Monday, November 5, 2007

Spider Baby (1964)

Spider Baby has been a long sought after, but extremely rare film to find. If you were lucky enough to see it, it was probably on a horribly transferred, scratchy VHS bootleg. Luckily, the good folks over at Dark Sky Films, bless their souls, have restored, remastered (under supervision from director Jack Hill) and released a special edition of this fantastic film.

Spider Baby, or The Maddest Story Ever Told, is about the Merrye clan, who live in isolation in the middle of nowhere in a large and creepy mansion. The Merrye children, Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn), Virginia (Jill Banner) and Ralph (Sid Haig) all suffer from a rare genetic disease that makes its victims regress, first to a childlike state, but ultimately to a cannibalistic and savage state. They are cared for by the loyal chauffeur, Bruno (Lon Chaney, Jr.). The children like to play games, but it seems all who enter their gates ends up dead. When greedy distant relatives and their slimy lawyer descend upon the Merrye house, they get more than they bargain for as they realize the Merrye family will stop at nothing to protect their secret.

This 1964 film is one that definitely deserved to be given a special release. Everything from the fantastical story to the stellar acting makes this a cult classic with good reason. I couldn’t put it better than Dark Sky Films’ when they describe the film as “Luis Bunuel meets The Addams Family meets The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” The surreal atmosphere combined with the morbid comedic relief and the few shocking scenes of brutality tie in very nicely with the overarching theme of family loyalty.

The story, written by director Jack Hill, is fantastical and entirely engaging. Hill creates memorable characters set amidst a very gothic setting (cob-web filled, derelict mansion complete with hidden passages). Throw in a tragic disease, evil relatives and multiple murders and you’ve got quite a story! Everything works in this film!

The actors must be given due credit for imbuing their characters with life. The legendary Lon Chaney, Jr. is amazing as the loyal and steadfast caregiver, Bruno. Any fans of his will delight in seeing him in this, dare I say, sweet role. It is also a treat to see Sid Haig in his early years as the child-like Ralph. Jill Banner as Virginia and Beverly Washburn as Elizabeth also do an amazing jobs as the young Merrye women. There is one creepy scene where Elizabeth plays “Spider” with her Uncle Peter and then attempts to seduce him…if that scene doesn’t give you the willies, then there is something seriously wrong with you!!

The film’s black and white print looks amazing and its restoration was carefully supervised by Jack Hill. The special features aren’t too shabby either and include a feature-length commentary with writer/director Hill and actor Sid Haig, a slew of featurettes including “The Hatching of Spider Baby,” “Spider Stravinsky: The Cinema Sounds of Ronald Stein,” and “The Merrye House Revisited,” a still gallery, an alternate opening sequence and extended scenes. All this makes the special edition of Spider Baby one to definitely buy.

I must disagree with those that call this a “B-movie.” There is absolutely nothing subpar in Spider Baby. This was even my first time seeing this film, and I was blown away at how engaging it is and how much I liked it! From the delightful animated opening scenes (complete with Lon Chaney, Jr. singing the theme song) through to the explosive end, this Spider certainly had me wrapped up in its web!

Buy it on Amazon!

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