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SPIDER BABY (SPIDER BABY OR, THE MADDEST STORY EVER TOLD)(director/writer: Jack Hill; cinematographer: Alfred Taylor; editor: Jack Hill; music: Ronald Stein; cast: Lon Chaney Jr. (Bruno), Jill Banner (Virginia Merrye), Quinn Redeker (Peter Howe), Beverly Washburn (Elizabeth Merrye), Sid Haig (Ralph Merrye), Carol Ohmart (Emily Howe), Karl Schanzer (Schlocker), Mary Mitchell (Ann Morris), Mantan Moreland (Delivery Man); Runtime: 81; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Gil Lasky/Paul Monka; Image Entertainment; 1968)
“If you like trashy horror films, you should be thrilled with this special treat.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Exploitation writer-director Jack Hill (“Coffy”/”Foxy Brown”/”The Swinging Cheerleaders”) made his solo directorial debut with this deranged cult schocker, breaking away from Roger Corman. If you like trashy horror films, you should be thrilled with this special treat.

The three twentysomething aged surviving children of Titus W. Merrye–the increasingly deranged Virginia (Jill Banner), the deformed dog-like Ralphie (Sid Haig), and the moody proper speaking Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn)–are the last of the family’s line and all have the minds of children; they suffer from a rare neurological condition known as Merrye’s Syndrome causing adults to mentally regress to a primitive state; the disease caused by in-breeding, starts kicking in at the age of ten with the signs being rapid mood swings ranging between violence and infantile behavior. Raised on eating bugs, the children live in an isolated dilapidated mansion under the care of the family’s kindly but slightly off oafish chauffeur Bruno (Lon Chaney Jr., the alcoholic reportedly stayed on the wagon for this film because he believed in the script). Bruno solemnly promised their father he would never leave them and will always love them, and whose major disciplinary action is to remind his charges when they are naughty “It isn’t nice to hate!”.

A messenger (Mantan Moreland) entering their mansion is viewed as a bug by Virginia, who likes to play ‘spider’ where she catches people in a “web” (a large net) and kills them with a knife. When Bruno returns from his duties, he chides Elizabeth for not watching her more violent sister more carefully and he then disposes of the messenger’s body. The letter the messenger brought tells of the lawyer Schlocker (Karl Schanzer) coming to visit with two distant cousins, Peter Howe (Quinn Redeker) and Emily Howe (Carol Ohmart), who will become guardians to the children and inherit the estate. Also along, is Schlocker’s pretty secretary Miss Ann Morris (Mary Mitchell). When they decide to sleep over, the adults become prey to the game-playing children who are afraid they will be placed in a mental institution by their greedy relatives with the help of the officious lawyer sporting a Hitler mustache and always smoking a cigar.

It was shot in 1964, but sat on the shelf until 1968 because the producers went bankrupt; it was briefly released on the drive-in circuit. In the early 1980s it came out on home video and caught the attention of some critics, who promoted it as a minor classic in strangeness and dreck. They are right about one thing, there’s definitely an audience out there for such bizarre homicidal-family comedies that goes easy on graphic gore.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”