growling), what would your reaction be? I’m pretty sure my pants would be soaking wet and I’d be crawling backwards faster than Linda Blair in full spiderwalk mode. But not our Lysette, who hisses angrily and just keeps pushing on. Therefore, when she ends up in the wrong grave and gets eaten alive, it’s kinda hard to feel sorry for her.

Still, this is a strong opening episode, with just the right balance of made-for-TV dramatic pans, zooms, and, of course, the fade-to-black commercial breaks (all of which reference the original) and over-the-top acting (Lysette facing off with oversized hand-puppets is pretty solid stuff). A little less successful is second segment “Bobby,” in which a badly black-wigged Lysette brings her dead son back to life. You’ve seen this one done before; tearful mom is overjoyed at the sight of her child, only to find out that dead preteens have an even shi**ier attitude than live ones. The problem here isn’t so much Lysette or her ratty witch wig, but mainly due to the fact that the villain is a 10-year-old kid.

Kid actors are annoying to start with, but kid actors playing “evil” just never work. Remember Macaulay Culkin in The Good Son? Little Bobby’s refrain of “Ha ha, Mommy…you’ve gotta ffffwwwwiiiinnnnd me!” doesn’t scare you so much as make you wanna send him off to one of those Jerry Springer boot camps. Anyway, after about twenty minutes of butcher knives, mallets, and handguns, Mommy gets thrown down the stairs and we’re just about done. Really, the whole thing just kinda feels like filler…although there is a great little ending including some awesome ghoul makeup, which almost makes it all worthwhile.

Anyway…speaking of saving the best thing for last…it’s finally time for the big finale. The highlight of the original Trilogy of Terror was the “devil doll” segment, which showcased Karen Black being chased around by a six-inch Zuni doll with an insane voice and a mean set of chompers. Actually, the Zuni doll is the only element people remember about the original, so of course Curtis & co. are going to bring him back him here. “He Who Kills” gives us Lysette in, incredibly, an even worse wig, playing a scientist examining the Zuni doll.

What’s amazing is that not only do they bring back the Zuni doll…they basically remake the original segment scare-for-scare. EVERYTHING that made the first one terrifying is recreated here, a la Gus Van Sant doing Psycho…right down to the shocking ending, which isn’t so shocking the second time around. And let’s cut right to the chase: the Zuni doll is incredibly cheap. There are scarier Muppets. Hell, those rats were scarier. Maybe the Zuni doll had some impact back in the 70s…but in the wake of Chucky, Dolly Dearest, and myriad Puppet Masters, taking a little wooden figurine and giving it a maniacal giggle just doesn’t cut it when it comes to horror.

However…as comedy, “He Who Kills” is pure genius.

Trust me, you’ll be rooting for the little guy all the way.

So, anyway, that’s the movie…and if the Tower Farm rules that...
a) sequels are always better than the originals, and
b) remakes are always better than the originals
...holds true, then that means Trilogy of Terror II is twice as good as the first one, since this movie is essentially both. It’s hard to top Karen Black, but anything with Lysette Anthony is a winner in my book, especially a movie that puts her in a succession of increasingly humiliating hairpieces. It’s definitely not one of my favorite movies, but it’s cheap, silly and fun…and therefore gets a finger for each.




  2. Yes...corny is the perfect word for this movie. Clearly nobody involved in making it was expecting it to be a masterpiece, which is why it works.

  3. I loved the first one when I was a kid - especially the third segment with Black and the zuni doll. I have seen this one on the shelf and have skipped it for some. And after your review, I will continue to do so.

  4. I love the picture of the rats! I don't remember them looking that cheap. I need you to send me a copy of this one ASAP!


  5. "CORNY AND EXTRA CHEESY"... That's just gross!!!

  6. The "Bobby" segment was done to better effect in the original Dead Of Night Curtis production,with an inexplicably manly Joan Hackett in the mom role. Lysette did what she could with her $hitty coif and obvious Brit accent,(when she shrieked,"You almost kiiiilled Meee!" after the precocious rugrat tried to decimate her with a giant planter,I laughed until my belly ached). The Zuni rehash was great cheesy fun.Starting in Black's apartment with Breslow(which looked nothing like the 70s one structurally,or even in the way set dressing..really,would it have killed them to throw macrame in there somewhere?) with her dead mother's corpse laid out,was a nice touch.