In a dilapidated rural mansion, the last generation of the degenerate, inbred Merrye family lives with the inherited curse of a disease that causes them to mentally regress from the age of 10 or so on as they physically develop. The family chauffeur looks out for them and covers up their indiscretions. Trouble comes when greedy distant relatives and their lawyer arrive to dispossess the family of its home.Written by
D.A. Kellough <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The film had a $60,000 budget. Lon Chaney Jr. was paid a flat fee of $2500 for his performance, each of the other actors were paid $100 a day. Coincidentally, the price of the actors salaries was the same as the daily rental of the Duesenberg that Bruno drives. See more »
When "dead" Mr. Schlocker is pulled from the dumb waiter, he is gripping a flashlight in his right hand. Dead people can't hold flashlights. See more »
[opening titles; sung]
Bruno, The Chauffeur:
Screams and moans and bats and bones / Teenage monsters in haunted homes / The ghosts on the stair / The vampires bite / Better beware, there's a full moon tonight / Cannibal spiders creep and crawl / Boys and ghouls having a ball / Frankenstein, Dracula and even the Mummy / Are sure to end up in somebody's tummy / Take a fresh rodent, some toadstools and weeds / And add an old owl and the young one she breeds / Mix in seven legs from an eight-legged beast / And then ...
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As the film ends, "THE END" appears on the screen, then suddenly changes to "THE END ?". See more »
2007 Director's Cut runs 84 minutes and includes one extended scene in which Bruno reveals more about the Merrye family and Schlocker reveals his intentions for the Merrye estate. See more »
The Merrye family has a rare genetic disorder that causes those who have it to revert to childlike mental states after puberty and then slowly regress to an animalistic mind. One branch of the family, due to inbreeding, has the disorder to a most common and extreme degree. Looked after by the chauffeur Bruno (Lon Chaney), this branch encounters distant cousins, looking to take over the family fortune.
When horror historians talk about the memorable and classic horror films, they will cover "Dracula" and "Frankenstein" and a handful of others... the 1960s brought us "Rosemary's Baby". But it also brought us this cult classic, long overlooked and unfairly so. Jack Hill's "Spider Baby" is among the best horror films of the era, containing everything a fan could want. Even that other film released in 1968, George A. Romero's "Night of the Living Dead", while more historic, simply does not hold my attention as this one does.
Chaney runs the show in one of his final films (what Hill calls his last "mostly sober" role), and of the work I have seen I would say this is better than some of his most memorable roles. Rather than acting out a monster, he shows a sense of humanity that is hard to match. And on the other end of the spectrum, we have a young Sid Haig (now best known for "House of 1000 Corpses" -- Rob Zombie was a "Spider Baby" fan growing up), who plays the most animalistic of the Merrye children, Ralph.
The two Merrye sisters, Elizabeth and Virginia (played by Beverly Washburn and the late Jill Banner, respectively) are what will keep you hooked, as they are quite deadly when they take on the characteristics of the common spider (Virginia much more than Elizabeth). While Bruno is safe (recognized by the kids as a father figure), even cousin Peter Howe (Quinn K. Redeker) and his "pretty lady" girlfriend (Mary Mitchel) are on the menu when the instinct takes over.
The violence is tame, there is no nudity... and the gore is only implied (a before and after shot of a captured cat leaves us assuming what happened in the kitchen). But the plot is fascinating, the characters are engaging. There is a sense of "camp" to the film, but mostly just because the film is from the 1960s, not because it is poorly made.
A remake was on the way from writer-director Jeff Broadstreet, which would have by no means compared to this; it is impossible. Fortunately, it seems the film has been canceled for the foreseeable future, as Broadstreet instead made his "Night of the Living Dead" animated film that I did not see. You could step up the explicit sexiness or the violence in a remake, but that is not what made this film great. It has a feel to it that was a matter of being the right people at the right time. I am sure they will some day try to pay homage to it by casting Haig as Bruno, but the only thing I can say is this: horror fans need to snatch up this lost classic. Give the new one a chance, but do not miss the original.
Recently (2012), the film was chosen by the Academy for inclusion in its list of films to be preserved, and Jack Hill was able to make a cut he always wanted to make (it is a mere 29 frames and involves Peter and Bruno in the basement). I could not be more thrilled.
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