Jack Hill is without a doubt one of the masters of exploitation. At least several of us here at F This Movie! worship the guy, and it’s for good reason: during a relatively brief time (the mid-‘60s to the early ‘80s) he worked in almost every exploitation genre, often elevating each one with his contributions. It’s him that we have to thank for some truly awesome blaxploitation films, including Pam Grier classics like The Big Bird Cage, Foxy Brown and Coffy. Jack Hill is something of a hero to a certain kind of movie fan. I’m one of them.
But before he was directing cult classics, he was making ends meet doing odd film-related jobs wherever he could get them. He worked with Francis Ford Coppola as the second unit director on Dementia 13, and eventually did cinematography and production work on a faux-nudist documentary called The Raw Ones which required him to photograph a bunch of male and female models on a nudist colony. The catch was that he also had to be nude himself, meaning he had to wear a little belt to hang all his camera equipment from. The Raw Ones is a golden example of exploitation hiding in the form of a documentary.
The first thing you should know if you haven’t seen Mondo Keyhole is that it’s kind of tame by today’s standards. It’s got nudity, but it’s almost all above the waist and you will probably see as much--if not more--bare flesh during your standard episode of Game of Thrones. Society has come a long way in the last 50 years, and the nudity, hardcore partying, and drug use seen in this movie feels kind of run of the mill by today’s standards. The reason to watch it is not to be titillated, but to observe the emergence of an exploitation master.
Mondo Keyhole also gives us a prototype of the Jack Hill heroine, a woman who has been victimized and ends up turning the tables on her attacker. We get Cathy Crowfoot as “The Crow,” a karate-chopping tough gal who can take care of herself, thank you very much. Before Buffy, before Lara Croft, before Coffy, there was “The Crow,” Native American hero and all around badass! She’s definitely not on the level that some of Hill’s later heroines would enjoy and actually isn’t in the film all that much, but you can see Hill’s mind working and the tropes he liked to work within taking shape. The final shot of the movie is absolutely…I’m gonna say it…iconic.
For fans of Jack Hill and his heroines, Mondo Keyhole offers a look at the filmmaker still being formed. It’s valuable in the sense that it allows us to see the director of some of the great exploitation classics before he had it quite figured out. In his commentary, Hill states that he probably shouldn’t have put in all the psychological and social commentary because it didn’t belong and ended up changing the film from a skin flick into something more thoughtful and weighty. I’m glad he did; it made something that would have been pretty forgettable into something that is anything but.