Friday, October 10, 2008

Spider Baby (1964)


Spider Baby revolves around a family and their caretaker Bruno (Lon Chaney). The family is anything but normal as they all have a hereditary condition that causes cannibalistic tendencies and mental handicaps. Bruno was the chauffeur of the father of these children and upon his passing he gave his word to forever take care of them.

Their lives were fairly normal, aside from the occasional murder and consumption of the victim. Then a messenger delivered a letter from a lawyer stating that a distant aunt and uncle would be coming by that day to discuss the estate they feel they are rightfully entitled to. When they arrive they meet all three kids, Ralph (Sid Haig) the oldest and most mentally handicapped, Elizabeth who loves to manipulate and Virginia the most violent. She loves to play "spider" with others which involves her throwing a web over them (usually a net) and stabbing and slicing them as a spider would bite its prey.

The guests stay for dinner and find this family to be rather strange in their customs. They inform Bruno that they will be spending the night so they can go over further paper work in the morning. This is when the lawyer begins to snoop around the house, and he finds that Bruno and the kids are not the only people living in the house, various other aunt and uncle cannibals who were thought to be dead are kept in the basement. When he threatens to tell the authorities the young girls stab him with knives and a pitchfork until his death.

Such continues throughout the night, trying to protect the family secret. We see young Virginia try to seduce her uncle while playing spider, she doesn't know any better as the entire family were inbred, and we start to scratch the surface on just how deranged this family is. The end comes when Bruno decides it best to end the lie and potential suffering of the children if their secret were to get out in an explosive finale. Effectively ending the line of family members that carried the hereditary condition, or so he thought.

Jack Hill's little known classic just recently got a great release on DVD from Dark Sky Films and it deserves it. There is great atmosphere throughout the film and the lighting is terrific. The entire cast does well and it was very nice to see Lon Chaney without the makeup of his legendary characters. A young Sid Haig is also a bit surprising in how effective he was in his role. The biggest down fall of this film is how its full title is Spider Baby or The Maddest Tale Ever Told, and it falls short on being the maddest tale ever told. We started to scratch the surface of just how crazy the family was in the last twenty minutes but it was cut off before it had a chance to really get going.

A solid effort from Jack Hill who would later go on to make classics such as Foxy Brown and Coffy.


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