BADass SINema Unearthed - Blu-ray Review

Spider Baby (1967) - Blu-ray Review

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Spider Baby - Movie Review

5 stars

A classic is reborn!

When it comes to cult films, Spider Baby, written and directed by Jack Hill, might just be the best example of the term’s definition. The film is a low-budget classic that nails its horror and its comedic elements like none other. While Hill – the director of Switchblade Sisters, The Swinging Cheerleaders, and Foxy Brown – remains tightlipped about what inspired this mad tale of onset puberty behavioral regression as three “children” – the products of a long line of incest – dabble with murder and chaos inside a disintegrating house, the influence of this film is what carries its greatest momentum.

Spider Baby is one of the two California gothic film narratives we have. Psycho is the other. Some might cringe that I include these two films in the same sentence. Seeing as how both are effective as nightmarish tales with a splatter of dark humor, I see no harm in it and their connection to the southern gothic story in literature. Both deal with murder. Both involve demented families. Both include a very memorable spookhouse. And, finally, both are directed by influential people at the top of their game.

Starring Lon Chaney Jr. (The Wolf Man) as Bruno, the Merrye Family’s chauffer and self-appointed caretaker, Spider Baby focuses on the disturbing antics of Ralph (Sid Haig), Virginia (Jill Banner) and Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn) as a group of greedy strangers descend upon their rural homestead for an evening. Turns out, the surviving members of the Merrye Family – all suffering from a rare disease that sees them devolving once hitting puberty – aren’t alone in the world.

Their cousin Emily (Carol Ohmart) and her brother Peter (Quinn Redeker) have eyes on their inheritance. Also starring Karl Schanzer and Marry Mitchel, these intruders have no idea what kind of frightful night they are in for as they begin to snoop around and discover what’s really going on with the rest of the family.

With Ralph moving through the house courtesy of a dumb-waiter and being sexually “awakened” by the arrival of his curvaceous cousin, the two girls are on guard and ready for anything. Virginia has a thing for spiders and likes to trap victims in her “web” before finishing them off with her collection of knives. A cat is served as the guest’s dinner and Bruno, given no choice after the ghoulish girls run amuck aboard crazy train, knows exactly what he must do to protect the family line which seems to be at its final destination.

Previous to the plot points mentioned above, Virginia’s already made quick work of their local delivery man (Mantan Moreland, otherwise known as Birmingham Brown in Monogram's Charlie Chan series). This opening scene is a classic one for Moreland (and Hill) as, once upon a time, he had a steady career in Hollywood playing the same type of aloof and very stereotypical black character. His career pretty much was sidelined once Hollywood grew a conscious and stopped proliferating negative stereotypes. In Spider Baby, we see the familiar role in play again and, yet – even if it’s Moreland bulging eyes and shuffle-walk routine – the brief performance is a howling success that more than prepares us for the comedy and horror of Hill’s movie.

Spider Baby may be demented and dark and claustrophobic due to its lovely use of classically crisp black and white cinematography and severe isolation, but all these elements add up and equal its success and ongoing legacy as a gothic feature. It is a rare film in that effectively bridges the horror and the humor of the situation (see the dinner scene for proof) as the outside world passes judgement on the Merrye Family before the real fireworks begin.

During my interview with Haig a couple of years ago, we talked at length about the impact and cyclical resurgence of Spider Baby’s popularity. “Every decade”, I remember him saying, “the film comes back.” It is a film that refuses to die and, besides White Zombie, remains one of my all-time favorite films, regardless of genres. Arrow Video, one of the most energetic and cutting edge labels in distribution, handles this release with great care and more than makes up for its absence on blu-ray with this quality release.

Arrow Video invites you to get caught in the delicious web of Spider Baby and see for yourself why it remains The Maddest Story Ever Told.

Spider Baby - Movie Review

MPAA Rating: Unrated
Runtime:
81 mins
Director
: Jack Hill
Writer:
Jack Hill
Cast:
Lon Chaney Jr., Carol Ohmart, Quinn K. Redeker
Genre
: Horror | Comedy
Tagline:
Savage hunger of a BLACK WIDOW.
Memorable Movie Quote: "This has gone well beyond the boundaries of prudence and good taste."
Distributor:
American general Pictures
Official Site:
Release Date:
December 24, 1967
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
June 9, 2015
Synopsis: A caretaker devotes himself to three demented adults after their father's death.

Spider Baby - Movie Review

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - June 9, 2015
Screen Formats: 1.67:1
Subtitles
: English SDH
Audio:
English: LPCM 2.0
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (1 BD, 1 DVD); DVD copy
Region Encoding: A, B

The 1080p transfer has been approved by director Jack Hill and, along with some bits from his vaulted 35mm director’s cut, uses the original camera negative. The results are poetry. This film has never had black levels this solid. Neither have the grays popped like this. Restoration services have added depth and dimensions to the new print which add to its value. The original 2.0 Mono Audio (Uncompressed PCM) is also included. This is sound and vision at its remastered finest. English SDH subtitles for deaf and hearing impaired are also offered.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • None

Special Features:

Opening with a panel discussion from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences FILM-TO-FILM Festival, recorded in September of 2012, featuring Jack Hill and stars Quinn K. Redeker and Beverly Washburn, the blu-ray release offers a lot of bonus material. Interviews with Jack Hill, Sid Haig, star Mary Mitchel, fan Joe Dante and more create the extended look at the making of the film. 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 in another featurette. Jack Hill revisits the original house that was used as the main location in the film for another one. Also included are an alternate opening title sequence, an extended scene, behind-the-scenes images, Jack Hill’s early short film featuring Sid Haig in his first starring role. A reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys, and a Collector’s booklet, illustrated with original stills and artwork.

  • Cast & Crew Panel Discussion (34 min)
  • The Hatching of Spider Baby (32 min)
  • Spider Stravinsky: The Cinema Sounds of Ronald Stein (20 min)
  • The Merrye House Revisited (11 min)
  • Alternate Opening Title Sequence (2 min)
  • Extended Scene (4 min)
  • Original Trailer
  • Gallery
  • The Host (30 min)

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