A cheeky exploration of in/out-group dynamics, Spider Baby takes us into the decrepit Los Angeles estate of the Merrye family descendants, sterile genetic defectives suffering from a condition that makes them revert to atavistic, cannibal behavior.
This includes offing the poor local postie, slicing him to bits after trapping him in a web, but not before he’s made his final delivery: a legal disposition regarding a deed to the house.
It appears some distant relatives, siblings Emily and Peter, have designs on the Merrye estate and their sleazy lawyer, Schlocker, is trying to snare it for them, before they’re all ensnared.
And the legal case against their cousins, the home’s occupants, appears simple: they’re gown-clad stab-happy simpletons Elizabeth and Victoria, home-schooled teens with under-developed social skills who should be Wards of the State. They’re the girls the poster refers to who combine the “seductive innocence of Lolita” with the “savage hunger of a Black Widow.” Then there’s the bald mute pervert of a manservant (the wonderful Sid Haig), who travels about the house via dumbwaiter. And they’re all under the care of a mild-mannered chauffeur, Bruno, the incomparable Lon Chaney Jr.
Emily and Peter, their lawyer, and his assistant, are welcomed into the family home, a creepy creaky taxidermy abode, that has some of them looking for other accommodations.
It’s a terrific setup, from the haunted house thunder narration of cousin Peter, to the wonderful introduction of Chaney driving a lumbering dark Duesenberg.
Talky, shadowy and effortlessly charming, Spider Baby also happens to feature one of the better dining scenes in all horror, save for perhaps Dead Alive or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre — but pretty great nonetheless — showcasing the family’s…how shall we put it? Unorthodox eating habits…
But ultimately, the film, shot in 1964, also showcases the versatility of writer/director Jack Hill, who’s also given us Death Ship, as well as some women-in-prison/blaxploitation 70s stalwarts like Coffy and The Big Doll House. The Hill/Sid Haig commentary is highly recommended.
***1/2 (out of 5)
[CHECK OUT OUR DISCUSSION OF SPIDER BABY ON THE REALLY AWFUL MOVIES PODCAST]