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Awesome: 11.11%
Worth A Look77.78%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 11.11%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 3 user ratings

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Spider Baby
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by Jay Seaver

"Right up there in the 'maddest story' category."
4 stars

"Spider Baby" is subtitled "or, the Maddest Story Ever Told", and while that probably wasn't necessarily the case even when it was filmed or released (three and a half years later)... It is a weird one, no question, still able to raise some eyebrows forty or fifty years later with its particular madness that leaps between daffy and downright disgusting.

Bruno (Lon Chaney Jr.) has been taking care of the residents of Merrye House for generations now, a kindly caretaker of a family whose particular condition has them start a horrible mental regression as they enter their teens. Not knowing this, distant cousins Peter (Quinn Redeker) and Emily Howe (Carol Ohmart) come to collect the building as an inheritance only to discover that there are still Merryes there - spider-obsessed Virginia (Jill Banner), slightly more responsible Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn), and hulking brother Ralph (Sid Haig). Staying overnight may not be the best idea.

For all the nasty things that go on in Spider Baby, it's actually disarmingly sweet much of the time. Lon Chaney Jr., who spent much of his career portraying hulking, intimidating monsters, plays Bruno more as a fussy, loving caregiver than anything else, patient with his charges even if he is exasperated, awkwardly trying to shield them and their cousins from each other. Polite but vaguely threatening would be the usual way to play it, but having Chaney of all people play uncomfortable but kind of funny is doubly odd.

(He also sings the film's cheerfully bloody theme song, because once upon a time horror movies had people croon something smooth over the titles without irony.)

I think Peter Howe and the lawyer's assistant, Ann Morris (Mary Mitchel), may be one of the first cases of horror movie fans cast as the heroes of one of these movies and bonding over their shared love of the genre. They're a cute pair, if not necessarily the brightest protagonists these movies have ever had. Mitchel and Redeker make a good contrast to Carol Ohmart and Karl Schanzer, as the sister and her lawyer Schlocker, who are, of course, snobbish, greedy, and far less trusting of the weird relations.

And then there's the Merryes, a trio of wonderfully demented performances. The family's genetic disorder has them playing apparent adults with the minds of children, albeit with the tendencies toward violence cranked up. Beverly Washburn plays Elizabeth as pouty and resentful of having to look after her sister, but with an enthusiastic eye for her male visitors; Jill Banner is bonkers as this pretty teenager who spouts off spider facts like a six-year-old who just read a book about them, pretending to be one while carrying around knives to "sting" with. Sid Haig is Sid Haig in an early Sid Haig role, establishing a keen ability to be big and goony and have blood and guts from what/who he just ate raw around his mouth.

That gore is kind of restrained by modern standards but fairly plentiful for a movie made in the mid-1960s; writer/director Jack Hill uses it when need by but is just as content to get the audience squirming with weird situations, implied danger, and various creepy-crawlies - it's really impressive how uncomfortable a hairy tarantula crawling on an actress who clearly did not imagine Hollywood to be like this can still make an audience. Hill serves blood and skin up cheerfully, fully aware of the sort of movie he's making.

It's not really a GOOD movie, mind you - the characters may be charming but the acting is stilted, the production is cheap, and the silliness of the story is only exceeded by a set of unnecessary bookends that push the camp too far. It's still a trip, though, and the fact that it screened on a beautifully restored 35mm print just makes the whole thing weirder still.

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originally posted: 04/24/13 09:33:16
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User Comments

4/23/14 Avery Hemming You can't go wrong with Sid Haig! 5 stars
4/26/13 Michael Williams I totoally agree, it is not citizen Kane, but still well worth the time 4 stars
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  18-Jan-1968 (NR)
  DVD: 14-Sep-1999


  N/A (PG)

Directed by
  Jack Hill

Written by
  Jack Hill

  Lon Chaney Jr.
  Carol Ohmart
  Quinn K. Redeker
  Beverly Washburn
  Jill Banner
  Sid Haig
  Mary Mitchel

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