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Default Spider Baby



Reviewer: John
Review Date: October 27, 2002

Released by: Image Entertainment
Release date: 9/7/1999
MSRP: $19.99
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.66:1 | 16x9: No



Though the working titles of Cannibal Orgy or Attack of the Liver Eaters would have turned quite a few heads in 1964, Jack Hill settled on Spider Baby, or The Maddest Story Ever Told and drew a cult following with it. Jack Hill, better known for exploitation films like Coffy, Foxy Brown, and Switchblade Sisters, weaves a tangled web in this black comedy/horror that shows glimpses that the horror genre is moving in a different direction.

The Story

inline Image The story revolves around the Merrye Syndrome. Simply stated, this disease reverses the aging process. It gives fully capable, strong adults the mind of children. It would seem fortunate that this rare and peculiar disease is limited to three descendants of the Merrye bloodline, but they manage to leave a mark on some unsuspecting relatives.

The fun begins with a messenger (Mantan Moreland) looking to deliver a letter to the Merrye house. After looking up, down, and around, he pokes his head into a window to try and get the attention of anyone who will listen. The next thing he knows Virginia (Jill Banner) has him caught in her "web" and is pinching him with two butcher knives. Her sister Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn) comes in and tells Virginia how bad she is for what she has done. Before the girls can cover Virginia's tracks, their chauffer/caretaker Bruno (Lon Chaney Jr.) shows up with their brother Ralph (Sid Haig). Bruno, upset with Virginia's game, reads the letter that the recently departed messenger has brought, and realizes that some relatives are coming to visit the Merrye house looking to cash in on some of their late relatives fortune.

inline Image The first to arrive are the greedy relatives themselves, Peter (Quinn K. Redeker) and Emily (Carol Ohmart). Emily, looking for a response from someone inside the house, pokes her head into an all too familiar window and ends up getting spooked by Ralph. She runs back to Peter who seems to find the situation amusing. The siblings attorney Schlocker (Karl Schanzer) arrives shortly thereafter with his assistant Ann (Mary Mitchel). The children are obviously not impressed with their guests but decide to prepare dinner for them.

Over dinner, the "spider babies" begin to toy with their guests like the bugs that they are. Ralph steals the scene with dumbfounded looks and expressions (as well as a great outfit) as the girls study their guests. Bruno attempts to be a model host, nervously trying to downplay any problems the children might have. All of the guests have tunnel vision. Peter and Ann's interest in one another, Schlocker in his brash business-only mentality, and Emily's quest for the Merrye estate all blind them and allow the girls to pick them apart. After dinner lets out, the children decide to let everyone in on a Merrye family secret - one by one.

This is one of those films where the less you know, the better the experience. Spider Baby isn't going to deliver blood, guts, or CGI effects. It is a low-budget thriller along the lines of Herk Harvey's Carnival of Souls. Though all of the actors do a great job, the occupants of the Merrye house truly give this film its life. Lon Chaney Jr. does an excellent job as Bruno. Jill Banner and Beverly Washburn keep viewers on their heels the entire movie. Are the girls' deadly stalkers or innocent victims of their disease? The best performance by far is Sid Haig. Dark humor and fear have never gone so well together. Ralph on the screen in this movie is funny. If Ralph were standing 10 feet from you in real life, he'd be creepy. It would be hard for anyone to pull off such a performance, but Sid Haig was the one to do it.



Spider Baby can be hard to sit through. It is not going to give it's viewers a thrill a minute. The movie takes it's time unfolding and giving some development to its characters. While the background music isn't perfect, it does do a good job of setting the mood during certain scenes. Spider Baby is certainly a throwback horror movie that fans of modern horror films might not enjoy. However, if given a chance, you will see how it may have influenced some later films.

Image Quality

inline Image Again, this is a B-movie. It was only in production 12 days and it is over 35 years old. With this being said, it is a great transfer. Image's DVD looks very close to their 1998 laserdisc version but with an improved contrast scale. It is presented in its original 1:66:1 aspect ratio (non-anamorphic) and gives viewers the best print available. It does however have its flaws. There are some scratches and speckle throughout the film, but the biggest problem comes at the 73:13 mark. The picture is out of focus and stands out from the rest of the movie. Considering it was filmed on a shoestring budget, you have to be forgiving. Elite did release a laserdisc version of Spider Baby in 1998, which unfortunately I don't have to use for a true comparison.

Sound

If anyone ever said I'd be watching Spider Baby in Dolby Digital sound, I would have had Virginia pinch them with her butcher knives. The sound and dialogue are both clear. The sound is crisper than previous releases. The intro music in the film is priceless. It is sung by the great Lon Chaney Jr. Not only is the movie in Dolby Digital Mono, the supplements are as well. You gotta love it.

Supplemental Material

inline Image These really make this disc a gem. Liner notes by director Jack Hill and an essay about Spider Baby by Joe Dante. There is some very insightful commentary by Jack Hill in which he gives viewers insight on filming locations, actors, and even flaws in the film. Jack is obviously a huge fan of Lon Chaney Jr. and tells what it is like to have him on the set. His comments really add replay value to the film. Some footage from a cast and crew reunion hosted by Johnny Legend, as well as director and cast biographies. Topping the disc off are eight minutes of newly discovered footage, extending a scene and letting viewers know why Schlocker and Ann were late getting to the Merrye house. I found all of the extras to be very enjoyable. Fans of the film will be satisfied.

Final Thoughts

What else can be said? This movie is not for everyone, but it does have an ever-growing audience. Oddball characters and great supplements make this disc a must have for Jack Hill fans. For me, this was one of those films that gets better with repeat viewings. I think Bruno sums up the film (and B-movies in general) best when he tells the girls "Just because something isn't good, doesn't mean it's bad."

Rating

Movie - A-
Image Quality - B
Sound - B-
Supplements - A+


Technical Info.
  • B&W
  • Running time - 1 hour 21 minutes
  • Not Rated
  • 1 Disc
  • Chapter Stops
  • English Dolby Digital Mono

Supplements
  • Audio commentary by Writer/Director Jack Hill
  • Newly discovered 8 minutes of footage
  • Footage from the cast and crew reunion at the Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles
  • Director and cast filmographies

Other Pictures

 

 

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