I first stumbled on this movie via some clips on the "Switchblade Sisters" laserdisc and immediately put it on my "wanna-have"-list. And I sure wasn't disappointed when I watched the complete film (no two weeks later).
Jack Hill creates a weird story circling about the strange Meryee family which suffers from some strange disease, causing their members to degenerate into primitive pre-human lifeforms (or something like that), or as Lon Chaney puts it out "rotting of the brain". Chaney himself, of course, is - in a fine performance - the loyal caretaker who suddenly has to deal with the fact that some relatives are trying to get their hands on the family estate (and heritage).
Besides great cinematography (under the given budget) and the genuine storyline one has to admire the characters, making the viewer think of something like "Addams Family" on Crack.
Classic stuff, with some bits which really are memorable (e.g. Chaney's groan "It's going to be full moon tonight" when the nerd hero and his love interest are discussing horror films in general and "The Wolfman" in special). And, last but not least, there's always Sid Haig...
From the moment the beginning credits role, you know that you're going to be in for one mental ride! The opening credits themselves are captivating due to the music and the voice over that plays over them, and the film never loses this eerie verve that it creates with the credits. Spider Baby is a captivating and fascinating trek through mental illness from beginning to end and it's quality certainly isn't justified by it's reputation. It's amazing how great and influential films such as this one can become lost and not often spoken of, while other, far lesser films, have gone on to meet wide acclaim. The influence that this film has had can be felt on many films, but most obviously the 70's exploitation classic - The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The film has the added title 'The Maddest Story Ever Told', and while that may not quite be the case - this is indeed one very demented tale.
The story follows a family of inbreeds that have been afflicted by a genetic disorder known as 'Merrye syndrome', named after the family in which the disorder developed. This malady causes it's victims to enter a state of age regression that starts at the age of ten and continues throughout the remainder of the person's life, rendering them with the intelligence of a child. The final generation of the family has been entrusted to the care of the family chauffeur (Lon Chaney Jnr), and all is well for these odd people until a greedy branch of the family decides that they want to relieve the family of it's home. Mental illness has always, and will always be, a fascinating subject for horror movies as it probes into the unknown and Spider Baby makes best use of that fact.
The film works because it's extremely macabre throughout, and although we hardly see any gore at all - we always know that something bad is just around the corner, and the film features many nasty happenings, from one of the "children" playing 'spider'; a game which involves her wrapping her victim up in rope and proceeding to 'sting' them with a pair of kitchen knives, to the rotted corpse of the family father still lying in it's bed. The cast of characters are superbly odd, and this helps to create the morbid atmosphere that the film revels in. The two girls are the central focus of the film, and they make for two deliciously creepy leads. Their childlike tendencies make them macabre in a way that few horror villains have ever captured. Lon Chaney Jnr's chauffeur is another great piece of characterisation, which is portrayed by way of a great performance. He brings just the right amount of sorrow and love to his character, and provides the backbone of the movie. The black humour is rife within the film and this, and the setting - a rickety old farmhouse - only further helps to instill the morbidity into the viewer's mind. All in all; a very good and underrated horror movie that any and all horror fans would do well to catch if given the chance!
At one point in this movie, Virginia (Jill Banner), the "Spider Baby" of the title, grabs a spider from the table and pops it into her mouth. Her sister Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn) quips, "Spiders don't eat spiders."
"Cannibal spiders do," retorts Virginia, and this scene sums up everything good about Spider Baby: twisted, funny, and possessing an internal logic that pretty much justifies anything it does, no matter how preposterous.
Originally funded by two real estate developers and locked away for years after a bankruptcy filing, Spider Baby hit the drive-in circuit, made its modest sum of money, and faded away--almost. Somewhere down the line, it developed a cult status despite only being available on low-quality, grainy video. It is now available on DVD in a restored cut that reveals strikingly beautiful black-and-white cinematography. Low-budget it may be, but it's gorgeous to look at.
Lon Chaney Jr. stars as a butler taking care of his deceased employer's children (Washburn, Banner and Sid Haig). The siblings suffer from a hereditary disease that leaves them intellectually childlike but also makes them casual murderers, a problem compounded when distant cousins (Quinn Redeker and the stunning Carol Ohmart) arrive with designs on taking over the estate. The plot is simple and the movie is short (only 81 minutes), but it wastes no time and delivers plenty of creepy thrills, among them cannibalism, implied necrophilia, and midnight chases through the woods.
The acting is a pleasant surprise as well. The entire cast does a convincing job of bringing these oddball characters to life. There are a few missteps here and there: a couple of moments, for instance, when Redeker addresses the audience directly, and it's hard to know if the humor is intentional or not. Overall, however, the quality of each performance is pretty high. Especially touching is a scene where Chaney's character realizes there will be no good end to the situation, and his obvious affection for these mad but dangerous children actually brings a tear to the eye.
Well worth checking out if you're into horror, grim humor, or very, very odd movies.
'Spider Baby' is a wonderfully inventive and original b-grade movie full of mad fun. Writer/director Jack Hill began as a Roger Corman protege, co-writing 'The Terror' and also working on Coppola's underrated 'Dementia 13', before striking out on his own with 'Spider Baby', a movie which became embroiled in a legal dispute and took four years to get released. Hill went on to direct Pam Grier movies and the trash classic 'Switchblade Sisters' in the Seventies, but it's arguable whether he ever surpassed this cult favourite. Horror legend Lon Chaney, Jr stars with a very thoughtful performance(!), and 'Dementia 13's Mary Mitchel and Karl Schanzer, and 'The House On Haunted Hill's Carol Ohmart are among the supporting cast, but the real stars are newcomers Jill Banner as the bewitching Virginia, and the remarkable Sid Haig as the unforgettable Ralph. Banner went on to appear in the dazzling 'The President's Analyst' before her untimely death, while Haig's ongoing career included several movies with Jack Hill, including blaxsploitation classic 'Coffy', and Lucas' 'THX 1138'. 'Spider Baby' is a brilliant example of what can be achieved on a small budget with some originality and willingness to take risks.
Admittedly, I'm not as up-to-par on horror films of the 60's and older decades (other than some H.G. Lewis splatter) as I'm a child of the 80's and typically prefer blood, guts, tits, and ass over the black-and-white, "atmospheric" stuff - but I did really enjoy SPIDER BABY.
The basic story is about the remaining members of the Merrye family, and their caretaker, Bruno (played brilliantly by Lon Chaney Jr.), and their fight to stay secluded and together against the forces that would split up their "family". The Merrye's have a strange disease that causes them to act strangely (and sometimes murderously...), and some of their extended family want to cash-in on the estate of the now departed father of the family. The kids (including a VERY young Sid Haig) don't want to be separated from Bruno, and will go to any lengths to keep their little "unit" together...
SPIDER BABY is a strange, funny, touching, creepy film that really needs to be experienced as opposed to explained. The performances are all good, especially Chaney Jr., who really is "in character" in this one. Definitely nothing in the way of gore or nudity - but a quirky, interesting and entertaining film nonetheless. In fact, SPIDER BABY has piqued my interest in the films of this era, and I'll probably seek more out after having seen this. Definitely worth checking out - 8/10
If you're looking for slick, look elsewhere. SPIDER BABY is a uniquely off-kilter movie that has no pretensions to being anything other than a very twisted horror comedy. It parodies movies in general, the horror genre, and itself with equal facility. There has certainly never been another film like it. This story of the revealing of all the skeletons in the closets of the Merrye House unites Lon Chaney Jr. (in the best performance of his career), Mantan Moreland, Carol "House on Haunted Hill" Ohmart, Beverly Washburn, Sid Haig, Mary "Dementia 13" Michel, Jill Banner (17 years old when she made the film!) and others in a loony stew of murder, madness and hilarious mayhem.
There's a blase, desensitised, black-comedy sensibility to the treatment of horror, violence and sex in this movie which not only anticipates "Night of the Living Dead" a few years later, but also Tarantino's approach decades later, let alone the lesser inheritors of that approach.
There are plenty of moments in this extremely strange little picture which capture the same nightmare-logic of the family banquet scene in "Texas Chainsaw Massacre", or pretty much the whole of "Eraserhead". While "Spider Baby" is funny in a lot of places, and intended to be, the choice of a hereditary neurological disorder as the source of the horror elements, rather than one of the standard horror movie devices (vampire, werewolf, mad scientist, whatever) gives the movie a case of the creeps that starts early and never goes away.
The most bizarre thing in the movie, isn't the weird members of the central family (although they're plenty weird enough to be going on with), it's how director Jack Hill does some things efficiently, some with amazingly ambitious creativity, and others with an equally mind-boggling klutziness. Blame the budget for the latter, I'd guess.
Amidst some amazing performances, (the two sisters and the brother), some blaringly cheesy ones (most of the "straight" roles), Lon Chaney Jr and Carol Ohmart stand out. Chaney, who is evidently not in tiptop physical condition for (ahem) some reason, nonetheless plays completely straight, in a strange, tender-hearted role (particularly in the black comedy context here) which is probably his best work other than "Of Mice and Men". Ohmart has a blowsier version of the strange, nasty, sexy role she played as Vincent Price's wife in "The House on Haunted Hill", and she is one of the most unusual screen presences you'll ever see. One good character part in a moderately-budgeted studio picture with a decent director would have been enough to make her more than a footnote name known exclusively to horror movie nuts.
Sustained weird atmosphere, and a movie unlike any other. Rather than a horror movie, or black comedy per se, it's an exceptionally twisted adult fairy tale. Probably not as good-hearted as "Curse of the Cat People" or "Edward Scissorhands" in the same rough ball-park, but at least as memorable as either.
I am amazed at some of the earlier comments on this board concerning this picture. One wonders why the people who hate it with such a passion bothered to contribute to the comments at all? This film is an acquired taste to be sure but I happen to like movies of this sort.
Admittedly Lon Chaney did very few things in the 60's that could be called "memorable". THE HAUNTED PALACE and WITCHCRAFT are the only things that come to mind. (Let us forget about FACE OF THE SCREAMING WEREWOLF entirely and that story about Edward D. Wood directing the scene of Chaney climbing the outside of the building is probably hooey.)
Any movie that opens with Lon singing the title song (it was released as a .45 with Bobby Pickett's 'Monsters Holiday' on the "A" side)moves on to a cameo by Mantan Moreland who pops up long enough to get himself killed and which quickly segues to Chaney as surrogate patriarch to a totally insane family can't be all bad. The Merrye Family is definitely one that you would not want to live nextdoor to. I get the feeling Rhoda Penmark from THE BAD SEED would enjoy hanging around with the 2 sisters (Beverly Washburn and Jill Banner) and Ralph (Sid Haig) can cause shudders just by entering a room.
Is this movie a cult classic? Yes! Some people will not take to it right away (qv, some of the other comments on this board) but if you go into it expecting black comedy you will not be disappointed. Sure go ahead and rent this one. It may take more than one viewing but I think, if you keep an open mind, you might learn to like it.
PS: If you want to catch one of Beverly Washburn's earliest performances check out SUPERMAN AND THE MOLE MEN. She is the little girl whose home is visited by the creatures from beneath the Earth. If you want to see more of Jill Banner, start watching reruns of 'Dragnet'.
Spider Baby is an almost perfect blend of black comedy and horror. The movie is just so bizarre that it must be seen to be believed.
The basic story: Lon Chaney Jr. plays Bruno, the chauffeur and "caretaker" for the Merrye family. The Merrye's suffer from a rare disease that causes each member of the family to slowly degenerate mentally to the point of cannibalism. Chaney is in charge of the last three members of the inbred Merrye family and he understands what fate awaits them should the outside world discover their secret. When some distant relatives show up to take over the estate, madness ensues.
Chaney is fantastic in the role of Bruno. IMO, this may be his best performance outside of his better known Wolf Man character. His comic timing is almost perfect, but he's equally adept a the dramatic moments. There is one very emotional scene when Chaney realizes what he must do that is so well played that I almost cried along with him. It's nice to see Chaney having so much fun with one of his final roles. It's also nice to see another of my favorites, Mantan Moreland, in one of final performances. Although it's a small part, his character is necessary to set up the madness to come. But the real 'stars' of Spider Baby are the children. Beverly Washburn, Jill Banner, and Sid Haig are so incredibly bizarre and demented that I really can't say enough about how good and perfectly suited for their roles each is. Terrific performances by three young unknown actors.
There are so many wonderful and freaky scenes that going through all of them would take pages of writing. One of my favorite scenes is the dinner scene. Some really great comedic moments mixed with repulsion over what's going on. I love Chaney's line during the dinner about the full moon. Who said that Scream was so original for being a self-referential horror movie? There are only two negative things I can say about the movie. One is the performance of Karl Schanzer as Schlocker the lawyer. He just doesn't seem 'real'. My second complaint is the amount of time given to the relatives living in the basement. I would have really enjoyed seeing more of them.
"Spider Baby or, The Maddest Story Ever Told" (1968) is a macabre and absolutely fantastic low-budget Horror/Exploitation/Comedy feature starring classic Horror icon Lon Chaney Jr. in one of his last roles and 70s to present day Exploitation icon Sid Haig in one of his first roles. Directed by the great Jack Hill to whom the world of cult-cinema also owes several Blaxploitation classics (including the awesome "Coffy" of 1973, starring Pam Grier), "Spider Baby" presents what is quite possibly the most lovable bunch of murderous lunatics ever seen on screen.
Lon Chaney plays the kind elderly chauffeur and caretaker Bruno, who, after his boss Mr. Merrye has passed away, devotes himself to taking care of the late master's children. The Merrye children are not quite your everyday children, however, as the physically adult kids are suffering from a rare condition - the Merrye disease - which effects the brain in a way that makes them quite demented: the two cherubic teenage girls Virgina (Jill Banner) and Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn) both have demented urges, especially Virginia whose obsession with spiders makes her the eponymous 'Spider Baby'. Their brother Ralph (Sid Haig), on the other hand, is a simple-minded fellow how communicates only with grunts, but has an incontrollable sex-drive whenever a woman arrives... One day, their nice uncle Peter (Quinn K. Redeker) and bitchy aunt Emily(Carol Ohmart) arrive along with the sleazy, Hitler-mustached lawyer Schlocker (Karl Schanzer) and his assistant Ann (Mary Mitchel), which brings Bruno into the trouble of having to disguise the dangerous character of his demented fosterlings...
"Spider Baby" is a demented, hilarious and simply extremely entertaining film and I cannot imagine that any fellow Horror fan would not love it. The film is full of macabre themes including cannibalism, murder of innocent people, rape, and utterly demented obsessions, all of which are presented in a wonderfully ironic and fun manner. While "The Maddest Story Ever Told" has some truly 'mad' and incredibly macabre scenes, they are always presented with a twinkle in the eye and never meant to be taken seriously. In this manner, the film succeeds as a pioneering Exploitation feature and Horror film, as well as a Comedy. All three of the Merrye children are utterly demented but incredibly likable, and Chaney's Bruno the caretaker seems like a lovable grandfather, whereas the visitors are divided into nice (uncle Peter and Ann), and greedy (Schlocker and aunt Emily).
The performances are wonderful. Lon Chaney is always superb, this being one of the finest moments in his impressive career. Sid Haig is a personal favorite active actor of mine (both for his great 70s Exploitation films and for the great stuff he is doing today, such as Rob Zombie's "House of 1000 Corpses" and "The Devil's Rejects"), and his character here (he was in his late 20s when this was made) is a very cool and very likable outlook to the sinister fellows he would play throughout his entire career. The arguably greatest praise has to go to the two female Merrye girls: Beverly Washburn and Jill Banner are fantastic as Elizabeth (Washburn), who is obsessed with 'hating', and Virginia, who is obsessed with spiders (and being a spider), and their quarrels are among the funnest moments in the film. Carol Olmert, who plays aunt Emily, will also be known to Horror fans for playing Vincent Price's wife in William Castle's equally awesome "House on Haunted Hill" (1959). The film also features the black actor/comedian Mantan Moreland in a tiny role of a messenger.
Overall, "Spider Baby" is a hilarious, macabre, morbid and absolutely brilliant Horror comedy that simply has to be seen by anybody interested in Horror/Exploitation/Cult-Cinema and Black Humor in general. Fantastic in all regards!
"Spider Baby" is weird. It's demented. It's insane, and it's easily one of the creepiest movies you'll ever come across. Here's one movie that never comes up in discussions of low budget horror films, but really should. There are virtually no effects, few 'boo' moments, instead relying on classic methods like an intimidating house, creepy shadows etc.
The movie has a simple plot: a couple of distant relatives and their lawyer arrive at a spooky old house with a bad reputation to take control of the estate only to find three teens with 'Merrye' syndrome, a bizarre disease named after the family caused by generations of inbreeding. When the caretaker loses control of the three siblings horrific and hilarious results follow. The buildup is excellent, including the highlight of the film, a hysterical and very creepy dinner scene with several unorthodox menu choices.
The characters are memorable. Lon Chaney Jr. is great as usual in the role of the dangerous children's caretaker, but Sid Haig easily steals the show with a bizarre performance as the spider-like and mentally disturbed Ralph, who does a lot of fun stuff over the course of this movie, like passing off cat as rabbit. The ending shot is quite excellent as well.
All in all this is pretty much the definition of cult classic. It's fun and creepy and hysterical and though it has a following it hasn't suffered from overexposure. No, it's not the best film ever made on a technical or narrative level, but it's wicked fun and it's very, very unique. Enjoy!
Man, I love twisted cinema! And it's very pleasing to discover older movies with such happily deranged and provoking plots! Jack Hill's low budget gem "Spider Baby" is truly inspired, enthusiast and blackly humorous like no other movie I've ever seen from this period. Right from the catchy opening title song (sung by Lon Chaney Jr.!) you know that you're in for a demented ride of wild fun. Like many other reviewers already pointed out, the events here are comparable to "The Addams Family", only it feels like Hill was even more unscrupulous in his character drawings and he couldn't care less whether his movie was ethically correct or not. We're talking topics like inbreeding, cannibalism and vile murders committed by cherubic-looking teenage girls. Meet the Merrye offspring: their parents are long dead but the loyal family chauffeur Bruno swore that he would look after the two mentally unstable daughters (Elizabeth and Virginia) and the problematic son (Ralph). Their jolly lifestyle is endangered by the coming of a distant ...and greedy aunt who's after the family mansion, accompanied by her obnoxious lawyer and nephew Peter. "Spider Baby" is a wonderful movie all together, but especially the absurd little details will please the fans of cult cinema. The lawyer's name, for example, is Mr. Schlocker and he even has this goofy looking Hitler-mustache and a ridiculously small stature. Virgina likes to pretend she's a spider that catches unsuspicious visitors in her web and lil' Ralph transports cadavers from the basement to the kitchen, using some sort of service elevator. Although this production clearly aims for black comedy primarily, Jack Hill still manages to add some creepy sequences and an uncanny atmosphere (emphasised extra by the black and white cinematography) to his film. The morbid scenery add greatly to this and so does the unpredictable Ralph-character...You can never foresee what he's capable of! The acting is terrific! Lon Chaney Jr. shines as the seemly tired but dedicated Bruno and this maybe is his best performance since his classic role in "the Wolf Man" (which is tributes here). The entire supportive cast does a great job too, especially the fairly unknown youngsters. Jack Hill started out as an acolyte of Roger Corman and he obviously learned how to use a modest budget well! Spider Baby is great entertainment, probably not suitable for all audiences, but fundamental for cult-fanatics and fans of obscure productions.
I didn't know Turner Classics had a cult movie night until I scanned the listings yesterday to see what was playing. Even though it was showing at 2:00 A.M., it was worth the trouble to stay up and tune into this bizarre flick, which might be compared to a politically incorrect episode of the 'Addams Family'. You know you've got serious weirdness when the sanest one of the bunch is Lon Chaney Jr., portraying a caretaker for a trio of siblings whose stock in trade is murder and cannibalism. But don't let that sentence put you off, this stew pot of a film is a blast, with a familiar cast of cult classic mainstays, chief among them Sid Haig as demented brother Ralph.
I got a kick out of the dinner scene when talk turned to old time horror films, and when Chaney's "The Wolf Man" is mentioned, he comments - "There's going to be a full moon tonight"! There's also a great nod to "Psycho" with all the stuffed birds in the Merrye mansion. It was also wonderful to see Mantan Moreland in one of his later movie roles, even if his screen time was abruptly ended. He was always fun to watch in those Monogram Charlie Chan films and zombie flicks of the 1930's and '40's. Come to think of it, he looked as good here in his sixties as he did back in his prime.
Speaking of looking good, Carol Ohmart got a bit racy with her bedroom dance number, but did anyone else get the idea that she could have been Meryl Streep's sister here? Her best known film role was that of Vincent Price's wife in one of my earliest horror films as a kid, "House on Haunted Hill", gave me the willies for a week.
Listen, if you've had it with the plethora of slasher/gore nonsense coming out of the mainstream media today, you owe yourself a viewing of this bizarre flick. It's impressionable enough to stay with you for days after a single viewing, and comes close to living up to it's tag line - 'The Maddest Story Ever Told'.
The film opens with one of the most horrific murders ever shown on film; the rest of the movie is never again quite this frightening or startling, but is enjoyable nonetheless as a horror-comedy of the same ilk as "House on Haunted Hill" or "Bucket of Blood." The story concerns a family of inbred Southern degenerates who were once proud and powerful but whom years of inbreeding have reduced not only to childlike idiocy but savagery; some distant relatives out for money decide to meddle with dire, predictable results. The movie, complete with a loyal retainer, cute but deadly kids, and some even deadlier aunties and uncles kept tucked away in the cellar is essentially an extended version of an Addams family episode (the drawn out dinner scene is a bit too sitcomish). However, there are enough funny-scary moments to keep things moving along: the more memorable of these being when bitchy ice queen Emily succumbs to brother Ralph's caveman charms and when sister Virginia, the spider baby of the title, gives her long dead father a good night kissa scene with a weirdly poetic quality like something out of Poe. Perhaps the best part of the movie is Lon Chaney Jr. in his touching portrayal of Bruno, the kindly chauffeur who is genuinely devoted to his savage and hopeless surrogate family.
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.
"Spider Baby" is one of the more popular low-budget horrors of the 1960s, and gives off an aura consistent with the creepy film fare of the time. While watching it, I found myself cycling through a series of wildly varied reactions, from intentional amusement to unintentional amusement, sympathy, apathy, fear, and a pervasive weirdness that was hard to shake. The opening credits, with their cutely foreboding imagery, sets the tone for what is bound to be a campy horror romp (which it certainly is), but "Spider Baby," flaws and all, turns into a genuinely creepy experience, helped immensely by the devoted cast. A group of lawyers, land-grabbers, and estranged relatives pay a visit on the Merrye clan, presided over by surrogate father Lon Chaney; in an effort to push the family (including 3 mentally handicapped children) out of their home, said visitors wind up spending a wild night at the house. "Spider Baby" has its flaws--the 'normal' supporting players hardly give memorable performances, and the pace sometimes drags. But writer-director Jack Hill gets incredible mileage out of the screw-loose Merrye family, a portrait as believable, unsettling, and weirdly humorous as the cannibals in "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." Chaney, Sid Haig, Jill Banner, and Beverly Washburn turn what could have been another forgettable B-movie into something very odd and endearing.
Bizarre cannibal comedy regarding a family of mental savages under the "parental supervision" of Uncle Bruno, The Chauffeur(played with heart and gusto by the great Lon Chaney, JR)who just wants them to quit killing passersby. You have Virginia(Jill Banner, who despite her insanity is oddly sexy)who loves spiders so she often behaves like one and eats them! You have poor Ralph(Sid Haig, such an inspiring bit of casting; steals the entire film)whose condition has worsened to the point where he behaves like an animal. And, the quietly demented Elizabeth who seems all too innocent and peppy until we see the monster pop out of the closet. Bruno seems the sanest of the clan of oddball weirdos and promised his brother that he'd never let anyone take them away to be probed by the public at large. Yet, it was only a matter of time before their wealth would be exposed(..although, one wouldn't think they had any money at all considering the way their place of residence has become so ruined by uncare, decay, and time)by other more normal family members ready to cash-in. Those "distant relatives" are the Howes, Emily and Peter(Carol Ohmart & Quinn K Redeker, the cousin who tells us his story regarding the trip to meet this group of nuts)who use an attorney, Schlocker(Karl Schanzer, quiet a weaselly character who wreaks of pomposity and snobbery)to inform the family that they stand to lose everything because of their unfortunate conditions due to family inbreeding which slowly turns functioning human beings into mental deficients. Ann(Mary Mitchel)is Peter's love-interest who becomes a target of the family when they deem her a threat at exposing their deep dark secrets from downstairs.
The film has little sick jokes which come from the woodwork towards the end which gives this twisted little black comedy an air of unpredictability that is priceless..in a sick way that is. Seeing Sid Haig mutting around like a dog is truly reason enough to see director Jack Hill's cult classic, but Jill Banner as the Spider Baby is truly hard to turn away from. She has a scene where she ties up Peter in her "spider web" with plans to kill him like a bug. Now in this scene she pulls up her dress to expose this pair of lovely legs, kissing Peter delicately on the cheek with her tongue ever so gliding on his face..you forget for a moment that she's crazy and find yourself, like Peter was, in a state of lustful abandon. But, Chaney, Jr. has an endearing, beautifully realized scene where he dotes on the notion of his family being taken away from him(..and breaking the oath promised to his brother)and you see these tears just well up..it's actually rather touching. And, his singing the theme song is just terrific. If you are into strange cinema, SPIDER BABY is a must.
This creepy, little film is a minor masterpiece! I can't believe I never caught this one back in the 60's. Lon Chaney, Jr. gives a heartfelt performance as old Bruno and the rest of the cast is splendid. Especially Jill Banner as Virginia. What a strange story to be filmed. A 7 out of 10. Best performance = Lon Chaney, Jr. with Jill Banner a close second.
I'm no Jack Hill expert, but it sounds like he's made some interesting films in the 60's and 70's. I've never seen quite this combination of creepiness and black humor with stunning b/w cinematography. Track this one down for sure. The other two "kids" are marvelous as well. You don't have to like OR hate spiders to enjoy this flick (made in 12 days).
I remember the first time I saw Spider Baby. I popped in the tape expecting to spend the next 90 minutes merrily abusing a cheesy, low-budget Lon Chaney, Jr. film; you know the type. But, as the film progressed, my friends and I fell silent, watching intently, and when it was over, we looked at each other in awe at what we had seen.
Spider Baby is, without a doubt, the Platonic Ideal of cult films. The cast alone is a who's who of b&w horror - you've got Sid Haig, Carol Ohmart, Mary Mitchell, and Manton Moreland. And, as a special bonus, Lon Chaney, Jr. (who went on the wagon for this movie) delivers an atypically powerful performance as the naive (one might even say "simple") chauffeur who is the only remotely sane member of the Merrye household, a family of regressed, cannibal children (and their Uncle Ned and Aunt Martha, but they're so far gone, they live in the basement and aren't much bother to care for).
The Merryes are brutal innocents. When they reach adolescence, a hereditary disease kicks in, and their brains develop more holes than an English cow's. They become first childlike, and then animalistic as the disease progresses. Chaney promised their father he would take care of the kids, and he does his best to raise them, protect them, and keep them from killing random passers-by, but three strapping young sociopaths are a bit much for any one man to handle. And when long-lost relatives show up virtually unannounced, hoping to have the Merryes declared incompetent so that the house and its contents can be sold, things take an ugly turn.
For many years, Spider Baby languished in obscurity, virtually unobtainable since its initial appearance. Now that it's readily available, I highly recommend seeking it out. You won't be disappointed.
While George Romero was off making his iconic flesh eaters in 1968, four years earlier UCLA alumni Jack Hill made his first film outside of the Roger Corman camp, and it unfortunately didn't get released till Romero's film did. Hill's film is, of course, far more campy and a typical "B" movie, but it's hard to deny how right Hill gets it as far as inbred backwoods nightmare comedies before they became the fad they were in the 1970s.
We have a family, led by chauffeur Lon Chaney Jr (such a charming old coot, who doesn't want any hate and loves the girls and the weird retarded boy played by Sid Haig), and they're being paid a visit by a couple of relatives and a lawyer with a Hitler mustache. But they've entered into the spider's lair, to put it in a way, as the girls can't let anyone "tell", and thus find some ways to try (and usually succeed) in murder. It opens with a scene that has not much to do with central plot, as a black driver comes up to the house and is killed while sticking his head into the window- featuring one of the girls uproariously brandishing two knives- and undercutting most of the scenes is a dark, vicious, but somehow playful sense of humor.
For example, the nephew or whomever it is that comes to visit- isn't he the nicest guy? It's things like him that make it so enjoyable, that there's such a playful, deranged quality to Sig Haig (in one of his best performances) as he appears out of that wacky lift, or when he hunts a cat, scuse me "rabbit", or when sees the tongue poke out of cheek as Chaney tries to rationalize the dead bodies and danger of death coming around the bend. Just seeing everyone at the dinner table is entertaining. It helps that Hill has, through his cheesy but firm script, a very good cinematographer- better than the material would get if it were a total Corman production- and there's a good composer as well behind the material. It won't be remembered as great art, but it should have a place in any video collector who likes their acting bold and bizarre, and the fun comes in what is flipped around a little bit in expectations; I loved seeing the bit where the lawyer sees Haig about to go through the 'secret' door in the garage, the awkward silence a perfect comment on one of the oldest clichés in the book. 7.5/10
Meet the Merrye family. Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn) and Virginia (Jill Banner) appear to be teenagers, but they act like young children. Ralph (Sid Haig) seems to be a little older but doesn't speak and is disturbingly ape-like in his actions and behavior. They live in the isolated family mansion, their parents are dead, and they are taken care of by the family chauffeur, Bruno (Lon Chaney, Jr). See, the Merrye's suffer from a degenerative brain disease that causes their mental state to reverse once they hit a certain age, eventually regressing all the way back to a primal state. Bruno feels it is his responsibility to take care of the remaining members of the family. However, two distant relatives and their lawyer show up, planning on seizing custody and the family's wealth. They get more than what they bargained for.
This is movie has it all--dark comedy, creepy atmosphere, surprising scenes, and a surplus of weirdo characters. The performances are mostly stellar, but this movie belongs to the "children," who are perfect in balancing their roles with innocence and depravity. They carry movie all the way. Banner's first scene scared the hell out of me. I absolutely love this movie and recommend it to all horror fans.
One of the strangest, most original movies to come out of the 1960s. Imitated many times since but never duplicated. A great dark comedy with some genuinely eerie and creepy moments. All of the Merrye kids were fascinating to watch but the best was Virginia, excellently played by Jill Banner. How this woman never became a star is beyond me. Beverly Washburn and Sid Haig are the other kids and they turn in great weirdo performances as well. Legendary horror actor Lon Chaney Jr., by this time losing the battle to his personal demons, gives the last great role of his career. There's even a wolfman reference! Mantan Moreland has a brief but memorable role early on. Oh, and the very sexy Carol Ohmart parades around in her underwear. This is a must-see for everybody. A cult classic that's been very influential in the decades since it was made. Check it out!
Written and directed by Jack Hill, Roger Corman's go-to director, this black comedy / horror movie is the quintessential "cult film." Actually filmed in 1964, the stunningly original "Spider Baby" is still surprising at every turn. Hill elicited unique performances from the cast, with very appealing performances from the women, albeit a very disturbing appeal in the cases of Jill Banner and Beverly Washburn. Lon Chaney, Jr. delivers what is hands down his greatest performance. A DVD commentary reveals this was made more convincing and affecting - sweating and bug-eyed intense - because Chaney saw the role as his chance for a comeback and refused to drink during filming, causing him to suffer from alcohol abstinence distress. All told, the prize has to go to Sid Haig for his feral, wall- crawling "Ralphie."
Although Jack Hill is probably best remembered for giving filmdom those atrocious blaxploitation flicks with the top-heavy Pam Grier, SPIDER BABY is without question his finest effort. This is, just like COFFY, cult all the way, but at least this is entertaining.
The film concerns a leech of a woman (Carol Ohmart) who ventures out to Merrye Mansion in order to swindle distance relatives out of their fortune. Tagging along are her good-intentioned brother (Quinn Redeker), sleazy pint-sized lawyer (Karl Schanzer) and the lawyer's sexy assistant (Mary Mitchel). These four unsuspecting folks are in for the night of their lives when they are introduced to the eccentric, murderous Merrye clan.
Ohmart is initially frightened off the premises by Sid Haig's mentally handicapped Ralph who she mistakes for a mutated baboon. But Ralph is the least of their troubles. The two Merrye girls, Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn) and Virginia (Jill Banner) make Ralph seem like a harmless little oddity. Twitchy-eyed Elizabeth knows the interlopers are here to change their lifestyle so she concocts plans to remove them from their life with the help of her deranged sister Virginia whose favorite game is playing spider. The odd little nymph also likes eating spiders.
STORY: $$$$ (This is kind of a precursor to Texas CHANISAW MASSACRE with the eccentric, murderous isolated country bumpkin clan, but while TCM had a skimpy screenplay--just chainsaw mayhem and Marilyn Burns running around for half an hour--SPIDER BABY tells an extraordinary tale. Lon Chaney Jr. plays the family's caretaker who looks after the kids since their father is dead, but he is well aware of their sinister machinations. He loves them regardless because they know no other way. Lon constantly chastises Elizabeth for "hating" things. Also, most movies that came after this film, with essentially the same premise, have stock characters that you can't really empathize with: lost, pot-smoking teens or sadistic serial killers. The Merrye Family can't help what they have become and Ohmart and Redeker are more interesting characters than a group of stupid city teens misplaced in the backwoods).
ACTING: $$$$ (Yes, this is a B-film but the acting is first rate. The great character actor Sid Haig is great in the non-speaking role of Ralph. The scene where the weasel lawyer catches him in the kitchen, opening a secret door, was a terrific bit of acting on Sid's part. Washburn and Banner both shine as demented teenage sisters. Washbirn masters the twitchy-eye routine while Banner is effectively creepy as Virginia. When we first meet her she plays spider with a poor delivery man. Karl Schenzer is a treat as the lawyer and Mary Mitchel is great as his assistant. During her dinner table scene she proves that she is more than just a pretty face. Lon Chaney is at his heartfelt best as Bruno the family caretaker. Although he is essentially a simple-minded man, he knows what's best and that love doesn't conquer all. Quinn Redeker gives some great line readings, especially during the summation. He does his best Ward Cleaver impression as the proper 1960s, clean-cut young man. And Carol Ohmart is amazing in her role. She slam dunks the greedy, self-oriented social climber role here. You'll love to hate her as much as you'll like her brother Redeker--they are polar opposites).
NUDITY: None (However, sexuality is in large supply. Jill Banner's spider game becomes a little arousing later on when she ties up Redeker in her web. Cleavage is in large supply here. Mary Mitchel has her blouse all but ripped off and if you thought Carol Ohmart looked good in THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, then do yourself a favor and check this film out. A little past midway through the film she strips down to show off her sexy black lingerie number as she tries on what must be the Merrye children's aunts old clothes. Miss Ohmart's little black bra has trouble containing her chest and once she removes her outer wear she remains in her lingerie number the rest of the film. had this been made a few years later, I'm certain the filmmakers would have demanded some bare breast shots of Ohmart--probably near the end when she falls into the pit. But Carol proves you don't need nudity to be extraordinarily sexy).
The last generation of the Merrye family, Ralph (Sid Haig), Virginia (Jill Banner) and Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn), all suffer from a rare syndrome that causes progressive age regression and an eventual reversion to a savage, pre-human condition. After the death of their father, family chauffeur Bruno (Lon Chaney Jr.) assumes responsibility for the 'kids', keeping them hidden from prying eyes behind the tall gates of the family home; that is, until greedy Aunt Emily (Carol Ohmart) and Uncle Peter (Quinn K. Redeker) turn up at the old house with a devious plan to get rich quick; aided by slimy lawyer Schlocker (Karl Schanzer) and his pretty secretary Ann (Mary Mitchel), the couple intend to become the youngsters legal guardians, a move that will entitle them to ownership of the house and control of the family fortune, but which might also cost them their lives.
1968 was a great year for horror: not only did it see the birth of 'yours truly' (a horror legend in my own mind) and, almost as importantly, the introduction of the modern zombie film (in the pale, shuffling, flesh-hungry form of Night of the Living Dead), but it was also the year that gave us demented drive-in favourite Spider Baby, the undoubted inspiration for Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil Rejects, all of which used the Merrye family as the blueprint for their own murderous clans.
To the casual onlooker, Ralph, Virginia and Elizabeth might not appear as immediately foreboding as either the Sawyers or the Fireflys, the boy being a drooling simpleton, and both girls being rather comely young fillies; but get them upset, or agree to participate in one of their games, and you'll eventually discover, chainsaw or no chainsaw, that they're not the sort of people you would elect to spend the night with: spider obsessed Virginia traps her victims in her rope web before 'stinging' them with a pair of carving knives; Elizabeth is no slouch with a pitch fork; and Ralph becomes uncontrollable after watching his surprisingly fit Aunt Emily cavorting around her room in her underwear. Bruno, on the other hand, is always trying to ensure good behaviour from his unruly and unhinged wards, but more often than not finds himself having to cover up for their messy mistakes.
Director Hill expertly blends his ghoulish humour with moments of genuine horror, and the film benefits immensely from some perfectly balanced and extremely memorable performances: Haig is wonderful, as always; Banner and Washburn are dangerously sexy as young women with the minds (and dress sense) of little girls; and Lon Chaney Jr. gives a brilliant tongue-in-cheek turn, providing a few laughs at the expense of his earlier career and giving the film some pathos in its explosive finale.
If you're an aficionado of weird and wonderful cinema, a rabid fan of the gruesome and macabre, or just an all round horror addict keen to expand your knowledge of the genre, and you haven't yet seen Spider Baby, do so immediately—your life won't be complete until you do.