While Stargayzing was on hiatus we lost the great Karen Black. A major star in the 1970s who enjoyed leading roles in important films that came to define the New Hollywood (Five Easy Pieces, Easy Rider, Nashville) and less great films of the period (Airport ’75, Alfred Hitchcock’s final film Family Plot, and the cult classic 1975 made-for-TV horror, Trilogy of Terror), Black came to embody the idea of a “working actress,” with no almost 100 films to her credit. Whether she was starring in classic films like John Schlesinger’s The Day of the Locust (1975) or kitschy horror like Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering (1996), Black brought the her defining qualities of earthy quirkiness and dependable professionalism to every project.
In later years though the roles in A-list films trailed off, Black kept working, becoming an icon to fans of low budget horror via a series of straight to video releases. Truth is Karen Black liked to work. If you want to spend an enjoyable hour and a half with Miss Black, may I recommend listening to her warm, incisive, and funny-as-hell audio commentary for Dan Curtis’ Burnt Offerings (1976), a movie that at age nine gave me nightmares. Even today the sound of an old car idling in the distance gives me shivers.
After her tragic death last month, I spent some time on Karen’s blog during a few insomniac hours. I happened upon a most entertaining list she created of the “top 10 favorite moments in all of the scifi/science-fantasy/horror films I have seen.” This is how you know when a celebrity writes something themselves: it is completely ungrammatical and sounds authentically like the author. Even the terribly worded title tells you that Karen Black took the time to create this list herself. I was particularly taken with her ideas, which she published in the April 6, 2011 edition of her blog. As you know, Stargayzing certainly loves a list and this is a great list, filled with films both familiar and new to me along with Karen’s personal thoughts on each. After the jump, we will share her ideas with our readers as a tribute to great actress and, from all available accounts, a lovely person.
My Top 10 Favorite Moments in All of The Sci-Fi/Science-Fantasy/Horror Films I Have Seen
By Karen Black, April 6, 2011
1. Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1958
O.K. Here’s my favorite moment from all Science Fiction, Fantasy and horror films I’ve seen. . .
In this absolutely terrific movie, Kevin McCarthy knows full well that if anyone from his community where the body snatchers are replacing humans with outer space unfeeling replicates of its citizens — if anyone falls asleep, that during that unconscious moment, the body snatchers will take over and you will wake up, not “you” anymore and never to be you again.
McCarthy and his girl, Dana Wynter escape the town, make a run for it. But it’s late and they are getting more and more tired. McCarthy goes to search for a path for them to take. When he returns, he sees Dana asleep on the ground and tries to wake her. Here’s the moment: Close up. She opens her eyes. They are unseeing, utterly passive, opaque. She’s been snatched!
2. It’s Alive, 1974
One of the great science fantasy movies, this one by Larry Cohen. Sharon Farrell has given birth to a very small but deadly monster. But she’s his mommy. She loves him. She hides him away. But he keeps killing people.
Finally the police are onto the little guy and with ludicrously unnecessary force, about 44 police cars surround the big building where the child is hiding. His dad is appointed to go in and get him and surrender him to the police in whose keep his baby will surely be put to death.
John Ryan looks at his little son, knowing what he must do and what he is going to do. Great tears of love and sorrow fall from his eyes and were falling from mine, I can tell you. What a moment. It’s emblazoned within forever. But without the masterful performance by John Ryan this moment would not have been realized and would not have become unforgettable.
3. Spirits of the Dead, (“Toby Dammit” segment), 1968
This film is a collection of three shorts or segments, one by Frederico Fellini, one by Louis Malle, and a third by Roger Vadim. The short by Fellini about a tormented actor named Toby Dammit and played by Terence Stamp, is in fact known as a great film. When it was last screened at a theater in L. A., respected directors who know good film came out of the woodwork to see it.
Toby Dammit is pursued by a small, glitteringly happy little girl who represents death in the film. The great screen moment, in this horror science fantasy film, is as follows: Toby Dammit, a famous actor, walks through the audience toward the stage where a TV interview has been set up for him. The stage has roaring blatant white lights and looks more like a fighter’s ring than a television broadcast. As he walks, he looks down upon all those faces in the audience upturned towards him. They are Fellini faces: splendid and sordid, people who are real yet seem to have arrived from a nearby circus with skin a little too white, lips a little too red.
Faces, faces, faces, and the great screen moment was there for me. I swear I got high watching them. I went into a trance of some kind. Only the genius of Fellini could transport his audience in this way.
4. Unearthly Stranger, 1964
The only way we can tell that this beautiful woman, Julie Davidson, played so wonderfully by Gabriella Lecudi, is not from our planet is that when she achieves human emotion and cries, great dark crevices appear in her face where the tears have fallen. And the other way? She experiences no heat. The moment occurs when her husband Dr. Davidson, played by John Neville, suddenly walks into the kitchen to see his wife taking a 400 degrees, steaming hot casserole out of the oven with her bare hands. You’ve got a lot of ‘splainin’ to do Lucy!
5. Dracula, 1931
I know this is a popular favorite. That does not mean that it is not one of the best moments ever to be seen in the horror genre and really, it must be mentioned.
Count Dracula, played by Bela Lugosi, is welcoming Van Helsing, played by Edward Van Sloan, to his castle, and is standing on a vast gray, splendidly crumbling staircase. There is a noise. We all know what Dracula will say. And he says it so beautifully that many of us can remember his exact inflections. “Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make!”
6. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 1974
Would anyone but Tobe Hooper ever be masterful enough in the horror genre to think of having people be utterly casual at the moment that someone is waiting to be slaughtered?
In “Chainsaw Massacre,” the father of the ratty household and his son sit chewing on the decision, arguing in the most casual of ways, as to which one of them will slice off the girl’s head and let it fall into the bucket placed in front of the chair onto which she has been tied. This chair, by the way, is between the two men, each trying to impress the other with how right he is to do the task, so we can watch her enduring this contest while she waits for her horrible end. An entirely original and unforgettable moment in all of horror films.
7. Terminator, 1984
Here is a stunning classic moment so good I’m surprised it’s never occurred before in film: Arnold Schwartzenegger holds out his hand and stops an enormous truck dead in its tracks. I think it’s his right hand.
8. E.T., 1982
We all know and love this moment: Drew Barrymore and Henry Thomas’ mom, played by Dee Wallace, looks into the closet in which her children have hidden the little loveable guy from outer space! She scans the shelves. The children hold their breaths. So do we! We see a shot of what she sees: rows and rows of dolls and stuffed animals of all kinds. The moment comes when we all breathe a sigh of relief, because to their mom, E.T. looks just like every other stuffed plaything sitting to his left and to his right! Adorable.
9. Dawn of the Dead, 1978
We are all used to that ominous knowledge, watching zombie movies, that the undead are man-eaters! But in this George A Romero movie a zombie simply walks toward camera and actually takes a big bite out someone’s shoulder in a shopping mall. Pretty neat and it let me know that Mr. Romero has quite a sense of humor.
10. Twilight Zone (T.V. Show), “Time Enough at Last” Episode, 1959
Henry Bemis, played by Burgess Meredith, absolutely loves to read, but works so assiduously at his bank, he never has enough time to do so. Outside the thick, protective walls of the bank’s vault, a terrible war ensues, and at its end, there is no more work nor any world for Henry, but what there is, is “time enough at last” to read and read to his heart’s content. But alas, the violence of the blast has shaken him and his glasses have fallen. And now, the unforgettable moment: he steps on his own glasses and shatters them and also his own hopes for a contented future.
What are your favorite moments? Mind you I don’t mean your favorite movies, I mean those moments you will take with you for a lifetime.