This interview was conducted on June 27th, 1999, and was my very first interview for the Krypt. I was nervous as hell, but I have to say I couldn’t have picked a nicer guy for my first one. I’d been a fan of Hill’s work, especially Spider Baby, so this really was a thrill for me. This was done back right before the first DVD release of Spider Baby was coming out. Hope you enjoy it.
Kitley’s Krypt: How did the idea or concept of Spider Baby come about?
Jack Hill: I don’t know. It just came to me in a flash of insanity one evening. I just wrote it out. And then when I got the people who wanted to put up the money to make it, then I wrote the screenplay.
KK: How long did it take you to write the screenplay?
JH: Two or three weeks, as I recall.
KK: Was the script followed pretty closely during filming or was there any improving done?
JH: It was kind of normal, I mean, it was shot in twelve days, so you don’t have time to do a lot changes, except on the spot. There might have been some changes. I think the ending was different. We just did something a little simpler then what was in the script.
KK: What was it like working with Lon Chaney Jr.?
JH: Oh, he was wonderful. He was a really nice man. It was very interesting because he was an alcoholic and found it kind of hard to get work. He was kind of just hired for his name and who he used to be, and he would just kind of walk through things. But he read the script and just really liked it so much. Particularly after he’d met the rest of the cast. It gave him the chance to do a really good role, a comedy, which he had never had been given much chance to do before. And so he wanted very, very badly to do a good job, and he stayed on the wagon. I think he let himself have a half a glass of beer in the afternoon, so he could make it through the day. It was very difficult for him. But he was really good about it.
KK: He did come out with a good performance in that.
JH: Yea, it’s his best performance since Of Mice and Men.
KK: How did it come about for him to sing the opening theme song?
JH: Well the composer, Ronald Stein, who was a very good composer who had done a lot of Corman’s movies and AIP’s movies, wrote the score for the picture, just got the idea. And asked Lon if he’d like to do it. And Lon said he’d loved to do it. So we went down to a recording studio and he played the track, and rehearsed it a couple of times, and Lon had a great time doing it.
KK: What about the rest of the cast, such as Jill Banner, Beverly Washburn, and Sid Haig? I think they did great jobs as the children. What was it like working with the rest of the cast?
JH: Well, it was just kind of, like casting so often is, just a matter of good luck. And getting ensemble together people that really click with each other, and really enjoyed working together. Beverly Washburn of course had been an actress in movies ever since she was four years, being in Old Yeller, and she’d been in television and nominated for an Emmy. She was kind of a child star. Jill Banner, who was seventeen, had never done anything. Never been in a movie, never done anything, just was a natural talent. And the two of them, one with 20 years experience and one with none, just got along together and played off each other so wonderfully. Just one of those miracles of good fortune.
KK: Was it that much different for Beverly Washburn to come from those films like Old Yeller, and being in those types of movies to doing something like Spider Baby?
JH: Oh, she enjoyed it. I had to encourage her, to constantly tell her she was being great, she was being great, because it was like nothing like anything she’d ever done before. She had a great time doing it.
KK: What it meant to be that much of a dark comedy, or was it meant to have some seriousness in there?
JH: Oh no, it was always intended to be a black comedy.
KK: Because the first time I had seen it, it gave me the feeling kind of like Tod Browning’s Freaks.
JH: Gosh, I would hope not. It’s a disgusting movie.
KK: Well, as far as the family being mentally disable and wacky and stuff, where it’s funny, but it almost seems like there’s a serious tone going through there.
JH: I know what you’re saying. What’s interesting is that discovered at the convention recently, one of the largest demographics of the fans of this movie are young, teenage girls. They really just love the movie and I think it’s because of the kind of family bonding in it, you know the kind of father figure who just loves the daughters no matter what they do. It kinds of appeals to them. The movie appeals to all kinds of different classes and age groups for different reasons. And so many people tell me they watch the movie over and over again and see something new in it each time. That’s kind of nice.
KK: Yea, it’s definitely one of those films that you can watch multiple times and still get the same amount of enjoyment out of it. Have you considered doing a sequel?
JH: Well, at the time, when we first finished the picture, and actually everyone has high hopes, and I in fact did write a sequel, called Vampire Orgy. A script, which I thought actually was better. But because of the problems with the release of the picture, with the producers being in bankruptcy, and so forth, it was not released for some years after. By that time, the idea of doing a sequel was something not in the cards. But I actually have a script.
KK: Was it a continuation?
JH: No, it was just another movie in the same spirit, and I had planned on using the same cast.
KK: What was the problem with it being release? A bankruptcy with the producers?
JH: Yea, they were in the real estate development business. That was the year of the big crash. There was a big boom and then a big bust and they got caught up in the bust. They found themselves with a lot of unfinished apartment buildings that they couldn’t handle. So they filed bankruptcy and the movie was locked up in part of the litigation for four years. I think the movie might of saved them from bankruptcy except they got into a panic about it and cut out the whole first part of the movie, the whole Mantan Moreland scene, thinking they were speeding up the movie, getting into faster. And that’s a mistake that people who don’t know how to make movies sometimes make. The story is in their head and they don’t realize that it’s no longer on the screen, and the audiences are just confused by it. Of course no distributor would take the movie like that. And then so it was too late, and everything was washed up. It wasn’t until the bankruptcy was resolved after four years, that Dave Hewitt, the original distributor who had seen it when it was first finished and always liked it; he kept track of it and acquired it. He restored the cut from the first part. And then apparently, which I’ve just discovered a couple of weeks ago, had got an editor to do some editing and cut out about 5 or 6 minutes in the second reel. Which I’ve just discovered the original print so now were scheduling screenings of the directors cut and going to release it on DVD with the extra 6 minutes in it.
KK: Will the extra footage in cut in the film, or just after?
JH: Well, the DVD is going out with the film the way it always has been. And then an extra 6 minutes section showing that part of the movie where the cuts had been made. It was too late to put it on the DVD. But Anchor Bay is going to release on tape, a little later on down, the director’s cut version.
KK: With the scenes in the film?
JH: Yea, the entire film, as it was originally edited by me. I had edited the picture myself. So that’s the plan at the moment. But we’re also scheduling some theatrical screenings. I just recently acquired almost all of the original release prints. Which had been, I found, sitting in a storage facility in Santa Monica for the last thirty years. I was able to acquire them and I’ve been going through them and restoring the ones that are good enough quality to show. That’s how come I advertise when I’ve got enough that I can afford to sell a few of them. I just don’t need that many. But amongst those prints, I found this one uncut version.
KK: Does that have the original title, Cannibal Orgy?
JH: It did, but it had been slugged out. But a friend of mine actually acquired on of the versions that did have the original title, so I’m going to restore the original title to it too.
KK: What exactly was the content of the 5-6 minutes that were cut?
JH: It was exposition dialog, early in the film, when the lawyer and his secretary are driving in the car, there’s a lot of dialog there. And then when they arrive at the house, they meet the children actually outside first. There’s some dialog there before they enter into the house. All that stuff is basically what was cut out.
KK: That’s something to definitely to look to forward to, especially theDVD. Is that going to have the same audio commentary that’s on the laserdisc?
KK: That’s one of the things that I’ve always liked about the laserdiscs and DVD, is the audio commentary. For real movie buffs it gives you tons of information, and there’s a lot of stuff you may not of realized that goes into the making of the film.
JH: Yea, I’ve had a lot of very good responses from the commentary from the laserdisc from Spider Baby, so it’ll be the same for the DVD. Plus I’m writing some notes on how I discovered the uncut version.
KK: Yea, I have the laserdisc and one of my favorite parts on the commentary is how you came about casting Lon Chaney Jr., as far as his agent wanting a certain amount of money. And you said, “Well, let’s go for John Carradine.” And then his agent said “Well . . .”. Which I am glad it worked out that way. I mean I kind of fan of Carradine too, but I don’t think it would of came off the same way.
JH: No, it wouldn’t of been the same.
KK: I don’t think it could of came off as feeling the sympathy that Chaney gave off.
JH: And he’s such a big cuddly bear-type of guy too. Trying to visualize Carradine doing it kind of like visualizing George Raft doing Casablanca. Good actor but . . .
KK: I had gotten the Karloff Collection from Rhino Home Video. It comes with some Thriller episodes, and then his last four films. On the credits, sometimes you’re credited as screenwriter, but the director is always listed as Juan Ibenez.
JH: Well, I wrote the scripts. One of them I collaborated with another writer on, because I didn’t have time to do all four of them from scratch myself. But I directed all of Karloff’s scenes and whatever action took place on the same sets. Because we had to build sets here in Hollywood. And the rest was films were finished in Mexico. And I was supposed to go to Mexico to direct the remainder of the movies. But the whole idea of trying to do four movies back to back with scenes shot in Hollywood and then try and put them together in Mexico later was kind of a crazy idea. I wrote the scripts in a way that it could be done. But then the producer found himself in financial difficulties because the people didn’t arrive from Mexico when they were suppose to and the actors were the wrong actors, and it scrambled our schedule. We shot in four weeks instead of three, which cost the producer money. And then he subsequently died of a heart attack, which is no wonder. I lost track of it and assumed for years that the pictures were never finished. It was only ‘till many, many years later that I heard that they were finished, and were in fact circulating around on video. To this day, I haven’t seen any of them.
KK: Was that four weeks for all four movies?
JH: Just the Karloff scenes. His scenes and other scenes that took place on the same sets, where he was not there, but we had to shoot them because the set was there.
KK: I noticed in the four films that they use the same actors in a lot of the films.
JH: That’s because they had to shoot four weeks, back to back, so some of the actors appear in more than one of the movies. Also, I’d like to mention that the sets of those films were done by my father, who had been art director and set designer since 1925 and he designed the Disneyland Castle, and many other thing.
KK: Oh really? You mean the main castle?
JH: Yea, the Sleeping Beauty Castle, he designed that. And he designed Tom Sawyer’s Island, a lot of main street, did all the interiors of Captain Nemo’s submarine in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
KK: Wow. That’s pretty incredible. And he did all the sets for the Karloff films?
JH: All for the Hollywood sets.
KK: What was it like working with Boris Karloff?
JH: He was wonderful. He was really a very nice man. He liked the stories. And it was quite a challenge to him and a lot of fun for him to play four different characters, back to back like that. He was at that time, dying from emphysema. He was mostly in a wheelchair with his oxygen. He’d get up and do his scene, and do his action, then go back and sit down and breathe his oxygen. He kind of got through it that way. But he loved working. It took his mind off his problems.
KK: Comparing him with Lon Chaney, I know both you and other people have mentioned that Chaney was kind of bitter that he was never recognized as an actor because he was so well know in the horror genre, was Karloff the same way?
JH: No, no. That was not long after his 80th birthday and Life magazine put him on the cover of his 80th birthday and he pointed to that and said that role of Frankenstein is what brought him to the point where he could get his picture on the cover of Life magazine. He was quite happy with it, with his career. He felt it gave him the opportunity to do a lot of really great things.
KK: Right. I’ve noticed that there’s not many actors nowadays that are like that. I remember reading somewhere where Karloff had said that he never held anything against the Frankenstein Monster because, like you said, it gave him his career. I think too many actors today are too afraid to be typecast and they try and shy away from that. On the Internet Movie DataBase, they list you as an un-credited director on a few films, like The Terror and The Wasp Woman.
JH: Yea that’s a mistake. On The Terror, I’m the co-writer of the script and I did a lot work on the picture, postproduction. I shot a lot of little bits and pieces to finish it, but I’m not credited or even un-credited as director.
KK: What about The Wasp Woman?
JH: The Wasp Woman was one of a number of movies that Roger Corman owned which he was selling to TV. And the running time was too short, and they had to have time added to it, and I had to add about 18 minutes, some years after the movie was finished. I had to find a way to add that much time to it, which is one of the wonderful things you’d learn working with Roger Corman. And so that maybe what that refers to. I know I don’t have credit in the movie, but I wrote and directed about 17 minutes of the movie as it exists today.
KK: That’s probably where they got that from. They also have you listed un-credited as a writer for Dementia 13.
JH: No, I have a credit on that. It’s called “Second Unit Written and Directed By”. There again the movie was Francis Coppola, who left to go on to other things, and left the movie unfinished, and too short. So I wrote some additional scenes for it and I shot a lot of the footage that was missing from it, that Francis had not bother to shoot. That’s my contribution to that. Plus I wrote and directed a couple of additional scenes for it.
KK: What was it like working for Roger Corman back then?
JH: Well it had its ups and downs. It was total insanity, but I’ve subsequently learned that’s not just peculiar to Roger Corman. It’s a thing in the industry in general. But the good positive thing about working for Roger was since Roger himself was a director, he understood the way to get the best results from his directors was to just leave them alone, unless they were doing something totally bananas. And so that gave you, since there was no interference, you could really get out there and sail, and come with ideas, and do things, and experiment a little bit. Because he always knew that he had the safety net of being able to fix anything himself, if something was wrong.
KK: Anything new you’re working on?
JH: Well, I’m working on getting together a project that I’ve been trying to get done for 20 years. It’s now finally moving ahead, it’s fully financed. We’re just about to the point to where we can start making offers to stars. It’ll be a 25 million-dollar picture. That’ll be finally getting into mainstream, here.
KK: Any hints as to what the movie is about?
JH: It’s kind of an action / adventure / comedy, laid in the city of Tangier, Morocco, in 1938, which was kind of a hotbed of spies and intrigue, during the Spanish civil war. There’s Nazi secret agents, British secret agents, a mysterious woman, and carrier pigeons, an arms dealer, an American soldier of fortune. It’s that kind of movie, with all kinds of zingers at the end of every scene, and twists and turns in the plot. It’s kind of a take off of Warner Brothers’ films of the 40’s.
KK: That sounds really interesting.
JH: It’s a wonderful script. It’s written by the same guy who wrote Swinging Cheerleaders actually, David Kidd. He’s not credited in that picture, but he will be in this one. He’s quite a talented writer.
KK: Well, we thank you for taking the time for talking to us.
JH: You bet.