Hello again, Brothers and Sisters of the Psychotronic Video World! It’s with a heavy heart that I mention what you undoubtedly already know – that Karen Black, star of such films as HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, TRILOGY OF TERROR, EASY RIDER and FAMILY PLOT, has passed away at the age of 74 of ampullary cancer.
I’m not here to talk about her career. I’ve seen enough other obituaries covering that. No, I want to talk to you about my first encounter with Karen Black.
It was 12th grade English class. Senior year. I’d already been accepted into the college of my choice for the following fall, so as you can imagine my interest in academic pursuit for the remainder of the school year had dropped faster than a coed’s panties following her fourth tequila shot. And actually, I’d taken that English class as a blow-off, to balance out the advanced classes I was taking for college credit. The guy teaching the class was a real creep – he was always very blatantly trying to look down the girls’ shirts in class, he’d come in obviously stoned out of his gourd once in a while, a real winner overall.
For whatever reason, we were doing a unit on horror – I just remember that it wasn’t October when we were doing this, so there was no Halloween tie-in. We spent an excruciating week on one of Stephen King’s short stories – I don’t remember which one, just that we had to take turns reading out loud and most of my graduating class was illiterate. I’m not being hyperbolic in saying that; most of my classmates struggled to read, sounding out even simple words. So it took us a week’s worth of class sessions to get through the handful of pages this story consisted of.
As a reward for getting through the story, we were treated to a class session spent watching a short horror film. I was a horror movie fan by this point, though not the obsessive film-loving horror blogger I’d become four years later. I was intrigued to know what we’d be watching. I had no idea what it could be – we would only be spending 40 minutes max, so there was no way we could watch a full movie.
Yes, the third segment of TRILOGY OF TERROR was the film du jour. My classmates didn’t give a fuck. They chattered quietly among themselves, played with their phones, slept, whatever. If they looked at the screen at all, they’d give a little titter of amusement at the sight of Karen Black being terrorized by the tiny, jabbering doll.
I was enthralled.
Here was a one-woman play – Karen Black carries the entire segment all by her lonesome, and does so more than admirably. I later learned that this was the third short film making up a larger movie, and that this is the best-known/most fondly remembered. It was easy to see why, even when I hardly knew anything about horror films. How frequently do you see a single actor carry an entire story, with no supporting players whatsoever? It’s damn rare, that’s for sure.
The film even managed to grab the attention of the entire class by the end. As Amelia crouched on the floor, stabbing it slowly in anticipation, and her full lips writhed back over a mouth of ill-fitting fangs, a girl in my class shrieked out, “OH MY GOD, WHAT HAPPENED TO HER TEETH?!?” and for a moment everyone was riveted by the film.
Thanks for that, Ms. Black. That moment was worth the irritation my classmates caused me all that week.