Wednesday, November 18, 2009

WOMAN OF THE WEEK: Karen Black

She was born Karen Blanche Ziegler in 1945 in Park Ridge, Illinois, the granddaughter of Chicago Symphony first violinist Arthur Zielger. (ILLINOIS REPRESENT!)

Little known fact,but Karen Black was enrolled in Northwestern University at the young age of 15 with a genius IQ. However IQ doesn't measure your passion, and acting was calling her. She left NU after 2 years for New York, where she studied with Lee Strasberg before finding roles in off-Broadway plays.

She made her feature film debut in Francis Ford Coppola's You're a Big Boy Now in 1966 and then became a star with 1969's Five Easy Pieces. The role would win her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. It was an interesting career choice when she accepted parts in low-budget flicks such as the Canadian thriller The Pyx.

In 1975, she starred in one of the most popular TV horror movies of all time, Trilogy of Terror. In it, she played three roles in an anthology. The most popular was Amelia, the third story. Any kid who grew up in the 70s and saw this one would never forget it. It was nightmare inducing...and Black gives a tour de force as a woman whose Zuni fetish doll comes to life and tries to kill her. I guarantee you know what this film is. You know that horrifying little demon doll that looks ridiculously like Lil Jon' armed with an arrow? Yeah. That's it. In what I think could be one of the coolest films on her resume, Karen Black was cast in Family Plot. It was a black comedy that was to be Alfred Hitchcock's final film.

Although an Academy Award nominee, she found it difficult to nab roles so she began to drift back into the horror genre including 1977's Burnt Offerings, in which she becomes possessed by a spirit in a house she and her family are vacationing in. That same year, she starred in another horror made for TV movie called The Strange Possession of Mrs. Oliver. In 1979, she flew to Brazil to shoot Killer Fish, a fun and TOTALLY underrated piranha flick directed by Antonio Margheriti. Leave it to the Italian horror to be totally underrated, what else is new?

Just a handful of other horror films she dabbled in are Haunting Fear, Children of the Night, Mirror, Mirror, Evil Spirits and It's Alive III: Island of the Alive and 1985's Cut and Run AKA Inferno in diretta, a "cannibals in the jungle" epic from Ruggero Deodato.

Most recently, Karen Black was Mother Firefly in Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses. Sadly, she did not revive the role for The Devil's Rejects. Back during my very first WotW, I talked about how a band called Local H had an album titled "Whatever Happened to PJ Soles?" . Well Peej, you may have an album dedicated to you, but I don't know if you've got your own band. Karen does. There's a New York punk band respectfully called The Voluptious Horror of Karen Black. Making her the ONLY actress in history to have a punk band named after her. She even ocassionally performs with them! How cool is that?!

6 comment(s):

Emily said...

I was never a huge fan of Ms. Black until I heard her commentary track on Burnt Offerings. She had a real respect and great insight into that film, plus she gives a pretty hauntingly kickass performance.

Mr. crypt said...

she made such a great job in "house of 1000 corpses", i would love to watch more of her movies (i will try to get em, it's hard to get B movies here in colombia).

J.D. said...

Karen Black's amazing. I've always admired how she can do straight-up drama like FIVE EASY PIECES and crazy horror films like TRILOGY OF TERROR. It's really a shame that she wasn't in THE DEVIL'S REJECTS but Mr. Zombie certainly found a suitable replacement!

Pax Romano said...

Not a horror role, BUT...She also played "The Movie Star" in the BBC/PBS adaption of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City (1992). The role (in the serial/novel) was an unnamed movie actress with violet eyes (Elizabeth Taylor) who befriends another woman who comes to an exclusive "fat farm". Of course, by the time they made a film version, Taylor was too old and too skinny to play the part (all of the action was supposed to be taking place in 1976), so they kept the movie star unnamed and had her played by Ms. Black.

True Story: When I saw her in Airport 75, she played a stewardess how lands a plane...the woman sitting behind me stage whispered, "How can someone whose cross-eyed land a 747?"

forestofthedead said...

She's great in Children of the Corn 4: The Gathering.

Anonymous said...

Karen Black also came in "Crime And Passion" with Omar Sharif. Great film although not a horror flick. It's impossible to find but NetFlix has it on instant viewing. Cheers !

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