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Spider Baby [Dual Format Blu-ray + DVD]
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This was the first solo feature by Jack Hill (Coffy, Switchblade Sisters, Foxy Brown), whom Quentin Tarantino dubbed the Howard Hawks of exploitation filmmaking , and it remains one of his wildest and weirdest.
The credits dub this the maddest story ever told , a promise that s well on the way to being fulfilled in the opening scene alone, when Virginia traps and kills a hapless deliveryman in her makeshift web. She s one of three siblings who suffer from a unique genetic disorder that causes them to regress back to childhood, while retaining the physical strength and sexual maturity of adults.
Lon Chaney Jr gave one of his most memorable late performances as Bruno, their guardian and protector, who has managed to cover up their crimes until two distant relatives lay claim to their house. When they insist on moving in, Bruno has to cross his fingers and hope that the children behave towards their new guests...
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the main feature, available in the UK for the first time
- High Definition transfer of the feature approved by director Jack Hill
- Isolated Music and Effects track
- English SDH subtitles for deaf and hearing impaired
- Audio commentary featuring Jack Hill and star Sid Haig
- The Hatching of Spider Baby Interviews with Jack Hill, Sid Haig, star Mary Mitchel, fan Joe Dante and more on the making of the film
- Spider Stravinsky: The Cinema Sounds of Ronald Stein The composer of The Terror and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman among others is remembered by Harlene Stein, Jack Hill, American Cinematheque s Chris D. and others
- The Merrye House Revisited Jack Hill revisits the original house that was used as the main location in the film
- Alternate opening title sequence
- Extended scene
- Gallery of behind-the-scenes images
- The Host (1960) Jack Hill s early short film featuring Sid Haig in his first starring role [30 mins]
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humpreys
- Collector s booklet featuring new writing on the film by artist and writer Stephen R. Bissette, classic articles and more, illustrated with original stills and artwork
A near perfect blend of gothic horror and black humour, Spider Baby is certainly one of the weirdest flicks to come out of the post-Psycho early '60s. --Terror Trap
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But the movie is low budget which isn't a bad thing, but when Jack Hill, such a talented director makes a movie full of filler scenes what happens is that the movie grinds to a halt and fatally does it very early on. We just don't get engaged into any of the characters until it's too late. A good effort considering the budget, and well worth a watch, but this is a movie project that could have been so much better. Obviously this movie influenced the likes of NATURAL BORN KILLERS and made a career out of Juliette Lewis.
The video quality is better than you would expect given the age and resources. In fact, it exceeded my expectations so much, that i spent a majority of the time repeating in my head, "I have never seen this movie like this in my life", than actually concentrating on the film. The audio is still poor, yet at the same time, great. That doesn't make any sense right? Well the audio quality was never great to begin with, and i could barely hear it at all on my old DVD copy. But NOW. Well now it's much more audible. It's still not as clear as i wish it could be. But it's as clear as we're probably ever going to get it, and for this i am extremely grateful.
Special features are plentiful with documentaries and an early Jack Hill directed short film, which also introduced Sid Haig to the acting world, called 'The Host'. These special features are brilliantly provided by Arrow, who more or less fail at failing. A majority, if not all of their releases are perfection. Booklet and reversible cover is also provided with the original poster on it. But it's hard to not straight up love the artwork Arrow have provided. Still each to their own if you fancy a change of art!
Fans of the film, i safely say you can get this. It's the best you're ever going to see or hear it.
Some commentators have likened Spider Baby to Eraserhead (1977), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974 ), or TV’s “the Addams Family,” while others have erroneously categorized it as “surreal.” If we have to give comparisons, we might find it to be the most idiosyncratic film in the “Old Dark House” genre (and yes, that includes Rocky Horror Picture Show). Still, even that is not adequate. Spider Baby is a maverick that defies all labels.
Writer/director Jack Hill‘s credits include Boris Karloff‘s unfortunate Z-grade Mexican horror films House of Evil (1968), Fear Chamber (1968), Isle of the Snake People (1971), Alien Terror (1971); the women-in-prison jigglefests The Big Doll House (1971) and The Big Bird Cage (1972); the Pam Grier blaxploitation vehicle Foxy Brown (1974); and Switchblade Sisters (1975-the title says it all). All of these are lucid examples of trash cinema; Spider Baby is a one-of-a-kind inbred sibling to the lot.
The casting of Lon Chaney, Jr. is, for once, near ideal. 1930s horror icons Karloff and Bela Lugosi each had an air of European mystery in their screen personas. 1940s horror second banana “sort of” horror icon Chaney, Jr was pure American white trash. When Universal tried to cast Chaney in the Karloff/Lugosi Euro mold, the results often ranged from laughable to cringe-inducing.
Chaney, Jr was, of course, unfavorably compared to his father and has received a lot of bad raps from critics past and present. Most of those raps are well deserved, but it was not his legendary father who proved to be the ultimate detriment to his career. It was Chaney Jr.’s role as Lennie in Lewis Milestone’s Of Mice and Men (1939) that rendered an insurmountable yardstick performance. Chaney could never equal his Lennie, much in the same way that Lugosi could never live up to Dracula (1931).
Unfortunately, off-screen Chaney proved to be considerably more brutish than Steinbeck’s gentle giant, which helped seal his inevitable career failure. Other factors in his decline included alcoholism, drug abuse, typecasting, trying to live up to his father’s image, and (reportedly) self-loathing regarding his latent homosexuality.
Executives at Universal didn’t help. After the success of Man Made Monster (1941) and The Wolf Man (1941) Universal cast Chaney Jr. as their new horror star. Somehow the studio was oblivious to Chaney’s strengths and weaknesses. Astonishingly they cast the hulking, phlegmatic actor as a grand guignol romantic lead with a Clark Gable-like mustache in the Inner Sanctum films. Son of Dracula (1943) was an even worse case of miscasting with Chaney as the Transylvanian count who must have been living off an excessively high-calorie blood intake.
Few of Chaney’s 200 plus films are of merit, but he did have a handful of good character parts in films which knew how to use him. Spider Baby is among those, featuring his last performance of note. Chaney liked the script so much that he made an extra effort to lay off the sauce, much to Hill’s relief.
There is a touch of pathos in Chaney’s performance as the caretaker. He is close to Tod Browning territory here, seeing this misfit ensemble not as inbred cannibal freaks, but as family. Spider Baby is a far better way to remember Chaney than his actual last performances: Al Adamson’s equally trashy but dreadful 1971 duo Female Bunch and Dracula vs. Frankenstein (both of which try hard to make Ed Wood look sophisticated).
Chaney is helped tremendously by his co-stars, which include Sid Haig as a bald, deformed version of Carroll Bakker’s thumb-sucking Baby Doll (1956), Carol Ohmart as a well-worn, Z-grade Marilyn Monroe bitch of an aunt, and Jill Banner and Beverly Washburn as psychotic sisters.
The Merrye family is dying out, due to inbreeding and a “rotting of the brain.” Bruno (Chaney) is the family chauffeur who acts as their guardian. While Bruno is taking Ralph (Haig, perfectly embodying his character) to the doctor, Elizabeth (Washburn) plays “itsy-bitsy spider” with the mailman (veteran African American character actor Mantan Moreland). Ralph crawls out of the limo like a serpentine chihuahua. Torment floods Bruno’s eyes upon seeing what is left of the unfortunate courier. Virginia (Banner), doing her best Baby Jane Hudson imitation, cannot wait “to tell.” “It’s not nice to hate,” Bruno reminds the family, but it turns out this was simply a case of killing the bad news messenger; the message being news that heir aunt Aunt Emily (Ohmart) will be arriving this very day to throw out the lot of them. Emily brings with her the goofy but amiable protagonist Peter (Quinn Redeker). There is even a slimy caricature of a lawyer who might pass for a cross between Adolf Hitler and John Waters‘ father.
The Merrye house has a personality all its own, complete with rickety, ominous elevator shafts and a basement of dreaded family secrets. Alfred Taylor’s cinematography is an enormous asset, nearly masking the film’s meager budget. A perverted veggie “Last Supper” and a “don’t you dare do go there” consummation (which is, thankfully, subdued) are scenes that burn themselves into the memory.
Hill, for once not working on commission, conceived his child as a labor of love, and his attitude infected cast and crew. As bizarre as the script and direction is, it is an inspired cast that sells it. Dismemberment, incest, cannibalism and the budding sexuality of serial killers are all carried out with inexplicable charm. Still, even with fine work by all, it is Chaney who is the twinkle in the eye of the film’s hurricane.
* my review originally appeared at 366 weird movies
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