Review: Spider Baby / Cert: 15 / Director: Jack Hill / Screenplay: Jack Hill / Starring: Lon Chaney Jr, Sid Haig, Carol Ohmart, Quinn Redeker, Beverly Washburn, Jill Banner / Release Date: June 17th
Spider Baby, an obscure black-and-white 1968 comedy horror from cult director Jack Hill, is described in its own credits as “the maddest story ever told” – and it’ll only take about fifteen minutes for you to realise that this is quite the understatement. Spider Baby is barking mad but it’s also great fun, hugely endearing and, despite being utterly bloodless, strangely disturbing. Filmed across seven days on a ludicrously tiny budget and originally cut to pieces at the request of unimpressed producers, Spider Baby disappeared without trace for years but now resurfaces on this sharp and lovingly restored Blu-ray packed with special features which finally do justice to one of the oddest forgotten feature films of all time.
Three young children of the Merrye family live in a crumbling old house just outside Los Angeles under the watchful eye of old family retainer Bruno (Chaney). The kids are all suffering from ‘Merrye syndrome’; they’re inbred and slowly regressing towards a state of pre-human savagery. Virginia (Banner) is the titular ‘Spider Baby’, obsessed with arachnids, trapping victims in her web made of netting and 'stinging’ them by slashing them to death with two knives. Ralph (Haig) wears baby’s clothes and travels about the house in a dumbwaiter, becoming agitated and aroused in the presence of young women. Emily (Ohmart) and Peter (Redeker) arrive with their lawyer to take possession of the house and a very peculiar sort of hell breaks lose as the Merrye children’s secret is revealed at last.
Bizarre doesn’t even begin to describe Spider Baby. Despite its lack of on-screen blood-letting it still manages to be creepy and unnerving, some of its imagery is surprisingly suggestive and the Merrye kids are genuinely disturbing. But there’s a rich vein of very black humour too, a wonderfully avuncular performance from former wolf-man Chaney Jr, a fabulously naturalistic turn from wide-eyed Redeker and a brilliantly catchy score from the underrated Ronald Stein. A remake mooted back in 2007 fortunately came to nothing; undoubtedly it would have focussed on explicit gore and violence and missed the entire point and lost the naïve charm of this quirky, unique original. “The maddest story ever told?” At the very least…
Extras: Commentary / 2012 Panel Discussion / Making Of / Cinema Sounds of Ronald Stein /Revisiting the location / Alternate opening / Trailer / Extended scene / Short Jack Hill film ‘The Host’ / Booklet