Thursday, January 22, 2009

Movie Review: Spider Baby (1964)

Spider Baby
or
The Maddest Story Ever Told
Spider Baby 1964 Movie [Midnite Media]
Written & Directed by Jack Hill

Lon Chaney Jr. .... Bruno
Jill Banner .... Virginia
Sid Haig .... Ralph
Beverly Washburn .... Elizabeth
Carol Ohmart .... Emily Howe
Quinn K. Redeker .... Peter Howe
Karl Schanzer .... Schlocker
Mary Mitchel .... Ann

From "The Dictionary of Rare and Peculiar Diseases": The Merrye Syndrome, so called because its only known occurrence is among the descendents of one Ebenezer Merrye; a progressive age regression beginning about the tenth year and continuing steadily throughout the victim's lifetime. It is believed that eventually the victim of the Merrye Syndrome may even regress beyond the prenatal level, reverting to a pre-human condition of savagery and cannibalism. Many authorities do not accept the existence of the Merrye Syndrome. Incredible…but true, nevertheless!

Incredible indeed. I have to say that I was in love with this black horror comedy from the get-go. The opening credits were a horror-hipster's dream, and dig that crazy theme song--by Lon Chaney, Jr. no less!

When Titus W. Merrye died years ago, he left his chauffeur Bruno in charge of the family. They're not a normal family, kind of a cross between Texas Chainsaw Massacre's Sawyer clan and the Addams Family. We've got Elizabeth, who loves to hate everything; Virginia, a homicidal girl who thinks she's a spider; Ralph, the bald animalistic mute brother; Uncle Ned, Aunt Clara and Aunt Martha, locked up tight in the secret cellar. And let's not forget Titus. Sure, he's a rotting corpse, but his children tuck him in and give him a kiss every night come bedtime.

Spider Baby: The Merrye Family [Midnite Media]

Unfortunately for the Merrye's, Emily and Peter Howe--long lost cousins--have hired a lawyer and are on their way to collect their rightful inheritance, including the family fortune, the estate, and the children. Bruno and the kids work fast to hide their dark secrets in order to accommodate their guests. The lawyer, Mr. Schlocker, announces that the children will be placed into professional care facilities, but Bruno made a promise to his former boss: to protect the children forever and ever, and to keep them from public ridicule. And Bruno is a man of his word.

Peter Howe seems to be a decent sort who would rather just leave the family be, so we're glad when he leaves the house early to get blitzed with Mr. Schlocker's secretary. Emily, however, is a money-hungry bitch who gets exactly what she deserves and we love every minute of it. And Mr. Schlocker? Well, he's a lawyer and a slimy one at that.

The film did tend to be a bit slow at times and some of the scenes seemed drawn out, but it's a small price to pay for such wonderfully bizarre characters. Sid Haig was great as Ralph, an early role for a man who has since become one of the coolest character actor's in film history. It's my opinion that Spider Baby is a much more influential piece than most people understand. As far as homicidal families go, this one predates even The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and it was obviously implanted in Rob Zombie's subconscious when he directed House of 1000 Corpses. Hell, he even cast Sid Haig in his picture! It's true that there's no sex, no nudity, no cursing and no gore. But amazingly, it all works. Haven't seen it? I suggest you do.

ALSO KNOWN AS: Cannibal Orgy; The Liver Eaters; Attack of the Liver Eaters;

1964
Unrated
81 Minutes
Black & White
United States
English

--J/Metro

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