Championed by Quentin Tarantino for his ground-breaking work in the exploitation genre, Jack Hill is a director whose body of work throughout the 60s and 70s continues to win him plaudits today. A postgrad student at UCLA Film School and former classmate of Francis Ford Coppola, Hill worked as a cameraman on various short films before working with Coppola on a number of his early 60s films.
Hill made his directorial debut with Mondo Keyhole (1966), a gritty sexploitation drama that introduced themes that he would return to in his career. 1967 saw the release of Spider Baby, a very dark black comedy subtitled “the maddest story ever told” about three siblings suffering from a rare genetic disease that causes them to regress.
Pit Stop (1969) combined real-life car wreck scenes with furious driving scenes to create an underappreciated drama that many consider his best work. He also part directed Mexican horror Isle of the Snake People (1971) and The Incredible Invasion (1971) both starring Boris Karloff, with Hill personally rewriting and directing the horror icon’s scenes.
1971 also marked the first film in a series of successful collaborations between Hill and actress Pam Grier. Reported to have discovered her, Hill cast her in the women-in-prison film The Big Doll House. A non-sequel follow-up came shortly after, The Big Bird Cage (1972), where Grier plays a mercenary helping her boyfriend facilitate a prison break.
Their partnership continued with the blaxploitation Coffy (1973) with Grier as an out-for-vengeance vigilante. The film quickly became a classic of the genre, receiving much kudos for making a film with a black woman in the lead role. They followed-up with Foxy Brown (1974), another revenge film with Grier as the eponymous Foxy delivering her own brand of justice to a group of drug dealers.
For giving a voice to underrepresented groups and examining themes shunned by mainstream American cinema, Hill acts as a champion for the marginalised. As such, his output challenges and offers an alternative view along with guaranteed action and electrifying realism.
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