Spider Baby (1967) (Blu-ray/DVD film review).

Half a century and more has passed by since director Jack Hill made ‘Spider Baby, The Maddest Story Ever Told’. It hasn’t changed. It’s still mad. A surreal weirdo of a movie, it has passed the barrier of being a complete lot of rubbish to being a cult classic of the black humour genre. Made for an extremely low budget in black and white, most of the cast were probably doing it for peanuts, including the main star Lon Chaney Jr., who by this time had acted his way through a not overly illustrious career, soaked in alcohol and bad scripts. Many will remember him as the Wolf Man and also in ‘Hawkeye And The Last Of The Mohicans’ as Chingachgook. This time he plays a house servant/handyman/guardian in charge of three adult children in a mansion even creakier than the Addams Family abode.


At 81 minutes, the film isn’t long and the plot is really simple. When the old boy Mr. Merrye passes away, it’s left to Bruno (Lon Chaney Jr.) to look after the siblings, three adults from the Merrye family who have the aptly named condition, Merrye syndrome, which makes them regress to dysfunctional childhood. They are adults with the minds of psychopathic children and chaos surrounds their every action which makes Bruno’s job very difficult. It’s a constant battle just to patch up their misdemeanours and hiding their crimes from the eyes of the authorities.

Virginia (Jill Banner) is the spider baby who has an obsession with spiders. She also thinks she is a spider and makes webs from ropes to entrap people. Using two butchers knives, she stabs them to death and, in the case of a delivery man, slices off his ear to keep in a matchbox. Ralph (Sid Haig) is the delinquent mute who communicating only by squeals, grunts and leers, constantly seeks the attention of women. The other sister, Elizabeth (Beverley Washburn), is a plain and simple psychopath.

Things progress okay until visitors arrive. They are greedy cousin Emily (Carol Ohmart), her brother Peter (Quinn K. Redeker) and the lawyer Schlocker (Karl Shanzer) with his assistant, Anne (Mary Mitchel) They wish to get their hands on the mansion and the family fortune. Bruno doesn’t want them in the house but has no choice but to admit them. Their first meal, a dead cat with weeds, bugs and vermin, isn’t quite what they expect but not to be deterred they remain in the house. When Bruno has to leave on an errand, complete mayhem and murder takes place. Grisly murder, rape and torture! The three children are completely scary. They are like Caligula multiplied by three! As you would guess, it was not going to be a pleasant night in the house.

It turns out that Peter and Anne survive. What happens to the others is anybody’s guess but is this the end of the Merrye family curse? Can’t say much more about the movie, even though it was spoilt 50 years ago however, it can be said that it is completely weird beyond belief. The comedy is so black and dry that it becomes shocking. The antiquated setting with the black and white film only adds to the effect and somehow a movie like this just couldn’t be made today. Cult classic? Whatever a cult classic is, this probably fits the bill. By the time you go through the introduction, it’s over in a flash and you know before the end how it will finish but that doesn’t subtract from the action, from the weird acting and the utterly surrealist nature of the movie.

Extra material, apart from the high definition images, include an audio commentary with the director Jack Hill and the actor Sid Haig, a feature containing interviews with surviving members of the cast, a feature about the house used in the movie, lots of images plus a 30 minute film made by Jack Hill called ‘The Host’. There is also a booklet which was not included with the review copy. Plenty of extra material to keep you occupied and plenty in fact to occupy a second disc. before the end

Looking at the price of the disc on various sources, it’s available for under £7 as an earlier copy also from Arrow as well so if you don’t want the extras, which makes this an absolute bargain. You will not see another movie like this anywhere else, such is its strangeness, and it is just so bad and odd that it is quite remarkable. It’s got to be recommended.

Rod MacDonald

June 2015

(Duel Format Blu-ray and DVD region B/2: pub: Arrow Films. 2 disks 81 minute black and white film. Price: £17.99 (UK). ASIN: B00B5DKXTE)

cast: Lon Chaney Jr., Carol Ohmart, Quinn K. Redeker, Sid Haig

Subtitles For The Hearing Impaired: English

check out website: www.arrowfilms.co.uk/

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