Interview: KAREN BLACK - TRILOGY of TERROR
Conducted on 11/10/98
This interview was originally part of the DVD release through Anchor Bay Ent. Miss Black was an exceptionally warm and out going person. She was a joy to deal with, and pleasure to have known. Her conversation with me was not only enjoyable, but entertaining - from her reminiscing on screen exploits to her baking chicken for her cats.
SB - I would think that Trilogy of Terror was, in an acting sense, a dream come true because of the different roles involved?
KB - No. I didn't really want to do it.
SB - Really?!
KB - I forget why I didn't want to do it. But what happened was the guy that portrayed the student to my teacher was really my husband. So I said that I would do it if he would play that part. Otherwise I didn't really want to do it. What really interested me was I got to play an older spinster. And I knew that it would be many years until I would be asked to do that. You see, I have very small eyes. There're close-set. And I thought it would be interesting to play the spinster because I knew I could wear these far sighted glasses which are like magnifying glasses for the eyes. Also, I wouldn't wear any eye make-up so I could look older, and not glamorous.
KB - Playing that character is really what interested me and that's all. The manager I had at that time came to my home and sat there in my living room chair all night saying I want you to do this. He really use to talk me into doing stuff and I still didn't want to do it. Finally around 4 o'clock in the morning I said, "Okay, I'll do it!" So I did it and they put ex-husband in the part.
SB - Did the part of Amiela interest you in anyway?
KB - I don't know. I don't remember. All I know is what I told you about Milicent. That was a very interesting character part for me. Because it's so different from what I am, and what I was.
SB - Of course you know the story with Amiela your little co-star is the most popular...
KB - Absolutely.
SB - That must've been a physically difficult part for you?
KB - That was really difficult, physically, and I had not realized it until I started to get bruises all over my right leg. I must've fallen down every ten minutes all day. I can take a fall so I don't hurt myself. I can fall on my right but not on my left. Also I re-wrote some of the dialogue with the mother in the beginning with the director Dan (Curtis). Because I wanted to make it very clear how the mother made Ameila feel. So at the end it would be justified what she did.
I wanted the audience to feel her suppression and the way she was made to feel inadequate. I thought that scene on the phone was very imortant to bring all that out. . Even though Ameila herself couldn't recognize it the audience could. There was also a scene when I'm locked in the bathroom and I say, "I can't believe this is happening.", that was improvised. I made up some of the things I was saying when I was frightened. I also thought in order to look more like the doll at the end, I should have these little sharp teeth. The director, Dan, said that would look really silly and over done. But he said we'll make them and see how they look. So the teeth were my idea. And then, when we shot it I put on the make-up that darkened my eyes to show there was a change in her.
SB - What was it like working with your Zuni co-star?
KB - The doll itself was quite goofy. It's the silliest thing in all the world -- it was just a joke. For example we had this structure on the floor so you could see the thing running towards you. I don't know if it ever made it into the piece. If it's in there it's a shot of it running right towards camera. I walked out of my dressing room and the whole crew was laughing because this silly doll's leg had come off. Or there were times the arm flew off, or the head came off It just this swanky thing. I mean, there were times they just threw it at me.
You know when they show it running towards me?
SB - Yes.
KB - You want to know how the really big special effect was done. They threw it!
Then they had more trouble with it cutting me. Everything was so jerry-rigged. It wasn't very sophisticated in anyway. It's amazing it came out looking so well. But then Dan is an excellent director and excellent at doing suspense. He knows just the right angles. Nobody is better at suspense.
SB - Do you have an affinity towards doing horror, suspense films?
KB - I dislike horror films. I think this little movie took my life and put it on a path that it didn't even belong in.
SB - How do you mean that?
KB - Well what I really want to do is what I've been doing lately. I've finally got on track. I think that there was a bad connotation with the name "Black." It sort of struck a cord in people where they made that connection and it's a shame because it's just not me. I do love science fiction movies. In my teens I was a huge science fiction fan. I saw an incredible number of science fiction movies and read a lot of science fiction in the 60's and the 70's.
But now it all sort of collapsed together with horror. Science fiction, I think, is really creative and very imaginative and dream-like, and full of folklore - and what could be. It's really a great form that I admire. But I don't like horror because of the blood. I don't care to see people bleed. I know they're going to bleed when you cut their skin, I don't have to see it. I don't think that's interesting. And I'm not really interested in "fear". I know when I write I don't write "fear". "Fear" just bores me, I like "longing" and "love". "Despair" and "Hope". Anyway, I was working on the Hitchcock movie, Family Plot, when Dan came to me and asked me to be in Burnt Offerings. My agent, the same one l told you about, said you've got to do this one. So the two movies put together did sort of lead me into this horror thing. Then I went out and had a baby which took me out of communication for years. While I was gone I think people sort of tied me together with scary horror movies. It's like a runaway train that gained its own momentum. But you know, Trilogy of Terror is just so good. I like doing character work and Dan is just so great.
SB - Trilogy of Terror is less of a horror film and more of a character piece. If it were done today it probably would be more horrific.
KB - Well the version seen on television was not the most frightening version. There is another version which was so frightening they didn't put it on television. In that version there was a door knob I tried to open but was melted or something. I don't remember. But I couldn't open it because he (Zuni Doll) had ruined it magically or something. So I couldn't get out of any of the doors. There was always another door that I couldn't get to open. Then there was something wrong with the window. I think I tried to throw a chair to break it. There were those beats of not being able to get out of that apartment that were taken out. It was more intense and incredibly frightening for the time. They couldn't leave it the way it was and show it to the American public. Even so, it was still frightening. This is a wonderful movie. Dan should be applauded for his work with it.
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