Spider Baby (1967) Review

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

Spider Baby (1967) Review

Horrorific content by TE Simmons on April 05th, 2021 | Movie Review | Cult Classic, Campy, Madness, Dysfunctional Family, Killer Kid, B-Horror

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It’s about two gorgeous inbred sisters, their mute hairless brother, and their avuncular chauffeur.  

Spider Baby was written and directed by Jack Hill (who also wrote/directed Fear Chamber, House of Evil, and Pit Stop) and stars Lon Chaney Jr. (from The Wolf Man), Sid Haig (a/k/a Sidney Eddie Mosesian) (of The Devil’s Rejects) and Jill Banner (who later had several guest appearances on the television show Dragnet).

Will a greedy lawyer and his clients evict the accursed Merrye family from their home?

Spider Baby Review

Shot on a shoestring budget in less than two weeks in the late summer of 1964, Spider Baby was stillborn on account of the insolvency of its producers. Twin bankruptcies gave rise to a legal quandary with no clear fix. And so initially, it shared a fate similar to executive producer Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four (1994). Spider Baby remained frozen in legal limbo for three years.

Then, when it was released, it was billed ineptly as Cannibal Orgy or The Liver Eaters, though neither orgies nor livers appear in the film. Since then, however, it has acquired a cult status due in large measure to the screen presence of raven-haired Jill Banner (playing the eponymous spider-child Virginia) who has a gaze rivaling Bela Lugosi’s.

Spider Baby is a gothic horror comedy. It’s a creepy schlock oddity with a dose of warmth and familial love. It features several outstanding performances, stunning, crisp black and white cinematography, an intelligent and delicate score, and sensible editing. The ramshackle mansion full of secret passages sets the tone. So does the ancient Duesenberg limousine piloted by Chaney’s character, Bruno.

As Bruno, Lon Chaney Jr. anchors the film and maintains a moral grip on the ungovernable household only so long as the outside world can be kept from intruding. But greedy heirs and a detestable attorney upset the equilibrium and soon the stabbings begin. (The killings feel justified. Only a lawyer could protest his own murder on procedural grounds!)

Spider Baby is laced with humor, but not slapstick. The Merrye family is a more intelligent, more subdued, and more mature clan than The Addam’s Family. The Merrye family is also more deadly.

At the heart of many horror films lies sickness. There is sickness in Spider Baby, but not wickedness. The Merrye family’s progressive, hereditary affliction stands for the standard parental anxieties of adolescents growing up – becoming more and more uncontrollable by the day. (Entering teenager-time is a sort of hereditary affliction, isn’t it?) Bruno does his best to correct the trio’s misdeeds and maintain order, but it’s a losing battle exacerbated by the chaos-causing outside world. When scheming encroachers destabilize the family’s charming but twisted home life, there may be only one solution.

Worth Watching?

Spider Baby is not just worth watching, it’s required watching. Its status is legendary. It’s not legendarily frightening, per se. But it is a well-executed minor masterpiece.

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