In some rarefied circles, Karen Black is best known as the inspiration for the Grand Guignol nudist band the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, but cinephiles treasure her for an unusually long and varied movie career that plumbs the depths (who can forget Hell Kitten or House of 1000 Corpses?) and the heights (Five Easy Pieces, Nashville). In a one-night casting coup, local camp impresario Marc Huestis has corralled Ms. Black into the Castro for a movie, live interview, and variety show aptly, if a bit viciously, called "Ho-Down With Karen Black."
Typical of such events, this one will feature an army of drag queens (watch for Matthew and Mary Martin as "The Juggs") and, yes, a biological female (Connie Champagne) playing off the film, Robert Altman's Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982). This is one of the director's lesser works, but engaging enough in its crawl through a claustrophobic "womanspace." The women in question are the "Disciples of Jimmy Dean," gathering for a 20-year reunion in a failing Woolworth's in a forgotten Texas town. Of course, each has a deep, dark secret that the film painstakingly exposes, but attentive viewers will nail them all well before the end. Much of the action is stagy, and the hothouse dialogue often reeks, but diva watchers will be well rewarded with riveting performances by a stellar ensemble: Cher as a lively, aging sexpot; Sandy Dennis doing her delusional neurotic shtick to fabulous excess; Kathy Bates in an unusual nouveau riche role; and of course Karen Black as the Ambiguously Sexed Intruder Who Brings Ugly Truths. While Dennis is the standout, Black is at her most voluptuously horrific in her Kansas City pants suit and Porsche as she dashes every dream of her heartland sisters.