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The Films of Jack Hill
BY G. NOEL GROSS | February 15, 2002

Click for the second of this two-part tribute.

Jack Hill is something of an accidental exploiteer. Focused. Wry. Intelligent. Charming. Not at all the smarmy fella one would think of as the originator of the notorious women-in-prison genre. Or someone who'd be just as adept in writing and directing a black urban revenge picture as a rural stockcar-racing odyssey. As he tells it, he just "fell into" filmmaking. Truth is, the Hollywood native has been very near the thick of it since the cradle. His father was an accomplished set designer for Disney and Warner Bros. While his mother was a gifted musician who clearly had an influence on Jack, because he went on to earn a music degree at UCLA. But he then stuck around campus to chase a notion of melding BOTH family pursuits as a film score composer. Except he sorta got sidetracked -- by his talent. He's a born filmmaker.

During the mid-'60s and the '70s, when many of his colleagues were content to make cheap, exploitable, profitable movies, Hill's work ethic insisted that they also be well made, conceived, and above all, entertaining -- even when renowned miser Roger Corman sent him off to the Philippines to make The Big Doll House with little more than his imagination and mild-mannered grit. He came back to Los Angeles with not just a movie. He returned with a box office phenom! That's also when he discovered the incomparable Pam Grier. While Russ Meyer may be able to lay claim to being the first to ogle Pam's gigundus breasts on camera, it was Jack Hill who unleashed Ms. Grier's inner inferno. Proving she was not only beautiful, she had an instinctual command of the screen -- from tender mercy to furious vengeance. Hill understood this far better than anyone and skillfully crafted double-barreled blaxploitation hits for them both with Coffy and Foxy Brown.

Today, it's no fluke this accidental exploiteer is a lauded legend of genre filmmaking with EIGHT testaments to his skill as an artist and entertainer. Each of these illustrious movies are available on DVD with consistently engaging, insightful and refreshingly humble commentaries by Mr. Hill. His mainstream directorial debut, Spider Baby, is also the finest disc of the bunch with a beautiful print, miraculous lost footage and a terrific cast reunion. As goodies go, fan and geekazoid genius director Quentin Tarantino delivers a formidable special edition of HIS favorite Jack Hill classic -- Switchblade Sisters. Included is Hill's 30-minute student film The Host, said to have inspired the final reel of friend and classmate Francias Ford Coppolla's war epic Apocalypse Now. All are presented in their original aspect ratios. Slight exceptions include open matte prints for The Big Doll House and The Big Bird Cage, as Hill explains, "The pictures were shot fullframe on the film, but framed for 1.85:1, which is what most theaters used. ... I always did that so that nothing would be lost on TV." In tribute to a personal B-hero, I proudly provide a CineSchlocker's guide through ALL of these remarkable discs:

(1964, 81 minutes)

Video: 4 Audio: 3
Extras: 5 Replay: 4
Advice: Collectors Series
Hill's debut has the disarming charm of "Mr. Roger's Neighborhood" and the ferocious family values of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Big, burly Teddy bear Bruno (Lon Chaney Jr.) plays loving caretaker to a bizarro trio of "children" who ain't. They're all grow'd up on the outside, but their diseased brainpans are on a downward skid toward kindergarten. Like most kiddos, they're mischievous and it's NEVER good when Bruno wanders off on errands. That's when Virginia (Jill Banner) tippy-toes around their shabby estate playing "spider" by netting and hacking unsuspecting prey to death. Like a poor, now ear-less, fella just looking to deliver a telegram. Her tattle-tale sis Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn) just loves such antics as she can't wait to fill Bruno in on all the gory details. Kids will be kids, but Bruno's got bigger problems. Greed-minded members of the Howes clan have arrived with a lawyer in tow to see what sort of loot they can squeeze out of the remaining estate. Even if that means kicking Bruno and his baby-talkin' pals to the street. Emily and Peter Howe (Carol Ohmart and Quinn Redeker) are politely uncomfortable with their problemed kin, especially Ralph (Sid Haig), the girl's lanky, bald, slobbering idiot bubba who does his darndest to be a good host by providing a special meal of chicken-fried rabbit. Only it's no bunny! That's far from the weirdest twist during the night's events in this cobwebbed creephouse replete with hidden passages and secrets best kept. Tragically, Mr. Chaney was never able to witness his heart-wrenching performance due to legal entanglements that kept this film off the screen until after his death. CineSchlockers are most certainly familiar with his swan song -- Dracula vs. Frankenstein.

Notables: No breasts. 11 corpses. Ear tumbles. Gratuitous Hitler moustache. Cat munching. Peeping. Foot chase in lingerie. Spooky owl.

Quotables: Bruno scolds a naughty Elizabeth, "How many times have I told you it's not nice to hate!" Peter razzes his panicked sis, "Well, let's not have a complete double-duck fit!"

Time codes: Ralph makes a unique first impression (12:02). Watch for film crew reflected in car window (20:14). Romance blossoms when horror fans meet (37:50). Ms. Ohmart slips into something more comfortable (45:38). Ralph does what comes naturally (1:01:10).

(1967, 91 minutes)

Video: 3 Audio: 3
Extras: 4 Replay: 2
Advice: Recommended
If there's such a thing as a gear-grinding art film, this would come dern close. An aging rebel (Richard Davalos) finds a cause when he's plucked from jail by a dirt-track svengali (Brian Donlevy) to dethrone the reigning king of the figure-8 raceway (Sid Haig). That's right, there's a freakin' INTERSECTION, folks. Souped-up hot rods roar through the crossroads, often clobbering another driver in a crash of metal-on-metal while a thrilled crowd of rednecks cheer. All the race footage was filmed during multiple nights at a real-deal track where this sort of thing was actually old hat. Jack shot the most up close and personal crash derby moments HIMSELF on account of he just couldn't bring himself to ask anyone else to risk their necks. In fact, eagle-eyed CineSchlockers will easily spot Hill clutching his camera just feet away from the death-defying intersection. Most of the story swells from the competitive rivalry between Haig and Davalos' characters, which is fueled by their peddle-to-the-metal egos. Spider Baby's Beverly Washburn returns with a cropped 'do as a pre-hippie love child (Jolene) who has an unnerving knack for falling for the wrong kind of fellas. Producer Roger Corman nixed Jack's notion of having the flick's hero LOSE the climatic race, yet the wily filmmaker still managed to satisfy his artistic inklings with a sobering finale. Gearheads will thrill to see custom car handiwork by the great George Barris who was responsible for creating the legendary Batmobile and a certain time-traveling DeLorean.

Notables: No breasts. One corpse. Car hopping. Slow dancing. Welding. Gratuitous dune buggy footage. Chaste shower scene.

Quotables: Wrecking yard Romeo comes to Jolene's defense, "You better look out girl. That old hornytoad'd love to lay a hand on your backside! Especially now that it's all grown up into that nice little cupcake shape!" Jolene ain't a Baptist, "I believe that heaven is this big island in the sky where everyone makes love in the sunshine with no shame at all."

Time codes: Appearances by the director as an extra (10:09, 23:56). Dancers boogie at the 190 Club (10:48). Sid emotes behind the wheel (31:37). One-man demolition crew sledgehammers car to bits (39:40). Ernie Douglas plays guitar (1:08:57).

(1971, 94 minutes)

Video: 3 Audio: 3
Extras: 4 Replay: 4
Advice: Highly
Here lies the epicenter from which the women-in-prison genre would EXPLODE. A cell full of hardened, yet ravishing long-time women have an odd way of welcoming Collier (Judy Brown) to their sisterhood. Like her very first night when the redheaded-pyromaniac-junky of the group sets Collier's bed ablaze while she's STILL IN IT. Pam Grier swoops in to play firefighter AND peacemaker, but her motivation leans less toward altruism than to securing a new shower massager. As fates go, that's not so bad, considering warden Lucian (Katheryn Loder) is always itching for an excuse to haul one of the gals in for an extended interrogation. When they won't get to gabbing, she likes to string them up in their birthday suits and lash their hineys with whips, or strap them to a table and make 'em where an electric Cross Your Heart bra that shoots high voltage through their nipples. What makes it all-the-more sadistic is that this guy in a black hood sits and silently watches all these shenanigans hour after hour. Clearly, this was BEFORE the at-home version of "Wheel of Fortune." There's also an amusing subplot with a pair of horndog peddlers (led by Mr. Haig) who make regular prison visits to paw the inmates. But all this fun can't last forever, as the girls put aside their squabbling and canoodling to execute a daring midnight escape. CineSchlockers will rub their eyes in disbelief upon witnessing Pat Woodell -- Bobbie Joe of "Petticoat Junction" -- as a lovelorn revolutionary.

Notables: Seven breasts. 22 corpses. Toilet diving. Postal grope. Electrocution. Cobra attack. Mud rasslin'. Food fight.

Quotables: Inmate corners a bashful beau, "Get it UP, or I'll cut it OFF!!!" First inkling of Pam's power-house potential, "You're ROTTEN, Harry! You know why? Because you're a MAN! All men are FILTHY! All they ever want to do is get at you! For a long time I let them get at me. That's why I'm in this dump! But NO MORE!!! You hear me?! I'm not going to let a man's filthy hands touch me again!!!" A great way to end any argument, "Why don't you sew up your slimy lips!"

Time codes: Rather, ahem, thorough strip search (3:15). Thrilling Filipino cockroach race (14:50). Male visitor's fantasy proves wilder than he'd dreamed (34:30). Rivals engage in a delicious battle of wills (43:40). Jack picks up his hitchhiking starlet (1:33:56).

(1972, 93 minutes)

Video: 3 Audio: 3
Extras: 4 Replay: 3
Advice: Recommended
In just a year's time WIP flicks were all over the screens, so Hill opted to spoof his hit by juicing its script with more overt comedy. A high-class American nookie girl, who's made a point of diddling most of this back-water country's honchos, runs on hard times when she's kidnapped by a wildman revolutionary (Sid Haig) and his trigger-happy girlfriend (Pam Grier). When they manage to elude the federalies, she's somehow implicated as a conspirator and winds up doing time at an all-female work camp run by homosexual men. Don't get the idea this is all giggles. Gals routinely get themselves tangled up in the gears of a towering sugar mill known as, you guessed it, the Big Bird Cage. Now, if anyone gets REALLY out of line, they get strung up by their HAIR and left to roast in the sun all day. Not nearly as much fun as being forced to plant rice, harvest coconuts and cut sugar cane while wearing skimpy getups that barely cover their no-no zones. Back at Revolution Central, the fellas decide they're not so keen on birthing a new ruling generation with their own women folk, so they come up with the brainstorm of stealing new brides AND sticking it to the man by liberating the prison. Pam works from the inside by mud rasslin' an uppity white bitch and replacing her as camp honchette. While Sid goes REALLY light in the boots to distract the ordinarily fussy guards. CineSchlockers will be interested that Jack's pop designed the forbidding Big Bird Cage as well as Cinderella's castle for Disney.

Notables: 27 breasts. 40 corpses. Trouser trout. Gratuitous urination. The ol' burp gun in the guitar trick. Chloroformed canine. Flaming Filipino stunt man. Two-fisted gun shooting.

Quotables: Guard herds timid babes into the showers, "Alright, ladies! Hurry up, hurry up! Never mind the crotch cooties. They have to eat to." Inmate guzzles alcohol stolen from the medical ward, "Chateau Green River. Guaranteed to make you feel like an orangutan in heat!" Pam emotes, "It's MISS [email protected]#ER to YOU!!!" So does Sid, "KILL AND BURN, GIRLS! KILL AND BURN!!!"

Time codes: A warden so mean he'd kick a ... (9:30). Proper handling of the mentally ill is important (25:10). Escapee strung up by her flowing locks (48:00). Greased lesbian chase (1:02:55). Guard gang-raped by inmates (1:21:35).

(1973, 90 minutes | Full review)

Video: 3 Audio: 3
Extras: 4 Replay: 4
Advice: Highly
Coffy (Pam Grier) is a nurse fed up with police inaction in her community -- one that's crawling with dope pushers, pimps and the politicians who seem to be pulling the strings. But it's when her own sister falls victim to the scourge of drugs that Coffy picks up a sawed-off shotgun and decides to settle the score. This one-chick hit squad follows a trail of junkies to King George (Robert DoQui) and infiltrates his harem of high-class escorts, which isn't easy especially seeing how they're an extremely MEAN group of gals. Thankfully, this tension builds into a catfight royal that's darn near unrivaled in B-cinema's lurid history. Though her detective work isn't exactly in Jim Rockford's league, she talks and sexes her way into the inner circle responsible for most of the unseemly stuff that'd hacked her off in the first place. Who she comes face-to-face with there may prove more than one woman can take. At least without a loaded scattergun. CineSchlockers will snicker when they first see Allan Arbus as the diminutive mob boss who makes, ahem, UNUSUAL demands of King George's girls. Arbus is probably most recognized for his recurring role as Dr. Sidney Freedman on "M*A*S*H."

Notables: 13 breasts. Eight corpses. Shotgun blast to the face. High-speed pimp pull. Gratuitous Jamaican accent. Throat slashing. The ol' razorblades in the bouffant gag. Multiple diddling.

Quotables: Coffy in Angel of Death mode, "This is the end of your ROTTEN life -- you mother [email protected]#%ing dope pusher!!!" In Seductress mode, "Now don't start gettin' insecure ... you know the long goodie will keep on workin' as long as I'm able to handle it."

Time codes: Coffy puts the permanent hurt on a dealer (6:22). Angry lesbian comes to the rescue of her woman (31:10). High-class hookers try to pull out each other's hair (43:00). Cop gets clobbered by a car (1:15:30).

(1974, 91 minutes | Full review)

Video: 3 Audio: 3
Extras: 4 Replay: 4
Advice: Highly
Despite its success, studio honchos balked at Coffy II, or as Hill offered Burn, Coffy, Burn, so what materialized was this non-sequel sequel with Grier in the title role. Like Coffy, Foxy Brown is out for some good old fashioned vigilante justice. Her man is on the right side of the law, but he knows just enough to get himself killed, even after having his face redone by a plastic surgeon. Yet all they really did was shave his moustache and goatee, so it doesn't fool the gangsters for long. Soon, he's gunned down, and his body falls lifeless on Foxy's ample bosom. She silently vows to get even, no matter how many scumbags she has to sleep with. Foxy poses as a high-dollar prostitute in order to infiltrate a complicated ring of dope runners and crooked politicians. Unlike the explosive opening scene of Coffy, the follow-up feature takes at least 30 minutes showing just how sensitive and loving Foxy is, before finally letting her world crumble to the point she comes a-lookin for blood. Still, the remaining hour is unrelenting as the bodies begin to fall. Some victories are more savored than others, like the fiery death she inflicts on the rednecks who drugged and raped her at the behest of the queen bitch of gangsters (Katheryn Loder). Foxy eventually enlists the help of seriously militant brothers to wage a final battle royal with the dope pushers which must be seen to be believed.

Notables: Nine breasts. 12 corpses. Lesbian bar fight. Emasculation with hunting knife. Propeller purée. Hair pulling. Pickled wangdoodle.

Quotables: Foxy's brother (Antonio "Huggy Bear" Fargas) loves his sister, "You saved my beautiful black ass!" But she doesn't approve of his so-called friends, "You think you're back in with those people, but you got a stick of dynamite up your ass and the fuse is burning!" Size matters to Ms. Brown, "I've heard of a meat shortage, but that's ridiculous!"

Time codes: James Bond-esque title sequence (:18). Foxy tries to raise her recuperating boyfriend's spirits (14:00). The girls do a number on a crooked judge (44:00). Baddie gets run over by a PLANE (1:24:54).

(1974, 90 minutes)

Video: 2.5 Audio: 3
Extras: 4 Replay: 2
Advice: Recommended
Hill aptly describes this as his "Disney sex comedy." The Mesa State Cheerleaders are looking for just one more girl to fill out an ultra V-necked sweater when an unlikely candidate comes calling. Kate (Jo Johnston) knows how to shake her pompons, but what the squad doesn't realize is that she's actually a wannabe Woodward looking to distinguish herself as a student journalist by exposing the exploitation of broads on the sidelines. Once she makes the team, she decides its not so bad to go long with a football stud after all, especially upon realizing her activist beau's a bigger slimeball than ANYONE on the starting line. Still, she does what she can to enlighten her giggling peers. Like when she counsels virginal Andrea (Rainbeaux Smith) against the tyranny of her bosom within an underwire Iron Maiden. Now, there's a movement worth getting behind! Kate doesn't have to dig too deep before she realizes there's some shady something or another going on involving gambling and good ol' Nixon-inspired corruption among Mesa officials. Things stray into slapstick in the final reel, but it's SUPPOSED to be silly. Enjoy! CineSchlockers who know anything at all about college football might pull their hair out during the stock game footage, or giggle at the sight of actors wearing inside-out team jerseys from the high school where the practices were filmed.

Notables: Six breasts. No corpses. Streaking. Ogling with binoculars. Puking. Bitch slapping. Diddling. Gratuitous waterbed.

Quotables: Football stud prepares to whomp a sniveling hippie, "Don't give me any of that 'We shall overcome' routine." Coach Turner knows how to treat a lady, "You can have all the fancy white bikinis and the rhinestone-studded jeans your pretty little heart desires." Mary Ann snarls at Kate, "I knew you were a BITCH from the first time I saw you!"

Time codes: A very preggers Rainbeaux springs abundantly from the constraints of her male oppression symbol (11:11). An eye-opening student/teacher conference (24:18). Mae Mercer brilliantly hijacks the movie at switchblade point (1:09:25). Mrs. Hill demonstrates her real-life nursing knowledge (1:27:42).

(1975, 90 minutes)

Video: 3 Audio: 3
Extras: 5 Replay: 3
Advice: Highly
Currently hailed as a lesbian cult classic, not for copious alternative tongue rasslin, but for its pervasive girl-power undercurrent that really boils over in the last act. The delicate balance of a scrappy urban gang known as the Daggers and their honeys, the Dagger Debs, is upset when Maggie (Joanne Nail) comes nosing around with her micro hotpants and too cool for school 'tude. Somewhere in the midst of getting initiated into the Debs, Maggie gets lip-locked in a love triangle with head Dagger dude Dominic (Asher Brauner) and his main squeeze Lace (Robbie Lee) who squawks like a pint-sized James Cagney. When there's gangs involved, there's gotta be a rumble, so the Daggers decide they really hate this guy Crabs (Chase Newhart) and his shady group of social activists (a.k.a. drug dealers). This leads to a stunning display of carnage at a ROLLER RINK with Dom and his peeps catching more than their expected share of lead. All appears lost when the menfolk turn yella and leave the Debs all by their lonesome, but Maggie rallies the babes into a NEW gang -- The Jezebels -- who join forces with a highly-organized and well-armed group of black lesbians to paint the streets with the blood of Crabs and his sniveling kind. The madness of this Shakespearian tragedy sure as heck doesn't end there. CineSchlockers should note that the loveable Donut is played by Kitty Bruce, daughter of the transcendent comedian.

Notables: Five breasts. 17 corpses. Cigarette to the navel. Toilet diving. Molatov cocktail explosions. Gratuitous militant lesbians. Mao quoting.

Quotables: Dominic fears fatherhood, "What if it IS mine!? So what!!! You think I'm ready to haul freight in some [email protected]#$ing warehouse for two dollars an hour?! So you can have a little brat suck on your [email protected]?! NO THANKS, BABY!!!" Maggie's monologue, "Let me give YOU some advice, cop! You can beat us, chain us, lock us up, but we're gonna be back! UNDERSTAND?! And when we do, cop, you better keep your ass off our turf! OR WE'LL BLOW IT OFF!!! You dig?! We're the JEZEBELS, cop! Remember that name! We'll be back!!!"

Time codes: Value-sized Donut is made to squeal like a pig (6:55). Hill's daughters (3:11). Dominic has his way with Maggie (20:55). The California Roller Rink Massacre (52:25). Behold the Revolutionmobile (1:12:50). High-concept climax (1:23:45).

CineSchlockers who wish to dig deeper might check out Dementia 13 to peruse Hill's work as 2nd unit writer/director. The Terror as co-writer. Track of the Vampire as co-writer/director. Plus, he also wrote and directed scenes for Boris Karloff in The Fear Chamber.

Read my exclusive interview with Jack Hill
in part two of this tribute!

Send your comments to [email protected]

G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.

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