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  Spider Baby The Family That Preys Together Stays Together
Year: 1964
Director: Jack Hill
Stars: Lon Chaney Jr, Carol Ohmart, Quinn K. Redeker, Beverly Washburn, Jill Banner, Sid Haig, Mary Mitchel, Karl Schanzer, Mantan Moreland
Genre: Horror, Comedy, Trash, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: The estranged relatives of the Merrye family send a messenger to deliver a letter to them. This is bad news for the messenger, because the Merrye family are a strange bunch: victims of a hereditary, wasting condition that sees them retarded in their mental faculties as they grow older, eventually reducing them to the level of... cannibals!

Director Jack Hill wrote this Gothic, gruesome and grotesque tale detailing the awkwardness of visiting one's distant relatives. In many ways Spider Baby is the precursor of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre, with its homicidal family living in a large, rundown house in the countryside and having the unfortunate tendency to chase after people with the intention of eating them.

That house is like a character itself, with its rickety furniture, cobwebs, stuffed birds and paintings hanging squint on the walls. There's also a handy dumb waiter to transport bodies, both living and dead. The cellar, as the lawyer realises upon investigating the place, houses the oldest and most depraved of the family members.

On the floors above, the younger members are two creepy, childlike sisters and Ralph, a grown man on the mental level of a dangerous baby, played with great conviction by Sid Haig. They are looked after by chauffeur Bruno (Lon Chaney Jr), who takes responsibility for them with compassion and much furrowing of his brow.

They're all vegetarians - just in case the taste of meat might set them off on a killing spree. The centrepiece of the drama is the dinner, where the guests are treated to some deeply unappetising food such as wild mushroom stew, salad that looks like it's been growing by the roadside and what is supposed to be a rabbit. They wisely don't partake of the insect-based dish.

The film stays on the side of the cannibals throughout, with the visitors apparently deserving all they get because they simply want the Merrye's money. It reveals its horrors gradually, making for a slow and creaky experience - there's really not enough story here for a full length feature. But the weirdness is worth being patient with, for moments such as when the secretary mentions she likes wolfman movies, only for Chaney to ominously tell her it's a full moon tonight... Lon also "sings" the theme song. Music by Ronald Stein.

The End?
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Jack Hill  (1933 - )

American writer and director, an expert at exploitation movies. He worked for Roger Corman (Hill was one of the directors of The Terror) before making his own films, beginning with Spider Baby. Come the seventies, he tried "women in prison" (The Big Doll House, The Big Bird Cage), blaxploitation (Coffy, Foxy Brown) and others (The Swinging Cheerleaders, Switchblade Sisters), but unfortunately his credits petered out in the eighties. He also "discovered" cult favourites Pam Grier and Sid Haig.

 
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