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Karen Blanche Black (née Ziegler; 1 July 1939 – 8 August 2013) is an American actress, screenwriter, singer and composer. She is best known for her appearances in films such as Easy Horseman (1969), Five Easy Details (1970), Airport 1975 (1974, ironically), Locust Day and Nashville (both 1975), Alfred Hitchcock’s latest film Family Plot (1976) and Capricorn One (1978). Although these performances have always been reliable, they have not brought her the glamour and rewards of many A-list actors, giving her a happy but less budgeted passport, including many horror films such as Pix (1973); The Horror Trilogy (1975) and The Invaders from Mars (1986).
Born in Park Ridge, Illinois, Chicago (Harrison Ford grew up in the same area), her mother is a famous songwriter, her father is a businessman, the name Black comes from her Czech, German and Norwegian ancestry. Her sister is actress and artist Gail Ziegler, who in The Thing with Two Heads (1972) became known as the creator of the articulated skull of Ray Milland and Roosevelt Greer. Enrolled at Northwestern University at the age of only 15 years, he trained as an actor under the direction of Alvina Krause, also Professor Charlton Heston and Patricia Neil. After graduating, Black quickly made a name for himself on Broadway and made his Playhouse debut in 1965.
The films came even earlier, in 1960 she made her screen debut in prime time, a very old-fashioned thread of youthful madness which, although briefly introduced, is also the revolutionary debut of Gore’s godfather, Gershall Gordon Lewis, who contributed part of the dialogue. A bigger role came six years later, in the sensational comedy You’re a Big Boy Now, only the second feature film directed by Francis Ford Coppola (the first was Dementia 13). By the end of the decade, Black seemed satisfied with his television work, including an episode of the underappreciated Invaders in 1967, but it wasn’t until 1969 that the year turned out to be a turning point in his career.
She first played a prostitute in the movie Difficult Contract (paid as immoral film), with James Cobern and Lee Remick, after that she played even more in Easy Rider. The beginning of the next decade promised a lot; starring Jack Nicholson in one of the most popular films of the seventies, Five Easy Pieces (1970); performing alongside Robert De Niro in Born to Win (1971) and with Chris Christofferson and Gene Hackman in Sisko Pike (1972). Five light games were very well received by the critics (Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Black Actress and the Golden Globe), and the Black Star was on the rise.
Black people started to baptize their toe in the water of the horror. She appeared in an episode of the television series The Circle of Fear (an episode of The Bad Link, written by Richard Matheson; originally called The Ghost Story and which had opened a gallery at night) before her first feature film, The Pyx, a Canadian horror film, was released in 1973.
Here Black plays the lead role of Elizabeth Lucy, the film is usually shown in flashback, and surprisingly, when she sees the actress, she plays a prostitute again! It is not the first time that Black contributes to the musical mastery of the film by reciting verses 1 to 4 of Chapter 3 of the Song of Songs in a simple and conspicuous way, thus making his voice heard far beyond the usual standards of the film’s actors.
Continues to win awards; another Golden Globe for Great Gatsby in 1974; a leading role in the famous Nashville Robert Altman (1975, which now gives Black a platform to both compose and sing and perform) and two different iconic masterpieces from the seventies – Locust Day and Airport 1975. She could sing and sing and sing outside the competition and wasn’t limited to roles, nor was she a wide-eyed girl or a sly villain. …and, of course, a prostitute. However, their experience with Johann Schlesinger’s Desert Locust Day was anything but pleasant and the problematic production caused a lot of controversy between the two actors and the film crew, with many pointing unfairly to blacks. The irony of what happened during the making of this film, which documents the fictional collapse of the film empire, has probably not disappeared from the minds of the participants, although it did put an end to the rapid rise of darkness in the sky.
Yet his urge to play has not diminished. Her somewhat stupid role in the Terror Trilogy is now considered one of the most memorable among fans and is largely a showcase for her diverse acting talents.
As he appeared in all three segments, Black also added his own ideas to the script. She sees another actress working for one of the greatest talents in the business world, a TV film by the legendary Richard Matheson, directed by Dan Curtis. In 1976 she seems to have taken on this task in Alfred Hitchcock’s last film Final Plot.
From this moment on Black’s career may have been less successful, but his selection was even more fragmentary and his performances are still mysterious and intense.
Among the less successful, but by many beloved, Burned Sacrifices (still with Curtis and with Oliver Reid and Bette Davis), invented for television the Strange Possession of Miss. Oliver, in which she played two roles, or for Capricorn One (both in 1977), Black never gave half the piece, and for many directors she remained an actress for the difficult roles in niche films, which required a fascinating interpretation of roles that often took up a lot of screen time.
Typical role in which she appeared in 1979 – Killer Fish, a juicy role for Lee Majors, a remarkable change in rates for blacks. Although it is not a low point of annoying clicks from Poisson, it is a comfortable Sunday afternoon look and a brutal reminder of the shape of his career; it is not Jaws or even Piranha.
In the early 1980s, the bones of this dark carcass were covered with meat; a non-systematic succession of low-budget meatballs and video boxes swearing that everything in the film is based on real events was only slightly less disturbing than the moment – and you miss that – that part of his appearance at Cannes in The Last Horror, 1982.
Roles that would normally be good for Black, especially some female roles of John Carpenter, are now given to actresses like Adrienne Barbot and Dee Wallace. Worse still, a new wave of horror films has made young stars more willing to throw away their clothes than to study the text.
Speaking in the Chicago Tribune in 2008, blacks were anything but grateful for the work that the kind of terror brought them:
The horror films I made were about 14 out of 175. They are in no way dominant, either in form or content. I can tell you what happened, but it seemed like a mistake. It’s like I took a wrong turn and I can’t go back. It’s just interesting to think about it when you compare it to some of the films I’ve made in this genre.
When I shot the Trilogy of Horrors with this [Demon] doll, I did great. It was very real for people and they just fell in love with him. And he must be incredibly popular. With my last name Black… So he must be unconscious somehow, [my connection with horror movies]. But I’m not interested in blood.
Insight is a beautiful thing, but this position is strange considering his collaboration with the famous director Ruggiero Dedato in Cut and Run in 1985. Although the Holocaust of the Cannibals is unlikely, there is no doubt that this scenario poses only a minor threat. If it is one of her least beautiful performances, she can be forgiven, even if she takes this morally high position, and then be filmed in the stupid (but entertaining) Savage Dawn, the same year, a foretaste of selective memory.
The 80’s ended with more varied, often different film genres; now positively overestimated Invaders from Mars (1986) directed by Toba Hooper; too ambitious a sequel to Larry Cohen Live III (1987); it was even time to appear in the charming clowning of darkness with the divine role of the detective (!).
In the nineties it would have been more humane to bury blacks with scrolls in films at sea. The Mirror, the Mirror and the Evil Spirits were true cemeteries for actresses who were in a desperate situation – Martina Beswick and Yvette Vickers, among others, were in a desperate situation, but to ridicule these films means that they found themselves worthy of the material. They didn’t pay, but they paid the bills and kept these actors in front of the audience.
The last hurrah threatened to play a small role in Robert Altman’s performance, but Black played his career with a softer applause; Aunt Read Meat Pie (1992); Children of Corn : The meeting, Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Bodies (2003) and the cameo in Uga Bug (which mentions his role in the Terror Trilogy) were not the most dignified end to a career that promised so much. But when she died of cancer in a light bulb in 2013, she established herself as a real movie icon – always reliable, always captivating, never afraid of warts and all the performances. In addition, Black became an object of musical worship in the form of Karen Black’s The Voluptuous Horror, a transgressive glamour-punk band. What could be better than a tribute?
Favourite filmography :
prime time (1960)
Five simple pieces (1970)
Sisko Pike (1972)
The Circle of Fear (TV, 1972)
The Pyx (1973)
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Airport 1975 (1974)
The terror trilogy (1975)
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Desert Locust Day (1975)
Combustion offers (1976)
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Mrs. Oliver’s Strange Possession (1977)
Capricorn One (1977)
The Deadly Fish (1979)
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Horror film Last (1982)
The Blue Man (1985)
Wild Don (1985)
The Mars Invaders (1986)
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His life III (1987)
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Out of the darkness (1988)
Evil spirits (1990)
fear of ghosts (1990)
Angel of the Night (1990)
Mirror, mirror (1990)
Children of the night (1991)
Aunt Lee’s Meat Pie (1992)
Space Plan 10 (1994)
The children of Maize IV (1994)
Daughter of the Dinosaur Valley (1996)
The curse of the forty-nine (2002)
House of the 1000 Bodies (2003)
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Dr. Rage (2005)
Mommy’s Little Monster (2012)
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