Spider Baby

Dir: Jack Hill
Star: Lon Chaney Jr, Beverly Washburn, Jill Banner, Quinn Redeker

The last surviving members of the Merrye family, afflicted by a terrible hereditary disease, live in a crumbling mansion under the tender care of loyal family servant, Bruno (Chaney). The illness causes them, beginning in late puberty, to regress, physically and mentally, to animalistic levels. Virginia (Banner) and Elizabeth (Washburn) are beginning to show the first signs; their brother, Ralph (a very young-looking Sid Haig) is more severely affected. And the aunts and uncle kept locked in the cellar. Literally, you don't want to go there... Into this come greedy cousin Emily and her more sympathetic brother, Peter (Redeker), the former intent on taking possession of the property. However, when her plan becomes clear to the children, they start to fight back against those who pose a threat to their deranged life-style. Who will survive, and what will be left of them?

That's an appropriate final line, as this lunatic family seems an obvious influence on Texas Chainsaw (as well as The Addams Family and possibly even Rocky Horror). Shot in 1964, it was shelved due to bankruptcy, and eventually released four years later: however, over that time, cinema did a lot of catching up. Certainly, from fifty years after it was filmed, it seems far more kitschy, rather than "The Maddest Story Ever Told" claimed by the titles. Probably the creepiest scene now has one of the girls making a pass at Peter, mostly because she's rather too young for modern sensibilities - I imagine that barely moved the needle in the sixties. The rest? About as threatening as Carry on Screaming, to be honest. Not to say it doesn't have its moments, and Chaney is excellent in the role, giving the film a poignant moral core it otherwise lacks. Washburn and Banner are effective as well, but I can't honestly say I found this particularly scary or funny, and its reputation as either definitely seems to exceed it.

[February 2014]

Doesw whatever a spider baby can
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