Exploitation titan Jack Hill, who went on to make such cult favorites as Switchblade Sisters, The Swinging Cheerleaders, and Foxy Brown, made his solo directorial debut with this fascinating, offbeat shocker. The three surviving children of Titus W. Merrye, who represent the end of his family's line, live in a dilapidated mansion where patient servant Bruno (Lon Chaney, Jr.) watches over the increasingly eccentric Virginia (Jill Banner), Ralph (Sid Haig), and Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn). All three Merrye siblings suffer from the same rare disease that felled their father and the other members of his family -- "Merrye Syndrome," a neurological ailment that begins to manifest itself at the age of ten, causing the brain to slowly decay and sending its victims into an alternately violent and infantile state. Bald, inarticulate Ralph is supposed to be a vegetarian, but "can eat anything he can catch," while Virginia, who seems to be in a perpetual dream state, imagines herself as a human spider and catches people in her "web" (a large net) and then kills them. While it might seem best to let nature to take its course and allow the family's sad legacy to die out, the Merrye siblings have two distant cousins, Emily Howe (Carol Ohmart) and Peter Howe (Quinn K. Redeker), who are interested in laying claim to the family mansion and any money remaining in the Merrye Estate. But not long after they pay a visit to Bruno, they start to have serious regrets about their decision to see the family. Shot in 1964, Spider Baby sat on the shelf until 1968, when it was briefly released as the second half of a horror double-bill on the drive-in circuit. But after it appeared on home video in the early '80s and was the subject of an enthusiastic essay in the book RE/Search: Incredibly Strange Films , the film began to develop a potent cult following and is now regarded as a minor classic of '60s horror. The film has also appeared under the misleading titles Cannibal Orgy and The Liver Eaters, as well as Spider Baby, or the Maddest Story Ever Told.
Genre: Horror, Classics, Comedy
Directed By: Jack Hill
Written By: Jack Hill
In Theaters: Jan 1, 1968 Wide
On DVD: Sep 14, 1999
Runtime: 1 hr. 26 min.
I first stumbled on this movie via some clips on the "Switchblade Sisters" laserdisc and immediately put it on my "wanna-have"-list. And I sure wasn't disappointed when I watched the complete film (no two weeks later).
Jack Hill creates a weird story circling about the strange Meryee family which suffers from some strange disease, causing their members to degenerate into primitive pre-human lifeforms (or something like that), or as Lon Chaney puts it out "rotting of the brain". Chaney himself, of course, is - in a fine performance - the loyal caretaker who suddenly has to deal with the fact that some relatives are trying to get their hands on the family estate (and heritage).
Besides great cinematography (under the given budget) and the genuine storyline one has to admire the characters, making the viewer think of something like "Addams Family" on Crack.
Classic stuff, with some bits which really are memorable (e.g. Chaney's groan "It's going to be full moon tonight" when the nerd hero and his love interest are discussing horror films in general and "The Wolfman" in special). And, last but not least, there's always Sid Haig...
Rent it, buy it, see it, believe it.