Though Dan Curtis’s original Trilogy of Terror became a well-received cult hit that’s regarded as one of the better 70s TV horrors, I’m not sure anyone ever could have anticipated a sequel. Yet, 21 years after the original hit airwaves, a sequel bowed and promptly faded into obscurity. Featuring the same gimmick that sees one actress being terrified across a trio of tales, Trilogy of Terror II follows the same formula, packs a bit more of a budget, and, of course, features the killer Zuni doll that’s become the franchise mascot.
Lysette Anthony steps in for Karen Black this time around; she first plays a gold-digging, conniving wife to a wealthy man in “The Graveyard Rats.” Along with her lover, she plots to inherit the old man’s fortune by forcing the issue of his death. In “Bobby,” she’s a grieving mother who raises her son from the dead but gets something more sinister instead. Finally, “He Who Kills” returns to the scene of the crime in the original film’s last tale, where police discover the Zuni doll in Karen Black’s apartment building. They ship it off to a professor (Anthony), who is then terrorized by the homicidal talisman.
This second trilogy doesn’t quite live up to the first trio, and it all starts with the stories themselves. Whereas the original set is lean, compact, and packing cool twist endings, these are a bit bloated, tedious, and don’t leave much of an impression. I’ve always enjoyed when a good scary story (whether they be cinematic or told by a campfire) leaves you with a spooky revelation; really, that’s what stuff like this thrives on, which is why Trilogy of Terror II suffers from a lack of a decent payoff three times over. This is too bad because this effort boasts some nice production values and camera work that would befit a big theatrical release. If anything, this sequel effectively escapes the small screen trappings of the original, which often felt stage bound and confined.
Unlike the first film, however, it doesn’t make the most of its budget due to the limp stories. Nowhere is this more evident than it is in the middle tale, “Bobby,” which is probably the best of the bunch. Though it features a gorgeously spooky house and nice “dark, stormy night” theatrics, the actual story is perhaps too long and obvious. A typical update on “The Monkey’s Paw,” right down to the “be careful what you wish for” moral, it doesn’t amount to much besides the title character wanting to play hide and seek and terrifying his poor mother. An obnoxious little twerp who speaks in the third person, Bobby spends most of the time droning on about “mommy” until he makes the unsurprising revelation that he isn’t quite the son she remembers (as if the homicidal bent didn’t give it away, right?).
The two book ending tales are pretty much similar; the first one at least isn’t altogether that repetitive and actually seems to be leading somewhere, which ends up being (you guessed it) a cemetery filled with giant rats. A neat enough conceit, I suppose, and one that reminds me of Graveyard Shift. This sequel ends just as its predecessor did: with a killer Zuni doll, which is actually a nice nod, particularly in the way this one picks up where the original left off. This might represent the only sort of direct continuity I’ve seen in an anthology series; unfortunately, this story doesn’t do much in the way of inventiveness, as “He Who Kills” feels remarkably similar to “Amelia” in that it’s just a little killer doll scaring the hell out of a lead actress.
Speaking of which, it’s hard to judge Anthony in comparison to Karen Black, if only because the former isn’t given much of a chance to exhibit all that much range. She’s either terrified and frantic or conniving and deceitful, and this hardly feels like a showcase for her. Instead, Trilogy of Terror II just feels like a quick way to cash in on a well-known property, only it came 21 years too late and didn’t do much to live up to the legacy. I actually quite like the idea of an anthology with a central actor or actress spread across each tale; it’s one that perhaps should have been done more often and with greater care than it was here. The film’s obscurity and unavailability on DVD will perhaps lead you to believe it has little value, which isn’t the case at all; it’s simply an unremarkable follow-up and nothing more, but I imagine it wouldn’t be a bad way to waste an evening if it ever shows up on Netflix. Rent it!