B-movie giant Jack Hill sees off-beat films “truly a revolution in cinema”

A giant of the B-movie, Jack Hill, who started his career in the early ’60s at Roger Corman’s legendary American International Pictures, will be in town May 14 to guest-host the Movieside Film Festival, where he’ll talk with the audience and screen several of his films.

At AIP, Hill collaborated with such future greats as Francis Ford Coppola on horror pictures “The Terror,” “Blood Bath,” and “Dementia 13.” He continued in horror, working with Lon Chaney Jr. on “Spider Baby” and with Boris Karloff on a series of Mexican productions including “Isle of the Snake People.” His work straddles a range of exploitation sub-genres, from “Ich, Ein Groupie,” to “Switchblade Sisters” and “Swingin’ Cheerleaders.”

He’s credited with pioneering the women-in-prison movie with the Pam Grier starrers “The Big Doll House” and “The Big Bird Cage,” and he created the seminal ’70s image of an empowered black woman with the Grier films “Coffy” and “Foxy Brown.” Hill’s last release was the uncredited 1981 “Sorceress.” His work has enjoyed a renaissance in the past ten years since being championed by advocates led by Quentin Tarantino.

ReelChicago.com spoke with Hill from his home in West Hollywood, where he’s hard at work with his wife Elke on several screenplays and in development on a couple of new British productions.

REELCHICAGO: What has drawn you to work in the genres that you’ve chosen?
JACK HILL: Basically, I just took the jobs that were offered to me and simply tried to do the best I could with them.

RC: How was your experience with Roger Corman and AIP?
HILL: Roger Corman was the real reality- check school of those days. Working for Roger was an emotional roller-coaster, but the best part of it was that since Roger was a director himself he knew that the way to get the best work out of you was to leave you alone unless you were going completely off the rails.

RC: What do you think of the current state of genre filmmaking, and independent filmmaking?
HILL: The advent of theatrical-quality digital video has led to an explosion of creativity and opportunity for new talent, which coupled with the Miramax-led opening up of commercial markets to off- beat films is truly a revolution in cinema. And we’re only seeing the beginning of it. As for genre filmmaking, well, the lines between genres are becoming more and more blurred. Who knows where this will lead?

RC: Do you have any advice for up and coming genre/indie filmmakers?
HILL: Just do good work and be true to your heart.

RC: Tell me about your work as a writer?
HILL: It’s the toughest part of filmmaking. In the past, I always had to have an assignment with a deadline to get the work done. But I’m now collaborating with my very talented wife, Elke ? who makes sure I don’t find excuses to procrastinate ? and we already have several new scripts looking for financing.

RC: What projects do you currently have in development?
HILL: We have two projects coming together in England now. One is a romantic comedy, the other an action-adventure comedy that I’ve been trying to get made for twenty-five years.

RC: How often do you make appearances like the one at Movieside? What do you think of such affairs?
HILL: Not often, two or three times a year. They give me an excuse to get away from my writing for a few days. And it’s of course pleasant to greet fans and see a whole new generation finding value in my work.

RC: Do you have a favorite among your films?
HILL: Not really. I only see the flaws. But as with children, your first-born always has a certain emotional edge; so I’d say ? if I have to say ? “Spider Baby,” for that reason.

RC: Which of your films do you think most deserves more attention?
HILL: “Pit Stop” ? my stock-car-racing art film.

RC: What do you think about the critical reevaluation of your work that’s occurred since the ’90s?
HILL: Well, it’s gratifying, I won’t deny that. Nice to see the critics catch up with the public for a change, instead of the other way around.

RC: What do you consider your greatest legacy as a filmmaker, so far?
HILL: That I may have participated to some extent in bringing black characters and lifestyles into mainstream film by making “blaxploitation” films that found a large mainstream audience. But the game isn’t over yet, and my best work is yet to come.

See Jack Hill at the Movieside Film Festival Friday, May 14 at the Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln. He’ll screen his films “Spider Baby” and the short “The Host” (considered the inspiration for “Apocalypse Now”) at 8 p.m.; 9:30 p.m. Q&A; 10:15 p.m. “Switchblade Sisters”; midnight “Swingin’ Cheerleaders.” $8 in advance, $10 at the door. Movieside runs through May 16. Call 773/ 856-5220 or see www.movieside.com.

? by Ed M. Koziarski, edk@homesickblues.com.