Sunday, March 11, 2012

#573. Spider Baby (1968)

Directed By: Jack Hill

Starring: Lon Chaney Jr., Carol Ohmart, Quinn K. Redeker

Tag line: "Spider Baby will give you nightmares forever!"

Trivia:  The film was shot in seven days, between Aug. and Sept. of 1964

The moment the animated credits kick in, which play over a bizarre theme sung by Lon Chaney Jr., you know Jack Hill's Spider Baby is going to be one strange motion picture. And it only gets stranger from there on out.

The three Merrye children: Virginia (Jill Banner), Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn) and Ralph (Sid Haig), suffer from a most unusual malady: as their bodies grow older, their minds get younger, regressing to a child-like state which will eventually result in total madness. Since the death of their father, the three have been living in the family's decrepit old mansion under the watchful eye of Bruno (Lon Chaney Jr.), the chauffeur, who's gone to great lengths to hide the children, knowing full well they'd be placed in a psychiatric hospital if their true “nature” were ever revealed. This well-guarded secret is in danger of being uncovered, however, when cousins Emily (Carol Ohmart) and Peter (Quinn Redeker) pay them a surprise visit. Joined by their lawyer (Karl Schanzer), these two distant relatives have set their sights on the vast Merrye fortune, and, to strengthen their claim to it, are determined to prove the children should be locked away. But as they'll soon learn, the Merrye siblings aren't about to go down without a fight. 

I really like Spider Baby; it has a unique energy to it, a sort of sitcom mentality (think The Addams Family, only weirder) that I found very appealing. Lon Chaney Jr. was fast approaching the end of his career when he made Spider Baby, but does a fine job as the kindly, if slightly misguided, Bruno. On the flip-side, a very young Sid Haig, in one of his first film roles, plays Ralph, the most peculiar of the Merrye children. Acting as if he were about three years old, Haig wanders through the picture without uttering a single word. Of Ralph's two sisters, Virginia is clearly the most disturbed, believing herself a spider and attacking anyone she catches in her “web” (a messenger, played by Mantan Moreland, is an early victim of Virginia's, meeting his end in the film's opening sequence). Throughout the movie, we learn there are other members of the Merrye clan also residing in the huge mansion, including a pair of Aunts and an Uncle in the final stages of the illness, who've been locked away in the basement, as well as the rotting corpse of dear old dad, still lying in his bed. 

Spider Baby is, without a doubt, one of the oddest films I've ever seen, yet every eccentric character, every outlandish moment director Hill crams into its 81 minutes only adds to the movie's unusual charms.

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