Karen Black, Icon of the ’70s, Will Be Missed

9 Aug

KarenBlack TrilogyOfTerrorKarenBlackFP

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationWe lost actress Karen Black yesterday, who died at age 74 after a long struggle with cancer. Although for today’s audience she may stir only vague recognition as a character actor, she was a defining figure of 1970s Hollywood, with key roles in such important films as Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, Nashville, and Alfred Hitchcock’s last picture, The Family Plot . Although she worked with the biggest names in Hollywood and appeared in everything from prestigious failures like The Great Gatsby to commercial blockbusters like Airport 1975, ask anybody my age what they remember her most for, and you will likely hear of a little made-for-TV thriller called Trilogy of Terror. Written by sci-fi master and Twilight Zone alum Richard Matheson, Trilogy featured Black in four roles in three separate tales. The first two segments are little remembered, but the third, which had Black trapped in her apartment with a toothy African doll animated with the murderous spirit of a dead Zuni warrior, was the talk of the school cafeteria the next day. It was such unusual, and genuinely frightening, fare for TV of those days that I can still play back in my head the image of that little, knife-wielding warrior jumping out from under the sofa. It was ludicrous, of course, but Karen Black’s terrified responses to a little puppet on a stick sold it. RIP.

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