‘Seductive innocence of Lolita, savage hunger of a black widow!’
Spider Baby – subtitled: Or the Maddest Story Ever Told – is a 1964 American dark comedy horror film, written and directed by Jack Hill (Blood Bath) that was released in 1968. It stars Lon Chaney, Jr. as Bruno, the chauffeur and caretaker of three orphaned siblings who suffer from “Merrye Syndrome”, an inherited disease which causes them to mentally, socially, and physically regress backwards down the evolutionary ladder starting in early puberty. When two cousins and their lawyer arrive to try to take charge of the family and their estate, the true nature of the Merrye’s madness becomes clear…
Lon Chaney, Jr., Jill Banner, Carol Ohmart, Quinn Redeker, Mary Mitchel, Karl Schanzer and Mantan Moreland (King of the Zombies; Revenge of the Zombies) also feature.
The film was the brain child of Jack Hill who had already made a living from his involvement with peculiar films on a limited budget; such as his directorial debut providing uncredited extra scenes for The Wasp Woman and The Terror; Spider Baby is a different beast entirely.
Going under a raft of different titles – The Liver Eaters, Attack of the Liver Eaters and Cannibal Orgy, or The Maddest Story Ever Told (the latter being its protracted shooting title), it was little wonder the film struggled to attract an audience and further confusion arose when post-production ground to a halt amidst the American housing crash. Some four years later, the film would finally appear under its well known title of Spider Baby on a double-bill with Dr Terror’s Gallery of Horrors.
The film is particularly poignant in the world of horror as it bookends two pivotal careers – it was to be one of veteran horror icon’s Lon Chaney Jnr’s final roles whilst it also offered an opportunity for Sid Haig to begin his career, later to star in horror and genre films for the next 40-odd years. It’s the best of Chaney’s later roles, though as the temperatures regularly rose over 100 degrees throughout the 12-day shoot, he had to be constantly cooled with wet towels between takes. Haig is a revelation as the young, disturbed sibling, unable to speak but sexually advanced and grunting and leering through the house, travelling, appropriately, via the dumb waiter.
Jill Banner stars as the titular Spider Baby, Virginia, eating insects and trapping her victims in a web (net) finishing them off with a pair of kitchen knives. Beverley Washburn stars as the third child, Elizabeth, together they are thoroughly creepy, innocent yet untamed and vicious, their disturbing ways heightened by the moody use of black and white.
Of the $65,000 it cost to make the film, $2,500 went straight to Chaney, the other actors receiving $100 per day. Chaney also excels himself by singing the theme to the film, a sterling effort every bit as entertaining as Monster Mash. It has since been covered by both Seattle thrash legends The Accüsed and Mike Patton/Buzz Osbourne’s alt. metal supergroup Fantômas.
A musical version of Spider Baby has played small community theatres looking for a wider audience. It opened at the Empty Space theatre in Bakersfield, California, on Halloween 2004. In October 2007, it opened in Brookings, Oregon and in Orlando, Florida.
Despite the tribulations of Spider Baby‘s release, Hill went on to have success with his further films, of particular note being The Big Bird Cage, Coffy and Foxy Brown. His oddball 1964 opus was finally given the lovingly produced DVD release it long deserved in 2007 by Dark Sky Films.
Daz Lawrence, Horrorpedia.com
Arrow Video released a definitive UK Blu-ray Disc release in June 2013:
– High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the main feature, available in the UK for the first time
– High Definition transfer of the feature approved by director Jack Hill
– Isolated Music and Effects track
– English SDH subtitles for deaf and hearing impaired
– Audio commentary featuring Jack Hill and star Sid Haig
– The Hatching of Spider Baby – Interviews with Jack Hill, Sid Haig, star Mary Mitchel, fan Joe Dante and more on the making of the film
– Spider Stravinsky: The Cinema Sounds of Ronald Stein – The composer of ‘The Terror’ and ‘Attack of the 50 Foot Woman’ among others is remembered by Harlene Stein, Jack Hill, American Cinematheque’s Chris D. and others
– The Merrye House Revisited – Jack Hill revisits the original house that was used as the main location in the film
– Alternate opening title sequence
– Extended scene
– Gallery of behind-the-scenes images
– The Host (1960) – Jack Hill’s early short film featuring Sid Haig in his first starring role [30 mins]
– Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humpreys
– Collector’s booklet featuring writing on the film by artist and writer Stephen R. Bissette, and an extensive article re-printed from FilmFax: The Magazine of Unusual Film and Television featuring interviews with the cast and crew, illustrated with original stills and artwork.
Buy Blu-ray: Amazon.co.uk
Buy Blu-ray: Amazon.co.uk