Sunday, March 14, 2010

Spider Baby (1963)

In the world of horror, family is almost never normal. You are either a family of fucked up psychopaths, a dysfunctional suburban family, or a suburban or bourgeois family made to suffer because the director is an asshole who wants to make a statement. In the world of psycho family flicks, there are the obvious classics-"The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", "The Hills Have Eyes" and "Spider Baby." Directed in 1963 by exploitation legend Jack Hill ("Foxy Brown", "The Big Bird Cage", "The Big Bird House", "Coffy" and "Switchblade Sisters"), "Spider Baby" is an essential 60's horror movie that paved the way for many a great genre picture, and whose influence can still be felt today.

In an old mansion, the final generation of an inbred family-spider obsessed Virginia (Jill Banner), mentally retarded Ralph (Sid Haig) and scheming Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn) are looked out after by the kindly Bruno (Lon Chaney Jr.) Said children have a bit of a problem-they have a condition that causes them to mentally deteriorate-oh, and commit acts of murder and cannibalism. Unfortunately for them, some distant relatives come in to dispose the family of their home. This doesn't sit too well, especially for Virginia, who just can't wait to play "Spider."

Shot in 1963 but not released until 1968 due to financial issues, "Spider Baby" is a classic example of mixing horror and black comedy in a near perfect tone. The film has a gloriously morbid sense of humor about itself, and rarely takes itself too seriously. Everything about the movie, from the opening credits to the twist ending, is a blast to watch, and clearly made for those seeking old school exploitation thrills and something that pays homage to the classics (the mere fact that Lon Chaney Jr. is in this, and that there's a conversation about old Universal horror films says volumes) without being obnoxious. The script by Hill and the score by Ronald Stein helps matter considerably, adding to the fun house atmosphere of it all.

Best of all though, are the performances. Chaney and Washburn steal the show, while Quinn Redeker and Carol Ohmart are shockingly not hate-able as the Aunt and Uncle. In fact, little if any of the movie is hateful at all, especially towards our twisted miscreants. Yeah, they are murderous cannibals, but they are also strangely likable and sympathetic in a way few horror families are. In a small way, "Spider Baby" has the most loving and close knit family in horror history, and makes up for what viewers normally get.

But enough pontificating on themes. "Spider Baby" is just a whole lot of ghoulish fun from start to finish that only the most sour of heart could reject. Just beware, there's a full moon tonight!

Rating: 9/10

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