Cult black and white horror Spider Baby is also known by another name, The Maddest Story Ever Told and surprisingly this alternate title is aptly fitting not only due to the deranged plot of then movie but also the surprising story behind how it was made and released.
Written and directed by Jack Hill, better known as the creator of Blaxplotation classics Foxy Brown and Coffy, Spider Baby was Hill’s first solo foray into feature films. Shot on an ultra-low budget in only 7 days in 1964 and edited by Hill the film met with massive criticism after an initial screening and the producers demanded a complete re-edit of his work removing massive parts of the movie.
Many years latter during the Home Video boom Hill found out Spider Baby had been pirated and was available across America in video stores. Transferred from the 16mm print the VHS was not only illegal but terrible quality and Hill decided to track down the original negatives and regain ownership of his debut film.
Flash forward 49 years and Arrow have fully restored the film in high definition to Hill’s original version making it available to the masses on Blu-ray for the first time anywhere in the world.
Opening with crazy cartoon titles and a rock and roll theme tune that should be on everyone’s Halloween playlist the maddest story ever told revolves around a kooky family of freaks all suffering from Merrye Syndrome a genetic affliction specific to their family which results in them mentally, socially, and physically regress down the evolutionary ladder, starting in late childhood all due to excessive inbreeding.
Living in a spooky mansion in the middle of nowhere the family which includes sisters Virginia (Jill Banner) and Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn) and their brother Ralph (exploitation star and Rob Zombie’s favorite actor in his first ever role Sid Haig) are all cared for and kept barely under control by their chauffer, the tender and loving Bruno played by the Wolf Man himself Lon Chaney Jr.
Unfortunately for all involved the order and balance of the Merrye family is thrown out of control when their cousins arrive with a lawyer determined to take over the house believing themselves the rightful heirs.
Desperately trying to keep the children behaving while hiding the dark secrets hidden around the house, including a couple of cannibal relatives in the basement, it’s not long till Bruno is out of his depth and the kids take over determined to stop the unwelcome intruders in any way necessary including murder.
Part weird and decidedly nasty exploitation movie, part black comedy horror parody Spider Baby is as engaging as it is entertaining keeping the audience trapped in a its web of wicked characters and warped fun.
Although the subject matter and the portrayal of the families damaged mental health may be a little un-politically correct the cast are great with the teenage sisters who act like young girls switching between sickly sweet to scarily psychotic in seconds especially evident whenever Virginia plays her game of spider brandishing two massive kitchen knives as her fangs.
Haig’s physicalisation is also spot on as the hulking man baby but the best performance comes from Lon Chaney Jr. who acts as the unexpected emotional heart and soul of this crazy cannibalistic caper.
Coming on a disc as packed with extras as the Merrye house is packed with bodies Arrow’s release includes audio commentary featuring Jack Hill and Sid Haig, interviews with the cast and crew as well as fan Joe Dante, trailers, extended scenes a 30 minute short and much much more on the making of the film all looking as wonderful as the movie itself in its High Definition transfer supervised and approved by Hill himself.
A crazy cult movie with lots of lunacy going for it thank the gods of horror that Jack Hill’s Spider Baby survived the trials and tribulations of its birth to finally emerge fully formed and frighteningly fun for us all to enjoy all these years latter just the way it was meant to be.