Spider Baby

spiderbabyposterA 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.

spider_baby_stillIt’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)


Brain Damage

braindamagedvdscanA lamprey symbiont attaches itself to the cerebrospinal fluid of a host, injecting him with psychedelic visions. If THAT premise doesn’t get your juices flowing, you won’t care for the impudent, weirdly compelling little movie, Brain Damage.

The follow up to Basket Case, Frank Henenlotter, on a bigger budget and a bigger, better idea, tops his previous effort. And that’s saying something. Basket Case is an undeniable gem, even if the creature’s obviously operated by hand puppet.

In Brain Damage, “Alymer” is hungry, and has escaped his owners’ seedy Bronx apartment unit and taken up residence at the abode of one Brian (Rick Hearst). The creature, a kind of tubular geoduck/rotten ice-cream cone with teeth, affixes itself to his neck, giving him unbelievable highs.

Under the influence, Brian heads over to the local scrapyard to take in the spectacular drug-induced auras, the night sky and rusty wrecks lit up with his visions. But it’s there, the creature’s lust for human brains takes hold, sucking the cerebrum out of the facility’s hapless security guard.

Brian, it turns out, has made a Faustian pact with Aylmer: in exchange for psychedelic highs, he’s the courier that gets the monster into closer proximity with human victims.

And it’s bad enough the juice is taking its toll. An allegory for heroin withdrawal, Brian gets desensitized to the infusions and his relationships (including that with girlfriend Barbara) suffer for it. But it’s the heavy moral toll of his nightly excursions that’s dragging him down, an accomplice to a creature that while lovable, has an appetite for human flesh.

It’s this appetite that provides Brain Damage with some incredible kills.

In a pharmaceutical fog, Brian steps out into a punk club, suited up like a Wall Street salary man, and meets up with a lady who’s good to go. They step outside, she unbuttons his pants, goes down and Aylmer goes to town in one of the most audacious and disgusting scenes in all of horror.

Gonzo, go-get-’em horror and a near-classic.

***3/4 (out of 5)

[For those who are interested, check out our BRAIN DAMAGE podcast discussion on the Really Awful Movies Podcast]