If I had to pick a cult film that I’d take with me on a deserted island, it’d either be “Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!”, or Jack Hill’s “Spider-Baby.” It’d probably be the latter if I was pressed. I fondly remember being introduced to “Spider-Baby” as a child, when I used to sit down to watch “Horrible Horror” with Zacharly. I always found the scene of Jill Banner slicing and dicing poor Mantan Moreland to be one of the sickest bits of horror cinema I’d ever witnessed. Years later, I was happy to watch the film in its entirety, and thankfully Jack Hill’s dark horror comedy hasn’t aged a single bit.
Also known as “The Maddest Story Ever Told,” Lon Chaney Jr. plays loyal butler and caretaker Bruno. He looks over the once wealthy and now reclusive Merrye family. Their remaining heirs, a trio of adults with childish personas, are mentally degenerating thanks to decades of family inbreeding. What’s worse is the kids have the potential to become cannibals if Bruno isn’t careful. When distant relatives arrive at the mansion to talk Bruno in to handing over the property, the Merrye sibling trio makes it very difficult for them. Like most films of this ilk, “Spider Baby” is a surreal and often outrageous horror comedy that relies on heavily suggestive material to convey the more heinous chaos that promises to ensue. We know the Merrye kids are only a step away from becoming vicious cannibals, and Bruno has to chase after them to ensure they don’t get their first taste of blood.
Meanwhile, they wile their days away by trapping small animals, and murdering passersby for the purpose of their twisted little games, and Bruno can barely manage to keep up, despite his love for the siblings. There’s also the hinted incest that’s occurred within the walls of the mansion that’s displayed when Banner’s character Virginia attempts to seduce her cousin when she snares him in a trap. The cast is pitch perfect with Lon Chaney expressing a sheer sense of torment in his sacrifice for the family, while Sid Haig is great as older brother Ralph. There’s also the other worldly beauty of Jill Banner, whose game of “spider” ensures a rising body count. “Spider Baby” is a surefire classic genre mash up that time almost consumed in to obscurity, and it’s another of Jack Hill’s many classic films that I can watch over and over. It’s a twisted, haunting, and fun romp in to the maddest story ever told.
The Blu-Ray from Arrow is nothing short of spectacular, dwarfing the previous release from Dark Sky. There’s the original trailer, a gallery of stills from the film, and 1960’s “The Host,” a short student film directed by Jack Hill, starring Sid Haig. The film is his cinematic debut. In the Cast and Crew Panel Discussion, director Hill and actors Quinn Redeker and Beverly Washburn discuss Spider Baby after a screening of the film during the Academy Film Archive Film-to-Film festival. There’s a four minute extended scene, and an alternate two minute opening title sequence. The Merrye House Revisited is carried over from a previous release in which Hill and filmmaker Elijah Drenner visit the surviving Victorian Merrye house that stands in Highland Park.
Spider Stravinsky: The Cinema Sounds of Ronald Stein, is an eleven minute featurette about the history of the composer, and his history with Roger Corman. The Hatching of Spider Baby is a series of interviews with director Joe Dante, Jack Hill, the film’s director of photography Alfred Taylor, and the surviving cast of the film, to name a few. Finally, there’s an audio commentary with director Jack Hill and actor Sid Haig; it’s basically the same commentary from the 2007 Dark Sky Films DVD release that’s been ported over. For collector’s there’s a reversible sleeve with amazing art by Graham Humphreys, and a thick booklet with stills, and writing on the film by artist and writer Stephen R. Bissette, as well as an article re-printed from FilmFax: The Magazine of Unusual Film and Television. It features interviews with the cast and crew.