That horrifying Trilogy of Terror doll was born from the original, rejected Twilight Zone script for ''The Invaders''
Left image: ABC
Trilogy of Terror is quite possibly the scariest TV movie of all time. Made up of three twisted tales from the mind of TV horror master Richard Matheson and released in 1975, its shocking concluding segment "Amelia" is definitely the nightmare that stuck most with viewers.
Well, here’s some news that might shock fans of TV suspense. It turns out that the evil Zuni doll that played villain in "Amelia" was born out of Matheson’s original, rejected script for the iconic
Matheson explained in Dimensions Behind The Twilight Zone: A Backstage Tribute to Television’s Groundbreaking Series:
"I’m sure that Rod, being the consummate writer he was, did not think, for a moment, of making every Twilight Zone as though made with a cookie cutter. Their variety was perfectly in keeping with his creative awareness. What the story called for, we did. If the notion was serious, we wrote it that way. If it was comedic, we did it that way. Interestingly enough – I have said this before – the original submission for 'A World of His Own' was very grim and serious indeed. They suggested making it a comedy, which I did gladly. A similar occurrence was on 'The Invaders.' My original story was not to their taste, so I turned it into a science-fiction approach. Many years later, the grim approach to the story – not that 'The Invaders' is exactly comedy – became one of the stories on Trilogy of Terror, the Zuni doll chasing Karen Black all over her apartment."
It’s easy to see the similarities between the two stories (both seemingly based on Matheson’s short story "Prey") once you look a little closer. In "The Invaders," actress Agnes Moorehead plays a woman who is stalked in her humble home by invading miniature spacemen. In "Amelia," actress Karen Black plays a woman who is stalked in her apartment by a small warrior doll.
Of the two, Black had more to say onscreen, as "The Invaders" famously featured no dialog. Matheson told the Archive of American Television that his screenplay was "just all description," causing Moorehead upon reading to ask, "Where’s my part?"
In "Amelia," Black takes several phone calls before succumbing to her fate.
Both actresses took on their tense roles marvelously, but for Matheson, it was "Amelia" that was more in line with the chilling way the master horror writer liked to tell a story.
In Dimensions Behind The Twilight Zone, he criticized the pace of "The Invaders," which he said dragged on too long for him. Matheson said, "The beginning, for instance, I thought took forever for her to get up on the roof. When I tell a story, I like to, boom, right off the bat, get you involved with it, in a quick-moving story."
The writer also said he wasn't a fan of the look of "The Invaders," explaining, "I didn’t like the little critters that were chasing her around. They looked like little waddley toys you used to see men selling on street corners." In his script, he'd intended for them to never be seen onscreen, only experienced as small sparks of light. "I think it would have been much better," he said.
Watching “Amelia,” his issue with pacing is seemingly addressed. The story escalates in quick, dread-inducing leaps, beginning when Black’s character Amelia arrives home at her apartment. She’s carrying an ancient-looking parcel, wrapped in thin twine like it was something sweet from a pastry shop. In the first three minutes, Amelia opens the box and examines the Zuni doll. Her first words in the episode set the tone: "He who kills," she reads off the paper scroll she pulls from the parcel.
Apart from the ugliness of the doll – whose jagged teeth and alarming eyes immediately convey menace – Amelia’s first observation hints at her impending doom. "Very sharp," she notes of the doll’s spear, fumbling and unwittingly aiming it at her own heart. After 10 minutes, suspense heightens when the doll suddenly disappears.
The events that rapidly followed ensured every viewer would remember the striking warrior doll perhaps even more ominously than Child’s Play’s Chucky or The Twilight Zone’s Talky Tina. It’s no wonder it distracted fans from noticing striking similarities to The Twilight Zone episode "The Invaders." Now we know it was because "Amelia" was the "grim and serious" version of "The Invaders."
In his interview with Archive of American Television, Matheson praised Moorehead ("She was wonderful") but admitted that the greatest shock for him was that "The Invaders" became such a fan favorite on the series. He said, "It has always surprised me that the one with Agnes Moorehead has become a classic."
He also revealed that writing "The Invaders" was one of two random goals he had set for himself as a TV writer. One was to do a script for a show that lasted 30 minutes and was literally called "Thirty Minutes." He crossed that off his to-do list with a 1960 Lawman episode about a lazy day in Laramie. The other would become "The Invaders," he said: "It appealed to me … [to] do a script with no dialog at all."
In the end, Matheson got to also take a stab at his (arguably) more horrifying version of his "Invaders" premise. That became "Amelia," which unleashed an ending that any viewer can assure you, haunted their dreams.
Which was your favorite?