Thursday, August 8, 2013

Karen Black; Mean Pranks; Death and Other Jokes

Karen Black in House of 1000 Corpses
Veteran genre actor Karen Black has passed away at 74 after a long battle with cancer and that makes Uncle P very sad. Ms. Black's career spanned 6 decades and included films such as Easy RiderFive Easy Pieces; Airport 75 and The Day of the Locust. But she's probably better known for her genre films which include The Pyx (1973); Burnt Offerings (1976); Invaders from Mars (1986) and House of 1000 Corpses (2003). 

Among those of us who grew up in the era of disco and only one HBO channel, Karen Black is best remembered for an ABC TV Movie of The Week called Trilogy of Terror. As I am sure you've figured out, it was an anthology of three scary stories. No one I know (including myself) remembers anything about the first two stories. Because it was the third story that freaked out everyone who saw it. It was the third story that all my friends were talking about the next Monday at school. And it was the third story that made my sister almost lose her mind (a lot more on that in a bit...). 

As of this writing, she has three films yet to be released. Black, with her wonky eye and unconventional beauty, came to stardom during the Indie Film Renaissance of the 70's (sometimes referred to as the "Second Golden Age') and managed to maintain a very interesting and viable career long after many of her contemporaries didn't. Karen Black was truly One-of-a-Kind.

And so I don't leave on quite a dark note, I'll segue into two real-life events, memories of which were triggered by the news about Ms Black.

My Dad, despite his many faults, was pretty funny and I'm not ashamed to admit that a big part of my sense of humor is directly related to his. He knew a million jokes and he told them well. He often used fairly accurate accents when telling them, which led to my ear for it (which has proven very useful both on and off stage). He loved nonsense and dark humor, and took great joy in pranking my sister and mother. Here are two examples:

When my sister was very young, she would get scared and sneak into my parents' room in the middle of the night. When they started locking their door, she took to coming up into my room, which was basically a loft with no door. I woke up many mornings to find her in my bed.  Trilogy of Terror originally aired on a Friday night. I don't need to tell what Sis did. That Saturday morning, our father got up and started to make breakfast. She heard him rattling around and called out -- "Hello?" Dad snuck out to the living room and made sounds like the Zuni Doll in that clip. Needless to say, Sis crawled back into bed and didn't move or make a sound until I woke up, some time later. Poor kid!

Which led me to this memory of a Halloween in the mid-to late 70's. Trick or Treating was pretty much over for Uncle P for good, but I still went out with Sis and we had some fun times. Of course, in those days we were out for hours (especially on weekends) and would fill pillowcases two or three times. It was safe and there were hundreds of kids and parents out. This particular night, Dad hid a monster mask in the bathroom. I was upstairs, Sis was in her room and Mom was in the kitchen, which is where kids knocked for candy in almost every house in our area, about to go to bed. Dad snuck into the bathroom and put on the mask and a trenchcoat (and nothing else). He snuck out the front door, crept around to the kitchen door and knocked.

Poor Mom, thinking it was last-minute Trick-or-Treater, opened the door. Dad yelled "Trick 'r Treat!" and flashed her, thinking she would recognize him and laugh. Instead, Mom screamed for Dad and slammed the door! Sis and I both came running, only to hear Dad braying like a hyena outside while Mom came to the realization of what had just happened.

Is it any wonder I am the way I am?

Here are some trailers for my favorite Karen Black Horror movies:

More, anon.

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