SPIDER BABY (1968)
Directed by Jack Hill
Bruno, caretaker and chauffeur to the Merrye family, looks after the three orphaned children after the master dies, but these young adults aren’t normal siblings – they suffer from Merrye Syndrome, due to inbreeding, which causes them to gradually mentally and physically regress backwards to childhood and beyond, to the point of being feral and cannibalistic. When distant relatives lay claim to the house, Bruno attempts to conceal the murderous nature of Virginia, one of the Merrye children who likes to catch people in her ‘spider’s web’ and stab and slice them up as a spider would devour its prey. When the relatives turn up with the lawyer and insist on staying for the night, Bruno must keep the siblings on a short leash else he’ll find himself and the children split up forever.
Spider Baby is a black-and-white horror triumph from the sixties from director Jack Hill, who directed and penned the tale known to be ‘the maddest story ever told’. Shot in just 7 days, Hill crafted a creepy film that, although shows its age, is still enjoyable to watch and continues to make the viewer uncomfortable yet pity the Merrye children and Bruno.
Lon Chaney Jr stars as the kind and caring Bruno, who promised the master he would look after the children forever on the event of his death. With the distant relatives trying to oust Bruno from his position as guardian in a bid to get the family’s estate, Bruno fears for the safety of the three siblings: Elizabeth, Virgina and Ralph. Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn), quite possibly the youngest of the three, seems to be less effected by Merrye syndrome, or rather the predatory nature of the disease hasn’t taken hold as yet. Jill Banner plays Virginia, a girl who sees herself as a spider and loves nothing more than creeping around the garden on all fours to pounce on bugs to feed to her pet tarantulas… and as a tasty snack for herself, of course. The we have Ralph, played by Sid Haig (Captain Spaulding to Rob Zombie film fans), who’s the eldest of the three and the most disturbed. Towering over his siblings, he loves to ride the lift shaft and climb aound the house, and has a real knack at procuring food for the guests. Unknown to the guests of the house, their aunty and uncle also reside at the isolated home, as does daddy Merrye.
Spider Baby is not intentionally bloodthirsty in any shape or form, but a sad tale of three children who just want to be loved no matter what. Bruno is a sympathetic character as he tries his best to protect the children from the outside world and for the benefit of strangers, to keep them from harms way. I found the film rather fun and enjoyable, with a smashing performance from Sid Haig and Lon Chaney Jr. Each character has their own personality and it’s easy to see who are the likable characters and who are the ones meant to be despised.
With the help of director Jack Hill, Arrow Video have released Spider Baby as it was intended to be, restoring missing negatives after producers hacked the original release to pieces. With the definitive vision of Jack Hill, the DVD and Blu-Ray dual format release and premiere in the UK is an impressive one, with plenty of extras, commentary with Hill and Haig, interviews, a collectors booklet and more wrapped up in the edition. The transfer is fantastic, and although there’s a very short segment where the scene is a bit blurred (presumably the restored footage), the rest of it is incredibly sharp for its age.
A must-have for all fans of cult and horror cinema.