JACK HILL Drive-in stylist Jack Hill began life in the cinema doing assistant directing work (often uncredited) on Roger Corman films like The Wasp Woman and The Terror but soon found his own name on the director's chair. His first film and first notable success was Spider Baby (1964), an oddity about a family of misfit siblings headed by a young woman who believes she is a deadly arachnid. Though shot in 1964, Spider Baby finally saw the dim light of drive-in screens in 1968 as the anchor feature of countless drive-in double features, but was rediscovered on video in the '80s as a minor classic of psychological horror. Hill toiled in undistinguished exploitation fare shooting American scenes for foreign shockers like Isle of the Living Dead (1971) and The Incredible Invasion (1971). But his breakthrough came again courtesy of Corman, who commissioned and distributed his drive-in prison classics The Big Doll House (1971), starring Pam Grier in one of her earliest roles, and The Big Bird Cage (1972), again starring Grier and '70s drive-in icon Sid Haig. Hill and Grier would be reunited for the director's highest profile hits, the blaxploitation classics Coffy (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974), which would make Grier a star of drive-in cinema and the fantasy object of young men of a certain age, black as well as white, yellow, red and brown. Hill continued his drive-in roll with The Swinging Cheerleaders (1974), one of the earliest entries in that stalwart drive-in genre, the randy cheerleader movie, and another satiric celebration of the violent tendencies of a band of babes, this particular group known as the Switchblade Sisters (1975). It's hard to imagine that drive-ins in the 1970s would have been anything but far duller places were it not for the exuberant, slightly cracked cinema of Jack Hill. (Click here for more from Jack Hill.)
JONATHAN KAPLAN A film student with degrees from the University of Chicago and New York University, Jonathan Kaplan has directed two actresses to award nominations - Michelle Pfeiffer was up for a best actress Oscar for Love Field, and Bonnie Bedelia took her role as race car driver Shirley Muldowney to the Golden Globes where she was nominated for best actress in Heart Like a Wheel. But one actress on Kaplan's watch actually won a statue - Jodie Foster won her first Academy Award starring in Kaplan's 1988 film The Accused. By the time of The Accused, Kaplan had established himself as a go-to director in the Hollywood establishment. But in the '70s he made a mark for himself as the director of some memorable and distinctive hits for the exploitation market. He was recruited by Roger Corman in the early '70s straight out of NYU to helm Night Call Nurses (1972), one of the earliest and zestiest romps of its sort, which led to Kaplan reteaming with Corman for another similar venture, The Student Teachers (1973), in which the stuffy world of academia gets aired out a bit by the lovely likes of Brenda Sutton, Brooke Mills and Susan Damante. Kaplan can also be seen romping with Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov et al in Hollywood Boulevard (1976), which co-director Joe Dante describes as a home movie about what it was like working at New World Pictures and making movies like Night Call Nurses and The Student Teachers. But Kaplan truly made his drive-in bones with Truck Turner (1974), a brutally energized blaxploitation thriller also starring Yaphet Kotto and Nichelle Nichols that takes full advantage of Isaac Hayes's stone-cold cool visage as an actor for the very first time, and most especially White Line Fever (1975). Fever featured Jan-Michael Vincent in a trucker's revenge plot that had the good fortune to land smack dab in the midst of the CB radio craze of the '70s, which helped propel the movie to huge box-office fortune. It was a hit indoors and outdoors, but having seen it at the drive-in, I can attest to its natural appeal as a hit for theaters built around vehicles of all kinds, a very lean and muscular example of the drive-in action template to which many aspired but so few achieved as fully as Kaplan did with this picture. (Click here for more from the career of Jonathan Kaplan.)
TED V. MIKELS One of the original drive-in exploitation directors, profiled in an upcoming documentary entitled The Wild World of Ted V. Mikels, Mikels introduced elements of camp and outrageous behavior to movies that were, by the stretch of most imaginations, far less vivid and sensational than the way they were advertised. Thought of in some circles as the William Castle of drive-in and exploitation fare, Mikels rarely showed the imagination of Castle but was just as insistent a promoter of his own films. He is said to have pioneered gimmicks such as having "nurses" and "physicians" on call at the theater should anyone have heart trouble or otherwise come close to being scared to death; signing certificates acknowledging the non-responsibility of theater owners should the patron go into convulsive fits of fear; and the availability of vomit bags for the more sensitive stomachs in the theater.
And Mikel's slate of drive-in fare, well familiar from its ubiquity on the movie pages of '70s newspapers, promised plenty of gore, which it sometimes delivered in such titles as The Corpse Grinders (1971; perhaps Mikels' biggest hit), Blood Orgy of the She-Devils (1974) and his seminal cheapie The Astro-Zombies (1969) featuring John Carradine and Tura Satana. Mikels produced mostly horror films (and still does - he finished sequels to The Corpse Grinders and The Astro-Zombies in 2000 and 2002, respectively), though he dabbled in women's action films with some success as well; his biker babe epic Girl in Gold Boots and the straightforward actioner The Doll Squad (1973) are probably more generally well-regarded than any of his horror efforts. But it is those movies, and Mikels's own oddball personality, that accounts for his place in the drive-in directors' hall of fame. (Click here to discover more of the work of Ted V. Mikels.)
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