Sunday, 11 January 2009

Spider Baby (1968)

Jack Hill’s Spider Baby was subtitled The Maddest Story Ever Told. That might not be true today when movies about inbred rural degenerates are reasonably familiar, but back in 1968 it was probably no exaggeration.

The Merrye family suffers from a rare hereditary degenerative disease. In fact the disease is so rare it’s unknown outside of that one family. Those afflicted don’t just regress mentally to early childhood, they also regress to an earlier and more barbaric state of humanity. They become child savages. The three physically grownup but psychologically primitive children who are the sole remaining members of the family are cared for by the family chauffeur, Bruno, who is (mostly) able to stop them from murdering people. Things slip out of Bruno’s control when some distant relatives, accompanied by their lawyer, arrive in the hope of getting their hands on dome of the family’s considerable fortune.

The children are convinced that these outsiders will tell the outside world about them, and that means bad things will happen. So they decide the strangers will have to be dealt with. The lawyer finds himself tied up to a chair while the creepiest of the children, Virginia, shows him how to play “spider” - a game of her own devising that invariably ends with the hapless victim being slashed to pieces. Meanwhile Aunt Emily has fallen into the clutches of Ralph. Ralph is in the last stages of Merrye’s Disease, and Aunt Emily’s prospects are not looking good at the hands of someone who is more or less a cannibal with a mental age of about three. Bruno realises that drastic steps need to be taken.

It’s played as a horror comedy, and its one of the better examples of a genre that has ben often attempted but rarely executed with complete success. Lon Chaney jnr is terrific as Bruno. Jill Banner is delightfully bizarre and terrifying as Virginia , with Beverly Washburn also extremely good as her only slightly less murderous sister Elizabeth. Sid Haig, a regular in Jack Hill’s films, plays Ralph to perfection.

A truly strange movie, but oddly captivating. A must for lovers of extreme movie weirdness.

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