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 song performed by Lon Chaney Jr. - you know that Jack Hill's Spider Baby is going to be one strange motion picture. 

And it only gets stranger from there!

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 them to a child-like state which will eventually lead to 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. Bruno has gone to great lengths to keep the children hidden, knowing full well they'd be placed in a psychiatric hospital if their true “nature” was ever discovered. 

This well-guarded secret is in danger of being revealed, however, when cousins Emily (Carol Ohmart) and Peter (Quinn Redeker) pay the Merryes a surprise visit. Joined by their lawyer (Karl Schanzer), these two distant relatives have set their sights on the family's vast fortune, and, to strengthen their claim to it, are determined to prove the children should be locked away. 

But as these greedy cousins will soon learn, the Merrye siblings aren't about to go down without a fight!

I love Spider Baby; the movie 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 by the time he made Spider Baby, and does a fine job as the kindly, if slightly misguided, Bruno. 

On the flip-side is a very young Sid Haig - in one of his first film roles - playing Ralph, the most peculiar of the Merrye children. Acting as if he was about three years old, Haig wanders through the film without uttering a single word. 

Of Ralph's two sisters, Virginia is clearly the most disturbed. Convinced she is a spider, Virginia attacks anyone she catches in her “web” (a messenger, played by Mantan Moreland, is an early victim of hers, 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 have 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 predicament that director Hill crams into its 81 minutes only adds to the movie's charm.


James Robert Smith said...

I love this movie. When I first saw it I was expecting a typical exploitation horror film. Instead, I discovered a hilarious movie with a brilliant script and a host of inspired actors. One of my favorite indie films.

Unknown said...

It sounds like a very fun/fascinating film.