Director – Jack Hill
Cast – Lon Chaney Jr., Carol Ohmart, Quinn K. Redeker, Beverly Washburn, Jill Banner, Sig Haig, Mary Mitchel
Release Year – 1968
Reviewed by John of the Dead
I had always heard great things about this 1968 cult classic from friends of mine, and thanks to its recent DVD release the doors have been opened for me to view this flick, and I am glad that I did. Despite its debut over 40 years ago, Spider Baby gives us a sweet horrorific tale blending several sub-genres into one fantastically fun experience that you will never forget nor stop appreciating.
Lon Chaney Jr. stars as Bruno, a caretaker who has devoted himself to raising the inbred Merrye children of an old friend in their run-down rural mansion. The inbreeding has left the children with an inherited disease that forces them to regress mentally after the age of 10, and because of this Bruno has been forced to cover-up their murderous acts and keep them out of the pubic eye as much as possible. Despite all of this Bruno & co. live a simple and comfortable country life, but this equilibrium is threatened when distant relatives of the childrens’ father show up with a lawyer looking to acquire the home, an act that the Merrye children will not take kindly.
From the get-go we are thrown into an awesome introduction to the film that bleeds creativity and a fun “cult” feel sure put viewers in the proper mindset for the zany events that are guaranteed to ensue. I loved the storyline and everything that it consisted of, especially the usage of the Merrye children once their greedy relatives come to town with unfavorable intentions. It is rare that a debut low-budget film comes with great writing, but Jack Hill did a fantastic job mapping out his characters and writing them to full potential. Time and time again we get worthless characters that do little for the film, but every character involved played an important role in moving the story and making me give a damn about what was going on, especially Bruno.
Hill’s direction is superb for such a low-budget debut effort, and his execution sells the horror perfectly when you consider the ramifications mentioned regarding the budget, film era, and mostly no-name(at the time) actors used. Lon Chaney Jr. was fantastic as Bruno, and while most of the other actors came off a bit cheesy it was nice to see veteran horror actor Sig Haig(The Devil’s Rejects, House of 1,000 Corpses) appearing as the lunatic son of the group, showing he had the ability to portray such actors decades ago. We don’t get too much as far as gore and awesome kills go, but the kills involved were of a brutal variety, just with the film’s extreme low budget it is safe to assume it limited the graphic scenes to clever camera work instead. Hill’s overall execution is incredible, and he makes this a truly fun film to watch thanks to each of the previously mentioned elements, as well as one of the grooviest film scores I have ever heard.
Overall, Spider Baby is a truly memorable cult watch that gives us an awesome story, superb direction/execution, and great zany antics that make for one of the best horror films of the 1960s.