Dan Curtis made his mark with a number of Made-for-TV films, both as producer and director. He created the popular Dark Shadows series and then directed a well-received theatrical version called House of Dark Shadows. That was followed the next year by a sequel, Night of Dark Shadows.
Back to television, Curtis produced The Night Stalker, a terrific thriller starring Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak, a Las Vegas reporter who discovers that a rash of murders involving showgirls is the work of a vampire.
The horror elements, mixed with humor...and the relationship between Kolchak and his disbelieving boss, made the film one of the highest rated TV movies up to that
time. Its success would lead to a sequel directed by Curtis the following year, The Night Strangler and then a subsequent short-lived series which ran for one season (1974-1975).
If anyone has noticed similarities to certain aspects of The X-Files, it's no coincidence. X-Files producer Chris Carter has acknowledged the huge influence The Night Stalker had on his own show.
Who can ever forget 1975's Trilogy of Terror? To those who were kids when this ABC Movie of the Week first aired, it was almost like a PSYCHO for children. Nothing with the same "killer doll" theme created since can compare to the stir this movie caused at the time. That goes for movies such as Dolls, Child's Play and the Puppetmaster series.
Dan Curtis directed Karen Black in the anthology. Black did not want to make it - and did so only because her then boyfriend had a part in one of the stories. What a treat for horror fans that she did it. The versatile actress showed her acting chops in the unforgettable film. Each segment was titled after her character.
In Julie, she played a teacher who is something of a black widow...she engages in affairs with her students before disposing of them. She played "sisters" in Millicent and Therese, one a spinster and the other a provocative flirt. Their relationship takes a deadly turn - and one with an unexpected twist.
Finally, there was Amelia, the
one that gave us nightmares. Black played a woman who brings home a Zuni fetish doll
for her boyfriend. The doll has a chain around its neck with a warning that it must
not be removed or an evil spirit will be unleashed. When it falls off by accident, the doll comes to life with one goal...to torture and kill Amelia.
Director Curtis did an amazing job bringing the doll to life. He did it with simple camera tricks and sharp editing. You can see the difference when you compare it to a cable television sequel that aired over two decades later. A computer generated Zuni doll just didn't deliver the goods...even with the same director at the helm.
Black has stated she improvised some of the dialogue in Trilogy, in particular the telephone scene with her overbearing mother. All in all, she was happy with the finished product and applauds the director for making a wonderfully frightening movie. (Black would also film the theatrical feature
Burnt Offerings with Curtis the following year.)
There would be a second TV anthology, this one in 1977. Dead of Night was not on par with Trilogy - but it did include one memorable and terrifying segment. In Bobby, Joan Hackett is a mother haunted by her deceased son (played by Lee Montgomery). The final shot will make your hair stand on end.
Later that same year saw Curtis directing the entertaining Curse of the Black Widow. It starred Patty Duke Astin as a woman who, bitten by a spider as a child, now mutates into a huge giant, murderous insect! It was a fun throwback to the monster movies of the '50s.