18 June 2024

God bless you, Karen Black. What a great big, beautiful face. Period. That she can also act and bring her wonderful quirky personality to a number of movies, well, that's an added bonus.

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

A bright student with a genius IQ, Black was enrolled in Northwestern University at the young age of 15 but yearned for something different. She left just two years later for New York, where she studied with Lee Strasberg before finding roles in off-Broadway plays.

Black 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 and swing the doors wide open in the following decade, particulary during the first half of the seventies.

By that time, she had become one of the hottest and finest actresses around. She became associated with (in the words of writer Philip Strick) hungry, intense and unorthodox roles in off-beat subjects.

It was an interesting career that included parts in low-budget fare such as the Canadian thriller The Pyx - and huge productions including The Great Gatsby (1974) and 1974's disaster epic Airport 1975.

Speaking of 1975, it was perhaps the year in which Black reached a peak. In this one year alone, she appeared in three challenging and varied roles. In The Day of the Locusts, she was Faye, a frustrated actress loitering in the underbelly of Hollywood in the 1930s. Black also got to display her singing and songwriting skills in one of the more acclaimed films of the decade, Robert Altman's Nashville.

In addition, she starred in one of the most popular TV horror movies of all time, Trilogy of Terror. She played three roles in the 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.

Most actors and actresses would have relished the opportunity to work for Alfred Hitchcock and in 1976, Black was cast in Family Plot. It was a black comedy that was to be his final film.

As roles grew increasingly scarce for Black, she gravitated towards more horror films, including 1977's Burnt Offerings, in which she becomes possessed by a spirit in the house she and her family are vacationing in. That same year, she starred in another chilling TV movie called The Strange Possession of Mrs. Oliver.

In 1979, Black flew to Brazil to shoot Killer Fish, a fun and underrated piranha flick directed by Italy's Antonio Margheriti.

In the 80s and 90s, Black appeared in Haunting Fear, Children of the Night, Mirror, Mirror, Evil Spirits and It's Alive III: Island of the Alive. One of the more riveting films of the period was 1985's Cut and Run AKA Inferno in diretta, a "cannibals in the jungle" epic from Ruggero Deodato.

Today, Black continues to act in several pictures per year. And the world is a better place for it.

Burnt Offerings 1976
Cut and Run 1985
Eternal Evil 1985
Family Plot 1976
It's Alive: Island of the Alive 1986
Killer Fish 1978
Mirror, Mirror 1990
Out of the Dark 1988
The Pyx 1973
The Strange Possession of Mrs. Oliver 1977
Trilogy of Terror 1975
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