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SPIDER BABY
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Reviewed by: Ryan Doom

Directed by: Jack Hill

Starring:
Lon Chaney Jr.
Carol Ohmart
Sid Haig

Movie:  
star star star star
Extras:  
star star star star
Overall:  
star star star star
What's it about
The secluded Merrye family suffers from a rare disease that makes all children cannibals. Lucky for them, distant greedy relatives come to visit to force them out. Their caretaker tries to prevent it all, but a lawyer insists. Chaos ensues.
Is it good movie?
1964 is an odd year for a shocking horror film. It’s the in-between time for movies as the black and white footage reminds of the innocence of Hollywood, where the grotesque mainly was implied and never shown and only two years before was To Kill A Mockingbird. However, ’64 also sits of the verge of the emergence of realistic violence with Bonnie and Clyde only a few years away. Violence would never again be simply implied. So with a film like 1964’s Spider Baby, it’s a little hard to anticipate what one might actually watch.

While its DVD case boasts a “demented and darkly comic tale,” the period means it could truly be demented or perhaps goofy dark, not necessarily shocking. So where does Spider Baby fit you ask? Somewhere snuggled right in-between.

The film, written and directed by Foxy Brown’s Jack Hill, possesses some truly creepy sequences that left me with that uncomfortable feeling. The three Merrye children, led by a bald, very young Sid Haig, are the stars of the eeriness and as each one of them has a particular quirk. Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn) delivers the film’s title, as she likes to play spider. She has a net and likes to capture victims in her web only to slice them with two butcher knives. Virginia (Jill Banner) supposedly is the mother of the children, though she radiates innocent blond creepiness. Haig plays Ralph, a mute who lives in the laundry shoot and likes to smile a bit much. It’s amazing to see Haig so young and vibrate, but even though it’ll be forty years before Captain Spalding, there’s still that performance bubbling beneath the surface. Lon Chaney plays the chauffer and the father figure to the children. I found Chaney’s performance quite heartwarming at times, as he cares for them no matter what. He’s made an oath to their father to watch over them, and he’ll be damned if anything will destroy the family on his watch.

With that description, Spider Baby doesn’t sound much like a comedy, but Hill does interject the bizarre. Most of it comes from the slimy lawyer, who leads the Merrye’s distant relatives to their certain doom. He’s more slapstick than any of the characters, but I wouldn’t call it comedy, more like bad 60’s camp. The type of humor that makes one roll their eyes and just shrugs their shoulders. Though that element doesn’t work, the women in Spider Baby do. The girls have a dark allure, reminding a bit of the Manson girls. The other women, notably the sexy Carol Ohmart, keep your attention. Trust me.
Video / Audio
Video: Beautiful black and white that looks crystal clear. 1.66:1 Widescreen.

Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono.
The Extras
Audio Commentary: Writer/Director Jack Hill and actor Sid Haig, while interesting at times, seem a subdued and a little tired. But still good info.

The Hatching of Spider Baby: 30 mintues worth of modern interviews with the cast and crew as the remence on the making of Spider Baby. Excellent for fans.

Spider Stravinsky: The Cinema Sounds of Ronald Stein: 11 minute bio on the movie’s composer, which was surprisingly touching. Composers don’t get enough due.

The Merrye House Revisted: Hill drives and walks around the old grounds of the house. The best part: the secluded house is in the middle of the city. That Hollywood magic.

Alternative Opening Title Sequence and Extended Scene: The title sequence is slightly different with the very Pink Panther like animation. The scene? Eh.
Last Call
Spider Baby dangles on true cult status. It’s not hard to see the influence on the future. The film has its moments and is worth a view, but I wouldn’t list it as classic cult. However, it remains an oddity given new life thanks to the Haig. Give it a late Friday night chance. Late.
ARROW IN THE HEAD'S RATING SYSTEM
star star star star I'D BUTCHER MY FAMILY TO SEE THIS AGAIN
star star star HANG ME BUT I DUG IT A LOT
star star AN OK WAY TO KILL TWO HOURS
star JUST SLING AN ARROW IN MY HEAD AND LET ME DIE IN PEACE

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