SPIDER BABY Review of Jack Hill’s cult classic – free online – MOVIES and MANIA The Global Tofay

SPIDER BABY Review of Jack Hill's cult classic - free online - MOVIES and MANIA The Global Tofay Global Today

  

Spider Baby is a 1967 released dark comedy horror film, written and directed by Jack Hill (Blood Bath). Gil Lasky and Paul Monka produced it. As was the fashion in the late ’60s, the movie bore a subtitle: Or the Maddest Story Ever Told.

The movie stars Lon Chaney Jr, Jill Banner, Carol Ohmart, Quinn Redeker, Mary Mitchel, Karl Schanzer and Mantan Moreland (King of the Zombies; Revenge of the Zombies).

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The film was the brainchild 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.

Initially going by a raft of different titles such as The Liver Eaters and Attack of the Liver Eatersit was little wonder the film struggled to attract an audience. Further confusion arose when post-production halted amidst the American housing crash. Some three 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 Lon Chaney Jr’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 forty-odd years. It’s the best of Chaney’s later roles, though as the temperatures regularly rose over 100 degrees throughout the twelve-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.

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Plot:
Bruno (Lon Chaney Jr) is the chauffeur and caretaker of three orphaned siblings who suffer from “Merrye Syndrome”, an inherited disease that causes them to mentally, socially, and physically regress backwards down the evolutionary ladder. 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…

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.

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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 by singing the film’s theme, which is a sterling effort that is as entertaining as Monster Mash. It has since been covered by Seattle thrash legends The Accüsed and Mike Patton/Buzz Osbourne’s alt. metal supergroup Fantômas.

A musical version of Spider Baby has been played in small community theatres looking for a wider audience.

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Despite the tribulations of Spider Baby‘s initial release, Hill succeeded with his further films, particularly The Big Bird Cage, Coffy and Foxy Brown. His oddball opus was finally given the lovingly produced DVD release it long deserved in 2007 by Dark Sky Films. A remake written and directed by Dustin Ferguson, executive produced by Hill, was shot in 2023 and released in 2024.
Daz Lawrence, MOVIES and MANIA

MOVIES and MANIA rating:

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Buy DVD: Amazon.com

Arrow Video released a definitive UK Blu-ray Disc release in June 2013:

Special Features:
– 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 Humphreys
– 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.

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Buy Blu-ray: Amazon.co.uk

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Buy Blu-ray: Amazon.co.uk

Cast and characters:
Lon Chaney Jr … Bruno
Carol Ohmart … Emily
Quinn Redeker … Peter
Beverly Washburn … Elizabeth
Jill Banner … Virginia
Sid Haig … Ralph
Mary Mitchel … Ann
Karl Schanzer … Schlocker
Mantan Moreland … Messenger
Carolyn Cooper … Aunt Clara
Joan Keller Stern … Aunt Martha

Filming locations:
Smith Estate – El Mio Doctor, Highland Park, Los Angeles, California (house)
Chatsworth, Los Angeles, California
Glendale, California (studio)
Mandeville Canyon, Brentwood, Los Angeles, California

Production dates:
27th August 1964 – September 1964

Technical details:
1 hour 21 minutes
Black and white
Audio: Mono
Aspect ratio: 1.66: 1

Budget:
$50,000

Related:

SPIDER BABY Dustin Ferguson’s remake

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