Spider baby or, the maddest story ever told

February 28th, 2009 by Vomitron

Spider baby or, the maddest story ever told   spiderbaby dvd 84x120 reviews horror comedy Director: Jack Hill
Writer: Jack Hill
Release Year: 1968   

Caught in the web of… inbred teenage girls!

Spider baby or, the maddest story ever told   offscreen 2008 mini logo reviews horror comedy Seeing Spider Baby on the big screen is a quite unique experience, since there aren’t that much 35-mm copies in good condition left of this movie. For the Offscreen Festival screening last year (2008), Jack Hill provided a print out of his private collection, for which we thank him heartily. Spider Baby is a black & white sixties treasure filled with demented humor and grotesque terror, dealing with rather bizarre family values.


Spider baby or, the maddest story ever told   spider baby  1968  300x181 reviews horror comedy

Spider baby or, the maddest story ever told   spider baby 01 300x168 reviews horror comedy

Aren't we adorable?

Elisabeth and Virginia are orphans living together with their caretaker (Lon Chaney Jr. as Bruno) and the retard Ralph (Sid Haig) in a remote mansion. The two young sisters suffer from a serious (fictional) condition caused by generations of inbred – or what did you expect? The condition, called ‘The Merrye Syndrome’, boils down to a regression of their mental abilities, but in actuality they’re just cunning, vicious little demons. Soon-to-be-victims of their devious tricks and games, will be the distant relatives, who suddenly appear at the doorsteps, out for the inheritance.


Unlike many other movies from this era, we don’t have to wait very long for some deaths to occur. As early as the opening-scene we see Virginia murdering a poor, unsuspecting postman. This first kill pretty much comes out of left field, leaving the viewer baffled, especially because of the way Jack Hill crafted the scene: A weird, almost comical touch is added to this horrific murder-sequence. The following scene provides a clever counterweight and balances things out a bit more, as Lon Chaney Jr. understandingly but firmly makes clear to the girls that such a behaviour is not very good. Instantly, the mood is set and director Hill presents us a scenario where black comedy and absurd violence are served in an equal amount of healthy doses.

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Hi mister postman!

Since Spider Baby is, in retrospect, a somewhat obscure and independent debut, it’s especially noteworthy that the end-result is a very stylish looking film. When you look at how the movie was put together and how certain scenes inside the house were staged, it becomes clear that Jack Hill must have learned a lot from producer/director Roger Corman‘s earlier gothic horror films (based on Edgar Allan Poe stories). There are some similarities in style, but other than those, the uniqueness and originality that shine through all must be credited to Mr. Hill himself.


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Lon Chaney Jr. & Sid Haig enjoying the catering

At the time Lon Chaney Jr. was all too happy to take the part as Bruno because it meant he finally had the chance to play in a comedy. He also did the vocals on the title song (which you can listen to below). Although Chaney isn’t exactly singing his way through the song, his vocal performance and the lyrics are exquisite. At one point in the movie, Jack Hill even made him satirize his role as the titular character of the 1941 film The Wolf Man. Both Beverly Washburn and Jill Banner (as Elizabeth & Virginia) are a joy to behold in their roles as the teen-sisters from hell. So innocent-looking, yet so demented. And it’s probably Sid Haig who provides the weirdest and most comical character of the movie, as the unpredictable Ralph. Humour indeed is present in different ways throughout the film. But despite all this, Spider Baby succeeds in building up to a terrifying climax (though admittedly, slightly over the top), which even reminded me of Wes Craven‘s People under the Stairs (though that’s probably just me). And when all is said and done, an amusing epilogue-scene provides the icing on an already delicious cake.


It remains to be seen if Spider Baby is indeed ‘the maddest story ever told’, but it undoubtedly still is a very daring filmdebut from 1968, far ahead of its time. I even consider it to be the Dr. Strangelove of exploitation. Though, again, that might be just me.

Watch the movie in full right here on Cult Reviews.

Rating: Spider baby or, the maddest story ever told   star reviews horror comedy Spider baby or, the maddest story ever told   star reviews horror comedy Spider baby or, the maddest story ever told   star reviews horror comedy Spider baby or, the maddest story ever told   star reviews horror comedy Spider baby or, the maddest story ever told   halfstar reviews horror comedy

Click play to listen to the title song

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Click play to learn more about The Merrye Syndrome

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The postman is toast:

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