Sunday, October 28, 2012

Spider Baby (1968)

Written and directed by Jack Hill
Starring Lon Chaney Jr., Jill Banner, Beverly Washburn, Sid Haig, Emily Howe and Quinn K. Redeker

"Seductive innocence of Lolita...savage hunger of a black widow!" 

Spider Baby is a mess of a movie if you want to get technical about it. But trust me, you don't. This drive-in gem's shortcomings are largely overshadowed by what can only be described as pure charm. Spider Baby is clearly the product of a labor of love, which in my opinion is what separates it from the ridiculous Ed Wood comparisons it has unjustly received in the past. Thankfully I'm not alone as any Google search will reveal.

There's something so good about Spider Baby at times you easily forget it's a horror comedy altogether. The performances are top notch and the characters themselves are so instantly endearing I find myself wondering why Spider Baby isn't mentioned in film school 101. I hadn't seen this film is some ten years or so and I have to say despite the slightly misplaced humor and choppy cinematography, this film has aged quite well. It's cult status is clearly secure, but perhaps it's time to bump this classic up to required viewing. At least amongst MAG followers.

The film centers around the surviving members of the Merrye Family and Bruno, the caretaker who for some reason is devoted to the three, shall we say, demented adult children. Mom and Dad are clearly dead and the gruesome foursome, along with a few unseen aunts and uncles, live in seclusion in a dilapidated mansion that only The Musters would be jealous of.

We learn pretty quickly that Virginia is the bad one. The spider baby. But when her sister Elizabeth walks in and finds that Virginia has killed a hapless mailman, we learn she's not so good either. Instead of  screaming "Holy Jesus Motherfucking Christ" she simply frowns and says "Bruno is going to be mad".

And indeed he is mad. Sort of. Maybe sad is a better word. At any rate no form of punishment is doled out beyond making the girls clean up the blood as he disposes of the body, which he does by lowering it down to the basement (remember the unseen uncles and aunts?).

Ralph, the older brother finds the package the mailman was delivering and gives it to Bruno and now after this insane character development, we find our plot. It turns out the Merrye family is worth a lot of money and some distant cousins are wanting to cash in on the estate. And they're coming tonight for a visit!

Bruno does his best when the guests arrive. He politely explains to them(and to us finally)that the children are retarded due to inbreeding and that's why they don't go to school and stuff. During dinner, which consists of a cat Ralph killed and gross looking vegetables, Bruno further explains that the family line has a degenerative disease and he slightly hints at cannibalism, at least to the audience, which I assume was supposed to remember the people in the basement at this point. The film was originally titled Cannibal Orgy which at least  explains the lyrics in the theme song and some of the rather vague dialogue.

From here the movie gets dark and strange...

 Some die.....

.....and some don't. I wont ruin the ending for you, although it's not much of a surprise that things don't turn out well.

Spider Baby plays like David Lynch directing a 1964 PG version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It's also at least to my knowledge one of the earliest horror films to feature a demented family unit as its protagonist, a concept that would go on to be a horror plot line staple in the years to come. It's worth repeating here how well this film stands up 44 years after it's initial release. Flaws and all, Spider Baby comes highly recommended.

- Drew

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