Wednesday, June 8, 2022


Spoiler Alert: Crucial plot points are revealed in the interest of critical analysis and discussion

An unforeseen dividend in being a movie fan “of a certain age” is living long enough to see what films end up being the legacy benchmarks in the careers of actors I grew up watching. There’s something democratically perfect about the idea that no matter how accomplished, acclaimed, varied, or lengthy a career, no actor gets to decide what movie will "stick" the one they’ll most be remembered for. 

It can be a film that kickstarts a career (flying in the face of the accepted dictum that this is just a taste of things to come, often it turns out to be their finest career hour): Mia Farrow (Rosemary’s Baby) and Liza Minnelli (Cabaret). Or a movie of such nagging popularity that even a career's worth of an actor’s best efforts fails to diminish its influence: Patty Duke (Valley of the Dolls) and—Bless her heart—Faye Dunaway (Mommie Dearest). 

If internet saturation is any indicator, Breakfast at Tiffany’s has been branded Audrey Hepburn’s official signature motion picture. I've seen almost everything Jane Fonda has ever done, but she will always be first and foremost my Barbarella psyche-della. And when I think of Shelley Winters, my mind zips right past Lolita, A Patch of Blue, and The Diary of Anne Frank only to land squarely on the deck of the S.S. Poseidon. Go figure.
Time becomes the great leveler. The public, the ultimate determiner of what film in an actor's resume has left the most indelible impression.
The Day of the Locust - 1975
No one symbolized the cinema of the 1970s for me quite like Karen Black. One of the more prolific and visible actresses of the decade, Black was a true original whose every virtue embodied the iconoclast spirit of Hollywood’s new wave of filmmakers (indeed, seeming to be everywhere at once and in every new movie that came out, she was like the Jack Carson of the New Hollywood). 

I first saw Karen Black in Francis Ford Coppola's coming-of-age comedy You’re a Big Boy Now (1966) when it was shown on TV in 1969. I didn’t know her name then, but as the unglamorous “good girl” waiting on the sidelines for the hero to notice her (a type she was never cast as again), she radiated such a sweetness and oddball vulnerability that I was drawn to her character immediately. Later that same year when I saw Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda's Easy Rider (1969) at the theater, I didn't even recognize her (even after sitting through it twice) as the long-legged, scene-stealing New Orleans prostitute. So thoroughly has Black transformed herself from the soft-spoken love interest in Coppola's film, she was like a different person. 
SF Examiner Sunday, March 9, 1969
That's actually not-yet-famous Karen Black all but obliterated in the grainy photo
promoting the television broadcast premiere of what was her first feature film appearance 

By 1970 the chameleonic character actress was being earmarked for major stardom after her breakout, Oscar-nominated, Golden Globe Award-winning supporting performance in Five Easy Pieces (1970). Between 1971 and 1978 Karen Black appeared in 18 feature films, and I tried to see as many as I possibly could. Karen Black had become my new favorite...a kind of Stateside Glenda Jackson when it came to glamour-free fearlessness and risk-taking...and I was certain there was no one else quite like her in the movies.  
Five Easy Pieces - 1970
To me, Karen Black's particular gift was her emotional authenticity and talent for making her characters relatable. She made the arcane and artificial “establishment” standards of beauty that once defined what movie stars looked like seem obsolete. She always seemed to “be” who she was playing, and the lack of self-consciousness in her acting style had a way of granting even the most extreme characters a personal dignity.

Although Karen Black's tenure as a mainstream, A-list star was surprisingly brief (she didn’t get first billing in an American movie until 1976’s Family Plot, and by 1977 she was appearing in stuff like Killer Fish), but during that period she had the great good fortune to have appeared in what are currently recognized as some of the most iconic, influential, and enduring films of the decade: Easy Rider–1969, The Great Gatsby–1974, Airport 1975–1974, Nashville–1975, Family Plot–1976, Burnt Offerings–1976, and my personal favorite The Day of the Locust–1975. 
The end of the '70s signaled the end of Karen Black's mainstream ascendence. Before her latter career became subsumed by the horror genre (a term she resisted), Black made a brief return to her glory days in Robert Altman's Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean giving one of her career-best performances

When Karen Black died on August 8, 2013, the films obituaries singled out as her most memorable were: her vulnerable waitress in Five Easy Pieces, the pathetic Myrtle in The Great Gatsby,  Nashville's country singer Connie White, and the plucky Nancy ("The stewardess is flying the plane?!") Pryor of Airport 1975. No argument from me.

But I'm sticking to my guns when I contend that when the respectability smoke clears and the prestige-impressed voices of the critics and cineastes die down, the first movie that comes to mind when the average person thinks of Karen Black is 1975s Trilogy of Terror...arguably the most widely-seen and most well-known of all of her films.
Woman Times Four
In the ‘70s, the division between movie star and TV star was far more pronounced than it is today, so it was big doings in the Anderson household (my corner of it, anyway) that THE Karen Black was starring in a made-for-TV movie; a genre that, to my mind, had heretofore been the near-exclusive domain of Donna Mills, Kay Lenz, and William Windom. It was especially notable because career-wise, Karen Black was mainly a cult-popular actress who was just starting to make a mainstream name for herself. 
Trilogy of Terror aired just a couple of months after Black was awarded the Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe for The Great Gatsby. In fact, both Gatsby and Airport 1975 were still playing in theaters when the TV-movie was broadcast. Adding further to the feeling that 1975 was The Year of Karen Black was the fact that all over town and everywhere you turned you were confronted with ads, articles, and posters heralding Black's forthcoming summer releases—The Day of the Locust in May, Nashville in July. 
Airport 1975 - 1974
Hotly anticipated by yours truly, Trilogy of Terror was broadcast Tuesday, March 4, 1975 at 8:30 pm as one of the last entries in the final season of the immensely popular ABC Movie of the Week series that began in 1969. Directed and produced by Dan Curtis of Dark Shadows fame, the trio of terror tales making up this anthology are all based on short stories by Richard Matheson (Die! Die! My Darling! – 1965). William F. Nolan (screenwriter for that other Dan Curtis/Karen Black collaboration Burnt Offerings) wrote the teleplays for the first two, and Matheson himself adapted the iconic final episode.

Based on the short story: The Likeness of Julie - 1962
The male gaze is given a (Karen) black eye in this first tale of “terror” which casts Ms. Black as a buttoned-up, dressed-down English Lit teacher who finds herself the target of the abusive sexual attentions of a student (Robert Burton, then Mr. Karen Black).
Karen Black as Miss Julie Eldridge
Robert Burton as Chad Foster 
JULIE is my second favorite story in the trilogy. Not least in part due to its singularly emphatic kink factor, and for its devilishly clever affiliating of the proprietorial dominance of the male gaze (a form of presumptive access to, and ownership of, the female body) with voyeurism, scopophilia, date rape, and sexual exploitation. A psychological thriller with a touch of the occult/ supernatural, JULIE is a fine work of feminist horror and made me think of Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives.
Hot for Teacher
Of course, Levin’s contemporary gothics were at the forefront of my mind back in 1975 because the movie version of The Stepford Wives had opened in theaters just a month before Trilogy of Terror aired. In fact, the darkly satirical horror of The Stepford Wives…an ideal distillation of post-Women’s Lib male panic…felt in parallel with JULIE’s use of the micro-inequities of day-to-day male/female sexual politics as the springboard for a horror story centralizing what we now understand to be the hidden-in-plain-sight atmosphere of harassment and potential violence women are exposed to on college campuses (well, everywhere, honestly). A point emphasized in the opening sequence where self-styled campus Casanova Chad and his buddy Eddie (Jim Storm) voice their toxic opinions while engaged in the “harmless” act of girl-watching: Chad -“God, have you ever seen so many dogs in one place?”
The Objectifying Gaze
With the villain early-identified and the story’s rising mostly the intensifying degrees of Chad’s abuse, dramatic tension becomes largely of the pressure-cooker variety; Julie will either break or break free…but something’s got to give. And it does. Rather effectively, I must say, in a nifty twist ending I did NOT see coming at the time. 
Though the most heavily populated of the three stories—affording an almost orgasmic parade of outré ‘70s fashions—JULIE is essentially a two-hander. Robert Burton makes for a convincing chauvinist sleazeball (coyly alluded to as being a natural talent by Karen Black on the DVD commentary, perhaps explaining why their 18-month marriage had already dissolved by the time the TV movie came out), but it’s Karen Black’s show all the way. 
Chad blackmails Julie with obscene photos he took of her when she was unconscious.
 Thanks to this nanosecond blooper reveal, it looks like his fetish
was dressing Julie up to look like Charles Foster Kane 
Black is always fascinating to watch and never less than believable in depicting Julia’s trauma. But it’s only after I saw the entire vignette and the twist was revealed that Black’s traditional, almost cliché characterization of an “academic” (precise diction, books clutched to the bosom, mainspring-tight hairdo, owlish spectacles, soft voice) struck me as being perhaps the “performative” display I think it’s intended to be. Until the very last scene, Julie is more or less “acting” the part of the meek bookworm.
By the way, double kudos to whoever’s idea it was for Julie to keep her spectacles on during the film’s big “reveal” scene. 
The framing of the final sequence emphasizes Julie's physical dominance over Chad
After decades of women whipping off their suddenly-useless glasses after letting their hair down, Julie exercising her power while wearing glasses (this is a woman who doesn’t care if men seldom make passes) is an almost Hitchcockian touch (apropos that director's well-known fondness for women in eyewear). Particularly in a story about the power of the gaze.

Based on the short story: Needle in the Heart - 1969
“There are just some people who’ll come to any [movie] with story overviews. It’s nothing to do with the acting or with the writing at all. It’s just that . . . they say, ‘well if the story’s going this way, a great ending would be this. And if a  story’s going that way, the surprise would be that.’”
That’s Karen Black on the Trilogy of Terror commentary track explaining to teleplay writer William F. Nolan her insightful theory on why Millicent & Therese, the trilogy's second terror tale, is so often dismissed with the claim of being predictable. Black is correct in recognizing that when a viewer is presented with something as overworked as the “good twin-evil twin” trope in a horror movie, it takes no great feat of cleverness to guess that if there's going to be a twist ending, that twist will reveal the twins (who are never shown occupying the same frame) are the same person. 
Karen Black as Millicent Larimore
Karen Black as Therese Larimore
But I don't think surprise twists are essential to a good horror story. Sometimes the surprise of a performance that makes the familiar seem new can be very satisfying. Millicent & Therese, the story of two identical twins (moral Millicent, amoral Therese) engaged in an antagonistic battle of wills is so slight as to be little more than a sketch, so even as a teenager, I guessed the “twist” of its plot (linked to my obsession with the 1971 novel and subsequent film version of Tom Tryon’s The Other - 1972). 

But what made the whole thing seem new was the hinted-at cause of Millicent/Therese’s split personality. Behind the genre trappings of voodoo, witchcraft, and demonology is a poignant story of ongoing childhood sexual abuse and how the victim dealt with her trauma by slipping into a catastrophically extreme form of dissociation. A splintering off of her psyche to protect herself from dealing with what is happening (and, in the matter of the death of her mother, what she has done).
Significantly, it's the death of the father that precipitates the showdown between the two sisters. The child is at last "safe" but too many years of identity suppression has clouded the awareness of which personality was genuinely that of the child and which developed as a defense mechanism.  
It's nice seeing Dark Shadows' John Karlen as Mr. Anmar, one of Therese's lovers 
Despite its dark overtones, Millicent & Therese is actually the most fun of the three episodes. Even if sometimes unintentionally so. For instance, the comically broad-stroke visual shorthand used to distinguish the personalities of the two sisters has Black dressed alternately like the illustration on a pack of "Old Maid" playing cards, and a Party City Halloween costume labeled "peroxided trollop."
But when it comes to acting, Karen Black transcends the obvious and gives two rather terrifically realized, distinctly separate performances. Veering effortlessly between compelling and camp, Black gives what amounts to a “best of” performance medley of the quirks, idiosyncrasies, and unique talents that made her one of the most intoxicatingly watchable actresses of her time.

Based on the short story: Prey - 1968

A woman spends a nightmarish evening fighting for her life after inadvertently releasing the spirit of a Zuni warrior encased in an ancient fetish doll. 
When the topic turns to Trilogy of Terror, the now-iconic AMELIA episode is what everyone thinks of exclusively. And for good reason. Even after all these years, the idea of an ankle-high, razor-toothed, knife-wielding Zuni warrior speeding at you across the wall-to-wall carpet is still pretty hair-raising shit. Coupled with Karen Black’s glass-shattering screams, frequent falls, and oh-so-relatable shock reactions; there can be no mystery as to why this memorable horror vignette has achieved the status of kindertrauma klassic.
Karen Black as Amelia
I was a senior in high school when Trilogy of Terror aired, so while the widely-watched TV movie was all any of us could talk about at school the following day, it was never the stuff of nightmares as it was for so many who have claimed it as their seminal childhood freakout. 
(Curiously enough, my own kindertrauma moment was a different teleplay written by Trilogy of Terror’s Richard Matheson. It was that 1961 episode of  The Twilight Zone titled “The Invaders.” It starred Agnes Moorehead as a woman alone in a deserted farmhouse terrorized by ankle-high, knife-wielding spacemen.)
Karen Black’s performance in this episode is the jewel in the trilogy’s crown. It’s a one-woman show-stopper (she should have been Emmy-nominated for the self-penned phone monologue sequence alone) that sees Black’s wholesale commitment to her character and Matheson’s fantastic premise saving the whole thing from slipping into macabre silliness.
Playing on primal fears and familiar phobias, AMELIA is a “fun” scare all the way, allowing the viewer to jump in surprise, squirm at the suspense, giggle at their own jitters, and yell at the screen “Don’t open that suitcase!” Best of all, Amelia is a character we really root for. So much so that the film’s literal killer ending is hard not to be perceived as a triumph for Amelia, for she is at last in a position (a warrior’s crouch, in fact) to have the last word with her mother.
Burnt Offerings - 1976
Although it’s well-known that Trilogy of Terror was a movie Karen Black initially had no interest in making and that she perhaps ultimately regretted the role the film’s popularity played in pigeonholing her as a Scream Queen and taking her career into a direction she hadn't intended. But as a Karen Black fan who has always been a little bit frustrated by how little camera time she has in some of her most famous supporting roles, I’m grateful as hell for Trilogy of Terror. Not just because it represents some of her best work, but because it's a stellar, front-and-center showcase for a brilliant actress who too often had to shine from the sidelines.

Sweet Dreams

Copyright © Ken Anderson   2009 - 2022


  1. You will find this impossible to believe, but I have never seen this...! I really need to buckle down and give it a watch sometime soon. For me, Karen will forever and always be chief stewardess Nancy Pryor, but it could be because I missed seeing this famous teleflick. I know one thing. The picture quality is terrific in your screencaps! I love nothing more than to excavate an old TV-movie which has heretofore only been seen in blurry, grainy, faded, fifth generation video and enjoy it in its pristine glory (perhaps clearer and better than when we had to receive the program over the airwaves with rabbit ear antennae and the like!) Thanks!

    1. Hi Jon - Your never having seen this IS surprising! I know you like Karen Black, but I also know you're not crazy about those murky VHS-to-DVD copies of TV movies (often so grainy to begin with) and I've known you to wait for a clean release copy of a film you're interested in. I think that has paid off for you in the past.
      But now that TRILOGY OF TERROR is indeed sharper than it ever was on broadcast television, I hope you didn't read any of this post (and spoil it for yourself) and will one day check out what is essentially "The Karen Black Show" (By the way, as a kid did you ever happen to catch Karen Black's appearance on The Carol Burnett Show? I only have the memory of Black joining the show's cast in a performance of Sondheim's "Waiting for the Girls Upstairs").
      Black as stewardess Nancy Pryor was so many people's introduction to her. And its such an iconic role, to boot. It certainly sticks out in my mind as being my first time seeing her as something resembling an average person.
      Thanks very much for commenting, Jon!

    2. I did watch this on Friday and LOVED it. The picture quality (from a Blu-Ray) was flawless and really allowed it to come across as if it were new product (apart from the clothing and hair, natch.) I had read much of your post but deliberately skimmed past sections in which I felt that major spoilers might be present. Thus, I *was* surprised when Julia turned the tables on her exploitative student (and WHAT a treat to see young Gregory Harrison come in at the tail end!) And while I could see what was happening with the "twins" it was neatly resolved. One minor demerit for Dan Curtis casting his daughter as the little girl with the broken doll. Too close to a Tori Spelling moment for me... Ha ha! Needless to say, the third story was the most outright gripping. I couldn't believe the amount of fear that little puppet put forth! I think it was wise that it was always a statuette, so there was never any pressure for it to have any realistic/significant physical movement, expression, facial contortion, etc... it was already disturbing enough! Today it would be all CGI-ed to death with multitudinous motions, but this worked fine with the "stiffness" of the doll still in place. I have a "thing" about being cut, so it was torturous at times to see it wielding a knife (or having her try to grab it!) Loved the crazy voiceover for the doll, too. LOL It was a hoot. And I want more people to know about the Zuni fetish doll. I want to share that segment and see if they find it unsettling the way I did. Thanks!! Oh, one P.S. - did you realize that Karen's roomie in the first story had played Smitty in "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying??!" That blew me away when I looked her up.

    3. Hi Jon – Thanks for coming back for a follow-up! It’s always illuminating to know how the “first-timer” responds to an entertainment that is: 1) Very old. What was shocking to a 1975 audience may well seem cliché and over-familiar now. 2) Very, very familiar to me. “Trilogy of Terror” has been a part of my Karen Black memories for so long, that I have no sense of how this movie comes across to someone lacking the connection of adolescent nostalgia.

      It's gratifying to know that the denouement of Episode 1 still comes as a surprise (Gregory Harrison is so baby-faced!), and Episode 3 retains its tension (doubly so if being knives and being cut is a fear trigger…as it is for me, too).

      That’s a great observation you make about the relative “primitive” state of the special effects and the doll not being humanized or made expressive in any way. It is DEFINITELY scarier having that obviously inanimate thing moving about of its own power (that’s why the frozen rictus of a ventriloquist dummy is always so terrifying). They would SO screw it up today with CGI if it were ever remade. That terribly sloppy Don Curtis sequel TRILOGY OF TERROR II was bad enough.

      I’m also in agreement with that little girl in the twin episode. She can barely hold the artificial crying together, and it shows.

      Lastly, I’m glad you mentioned actress Kathryn Reynolds from Episode #1. She didn’t make it past my first draft. I only found out about her being in “How to Succeed” when doing IMDB “research” for this piece. Although I love musicals and actually have the film in my collection, I’ve never seen “How to Succeed in Business” …I wonder if I would have recognized her if I had. It surprised me, too, because her role in TRILOGY was so thankless. Dan Curtis’ daughter had a showier role!
      Again, thanks for the follow-up, Jon, And I'm glad your patience in getting around o this movie was rewarded with a crisp Blu-ray release.

  2. I've always loved Karen Black and this was THE movie I remember from my childhood. I recently bought the DVD and still enjoy it tremendously and have even introduced it to friends. Of course my favorite is "Amelia" but my favorite expression from her occurs when Chad collapses at her feet in the first story. Her look and the way she hisses through her teeth is hilarious!

    1. Hi Phillip - Nice to hear from a longtime Karen Black fan who encountered this memorable movie in childhood. Even minus its power to "scare" the child in us, I too think it remains a tremendously enjoyable and enduring movie. Nostalgia is only part of it. As with the moment in the film you cite (a favorite of mine as well, along with those "parting words" for her lover) Karen Black's performance(s) yield considerable entertainment. I love that you've introduced he film to friends. I very much appreciate your reading this essay and capping it off by contributing to this post with your own memories of TRILOGY OF TERROR. Thanks!

  3. I had heard of Trilogy of Terror long before I ever saw it and when I did finally see it, it did not disappoint...that is "Amelia." It was so intense that I think I actually had to fast forward through much of it (I'm not sure why I'm drawn to these kinds of films given that I can barely stand to watch them). And that last image of Black...Yikes! I've never cared much for the other two parts of the trilogy but would agree that that "Millicent and Therese" is the weakest. (I think you're pretty generous in your analysis of "Julie" but I found it interesting. I might need to go back and rewatch it.)
    As for Black herself, she was on the fringe of my awareness as I was growing up. I think the first film I saw her in was "Family Plot." In retrospect I view her as that film's moral center (even though she was one of the villains, oddly enough.) Black was the only character that seemed to have some limits. I can't forget the "this has gone too far but what do I do about it" look on her face when William Devane attacks Barbara Harris. I remember seeing her in Capricorn One ( a throwaway role) and I did eventually see Airport 75 (even though her performance is often mocked I thought it was pretty effective). Somewhere, somehow I saw one of her last films "She Loves Me Not" where she plays a weird housekeeper. As I look at the long list of her credits on IMDB, she seems to have been a hard-working actress. So even is she didn't get some of accolades that others did, she was definitely memorable.

    1. Hi Ron – Intense is the perfect word for the quality that made that AMELIA sequence so terrifying (I often refer to youngsters and children, but are plenty of adults who, even to this day find that sequence as hard going as any Ari Aster horror film.)
      Because Karen Black appeared almost exclusively in R-rated movies, I think she was largely an actress young people had only heard about until Airport 1975 and Family Plot.

      Your take on her character in FAMILY PLOT is so interesting. And your citing of a reaction she has in a scene (she was one of the greatest listeners in movies. Always so present and ever in-the-moment in character) will have me looking at that Hitchcock film tonight.
      I don't find a lot of her latter films very watchable, although she is never anything but fascinating. But you're right, she almost never stopped working. Quite a prolific output post-JIMMY DEAN.
      Thanks so much for reading this post, Ron, and for adding to the memory journal of TRILOGY OF TERROR encounters.

    2. As I cruised through YouTube one day, I came across episode of an old seventies anthology series "Circle of Fear". One of the episodes entitled "Bad Connection" starred guess who? Karen Black. So of course I had to watch it. It actually starts out fairly creepy (a woman gets ghostly phone calls) but the ending is...kind of odd. But if you want to make you're own call on that, here's the address:

      But here's what I wanted to share: the vibe is definitely early 70s, from the title fonts, to the music, to the familiar faces of that decade populating the series. They all act as if they're guest stars in an episode of "Barnaby Jones."

      And then there's Black. Who is ACTING! And at certain points, her performance just clashes with the more laid back "hey, yell cut so I can go get some lunch" acting style of her co-stars. But, even though I found it a bit jarring at times, I was able to look at her with a different eye (based on your frequent reviews of her movies) and admire the fact that she was obviously giving it her all. So I came away from this rather pedestrian episode in a pedestrian series with a real respect for Ms. Black (and a couple of chuckles).

    3. Wow! I can't thank you enough for letting me know about this. I don't know that I ever knew about it. I (of course) watched it and you are 100% spot-on in your assessment. Karen Black's performance is SO different than any of the actors she shares scenes with. If I wasn't a fan of hers I might think she was doing too much, but because I like her "commitment" it makes for a fascinating viewing experience. When it was over, I imagined Stefanie Powers in the part and could see her giving her usual capable, workman-like performance, and it would have been right in step with the standard you cited. The acting in episodic TV in those days was just a tiny step up from soap opera emoting...colorless, but serviceable. And every very familiar member of this episode gives the same performance you've seen them give in countless Barnaby Jones and Cannon episodes.
      Karen Black didn't get the memo and showed up to serve movie level acting in a terribly underwritten role. (Her fiancé was so bland you couldn't imagine her with him in a million years). Unfortunately, Black's isolated performance and the insipid plotline sometimes feels like she's acting in a vacuum. She's never on the same plane as her flatlining co-stars.
      I got a big kick out of seeing her in this, a job taken in the weird slump that her Oscar-nominated career took after Portnoy's Complaint and before The Great Gatsby. Someone online expressed the opinion that Karen Black should have fired her agent. After seeing this (she looks great and is the only reason to watch it) I have to agree!
      Thanks so much for introducing me to unseen Karen Black (a rarity!) and sharing the link here, Ron!

  4. Reading the title, I thought, is this that movie my parents took me too Far too young (maybe 8 or so)? But no, that turns out to be Spirits of the Dead, a nasty bit of work I do wonder if you've come across. (Two Fondas!)

    I'm down your way this week (lecturing at USC). Nice weather you're having!

    1. Hi Allen -"Spirits of the Dead"! Now, that's a movie I would love to have seen at a far too young age. Although I can't imagine what you made of it as a child...I saw it for the first time as an adult and it's a bit out-there. But the visuals are pretty intoxicating, and Jane Fonda in medieval Barbarella-wear is rather irresistible. I have it in my collection and I’m afraid you’re going to be held responsible for a movie night revisit to it soon
      You have picked an ideal time to come to lecture in LA. It looks to be a spectacular few days of weather. I hope you enjoy yourself!

  5. I've never even heard of this movie until seeing this blog post. Happily, the film is on YouTube for free and only 72 minutes long. An unbeatable combination, so now I've seen it. I'm a huge fan of Karen Black. She is strictly one of a kind. Her own kind. She has all the rich emotional availability and imagination one needs for film acting and then she goes on to bring to the screen her own sui generis personality. There is no Karen Black type, only Karen Black. I don't think anyone ever even tried to be a Karen Black type. I always wanted to see her in a film with Sandy Dennis. Yee haw!

    As for film twins, if they aren't seen together by the audience in the same shot and early in the film... they are the same person. If we are to accept that an actress is actually playing two separate people... we have to see that. The question quickly becomes, "What's going on here?" If the film makers don't resolve that and move on to their story, they're just making an f'd up mess.

    Trilogy of Terror is not the film I will be remembering her for. Not with "Day of the Locust" and "Come Back to the Five and Dime" on her resume. I once suggested to a friend that Robert Altman should have added Karen Black and Sandy Dennis to "Three Women" and made it "Five Women." Now that would have been something to see.

    Thanks for making me aware of Trilogy of Terror. There's always room for more Karen Black.

    1. Hi George – It’s great discovering unseen Karen Black, isn’t it? One time my partner unearthed a late-career curio of hers titled “GYPSY ‘83” (2001). The movie itself I’ve completely forgotten (I was just grateful it wasn’t a horror movie) and Karen Black’s role is a small one, but she is magnificent, as always. Someone should just make an edit of all Karen Black’s scenes from the movies in the last 20 years of her career to preserve her performances while saving us from the films.

      You’re the second Karen Black fan on this post to never have seen this film (until now, of course) leading me to believe that perhaps TRILOGY is the favorite KB film of non-KB lovers.

      “There is no Karen Black type, only Karen Black.” That’s so true! For a while there it looked as though Juliette Lewis was going to pick up the Karen Black lovable-skank mantle, but it never materialized.

      I also liked your concise summation of the “twin” problem in movies.

      Like you, I’m glad Altman got Karen Black and Sandy Dennis in the same movie, but I REALLY would have loved to see Karen Black in something with Shelley Duvall. “Five Women” certainly couldn’t come out any worse than the dreadful “Mr. T and the Women.”

      By the way, have you heard the interview (I can’t recall if it was a YouTube video or the DVD commentary track ) where Karen Black relates how she and Dennis didn’t get along during the Broadway run of JIMMY DEAN? It’s fascinating. In fact, she claimed Dennis and Cher formed an alliance and shut her out. Her interviews are great. She’s always so candid.

      Thanks a heap for sharing your first-timer's exposure to TRILOGY OF TERROR. Understandably, LOCUST and 5 & DIME loom large in your Karen Black movie memories. But you’d be singing a different tune if you were a preteen who watched TRILOGY on a school night and had to go to bed with that last image of Amelia in your head!

    2. There's also a gay indie from 2000 that she's in, Red Dirt starring Walton Goggins.

    3. Yay! Another non-horror title. Like so many of her latter films, I never heard of that one, but I'll give it a Google look. Thanks!

  6. LA Joan should have had a scene or two with Connie White. I suppose Karen Black's short window for shooting her NASHVILLE scenes precluded a lot of interesting possibilities (Connie White and Tom Frank. Connie White and Barbara Jean)

    1. Hi Kip-
      Ha! A Connie White/LA Joan scene would have been hilarious...and short, given how quickly White got rid of Barbara Harris's character, who was even a fan. Connie White interacting with anyone would have been fun to see, since she didn't like women, was very much the insincere phony, and would probably faint dead away if someone like LA Joan didn't know who she was. I wonder how much Karen Black stuff there was in the many hours of unused footage. We know from the credits there was at least one unused song.

  7. Dear Ken: With your love of Karen Black, I knew you would get to this one eventually! :)

    You can number me as among those who experienced childhood trauma by seeing “Trilogy of Terror” upon its premiere. I was 10 years old and for some reason I can't recall, our family missed seeing the first two segments of the movie. But we did see “Amelia” and –wow! Did it scare the sh*t out of me! I had nightmares for weeks!

    To this day, scary movies (at least, those that are scary to me) remain somethings I generally avoid, for the simple reason that I am a big chicken. I saw Polanski's “Repulsion” when I was well into my 20s, and it disturbed my sleep for several nights after.

    Still, I managed to see a lot of TV horror in my formative years, since horror was such a popular genre during the early/mid-1970s. (Remember the show “Circle of Fear”?) My mom especially loved watching horror movies and shows and the next morning at breakfast would recount to us kids the lurid details of whatever she had seen the night before.

    If I may, I'd also like to give a brief salute to that vanished form of entertainment, the TV movie of the 1970s. I know you're a fan of several, given earlier essays you've posted on this site. Back in the day, it seemed those movies were on every other night of the week. You're correct that they often featured less-prestigious talents. But the TV movie also hosted the final performances of some of the movie greats, such as Rosalind Russell in “The Crooked Hearts” and Susan Hayward in “Say Goodbye, Maggie Cole.” I found both on YouTube a few years back, and even today they weren't bad. One tele-movie I'm still on the lookout for is Donna Reed in the 1979 Ross Hunter-produced miniseries “The Best Place to Be.”

    1. Hello David –
      Yes, my affinity for Karen Black most definitely made “Trilogy of Terror” a Le Cinema Dreams inevitability. And your being 10 years old at the time makes you the ideal age for that demographic who had to be in bed right after (It was a school night) making Black’s teeth-baring sign off the last thing you saw before lights out. How could a kid NOT have nightmares?

      Because Bruce is not overly fond of horror and being scared, I can relate to your being a “big chicken” when it comes to the genre. It actually makes sense. If it’s a thrill sensation you can have at the moment and leave behind, fine. But when it means nightmares and images you can't get out of your head, who needs it?

      In my youth, my love of the sensation of being scared was always at war with the part of my nature that took these kinds of movies far too much to heart. Early ‘70s TV did indeed offer a lot to the horror fan. Although you stumped me with that TV program “Circle of Fear”…I don’t remember it at all! I had to go to YouTube to check it out and absolutely nothing I saw there jogged my memory. I wonder how it got past me? I plan to give at one of the episodes a look soon.

      It's nice to hear you have fond memories of TV movies. And indeed, before they sunk into a kind of formulaic sameness, many of them attracted terrific actors that were rarely being seen anymore on the big screen. I recall TV movies with Bing Crosby, Gloria Swanson, Bette Davis, and Kim Novak. Even though I tend to use Kay Lenz’s name as a punchline, one of my all-time favorite TV movies is the wartime coming of age film “A Summer Without Boys.” She’s wonderful in it.

      And David, you’re proving your TV-IQ to be quite extensive. Once again I was stumped by the Donna Reed miniseries you mentioned. Wholly unfamiliar with it!

      Thank you for commenting, David. Knowing your antipathy toward horror, I was actually sort of surprised you’d seen this. That you did and took the effort to share your kindertrauma experience of it is greatly appreciated. Take care!

  8. Fabulous tribute Ken, the second story always reminds me of the Asylum story with Britt Ekland and Charlotte Sampling. You know what's going to happen but as you say it's all in their performances. Been meaning to watch Day of the Locust for ages.. now edged up the to watch list. Hope all is good with you, just seen our Helmut in an episode of the Return of the Saint.. screen stealing as always!

    1. Hello Gill - So nice to hear from you! I love your saying the Millicent & Therese sequence reminded you of what is my absolute favorite sequence from "Asylum." Although I must confess that the first time I saw the Britt Ekland/Charlotte Rampling vignette, the ending took me totally by surprise.
      I'm certain you'll appreciate THE DAY OF THE LOCUST should you ever get around to watching it, but no two people seem to come away from it expressing the same thing. It hits people on so many differing levels.
      All is well with me and hope you can say the same. by the way, something must be in the air-- only a week or two ago I had settled in to rewatch Helmut in the 3-hr "Ludwig"! I would love to see that episode of Return of the Saint, finding out that Britt Ekland is in it at well. I'm sure it was fun.
      My sincere thanks for reading this post and commenting. Happy movie watching and writing!