SPIDER BABY is a disturbing, funny, and wholly unique horror film that remained hidden in virtual obscurity until it made its way onto home video. The film opens with a man reading aloud from a psychology textbook. He informs the audience about Merrye's Syndrome, an extremely rare disease
that causes its adult victims to regress mentally to a preinfantile state--"a rotting of the brain, so to speak," as Chaney, Jr., later explains--causing violent behavior and cannibalism. In a watery flashback, we meet the principal victims of Merrye's Syndrome, the three children of the late
Titus W. Merrye. The three (two girls and one boy) live in a remote mansion and are cared for by their chauffeur, Chaney. The first fright occurs when messenger Moreland attempts to deliver a telegram and has his neck caught in a window frame. Banner darts into the room carrying two sharp knives
with a small net strung between them. Pretending she's a spider, she runs up to the "big, fat bug" and catches him in her "web," then proceeds to "sting" him and viciously cut the messenger to pieces. She is caught and reprimanded by both her sister, Washburn, and Chaney, who arrives in the family
car with their brother, Haig, in the back seat. Shortly thereafter, the plot proper kicks in and we learn that the children have two distant cousins who plan to steal their inheritance, including the mansion. This, of course, leads to much trouble. Filmed in 1964 but unreleased until 1968, SPIDER
BABY was written and directed by Jack Hill, the man behind the wretched series of Mexican films Boris Karloff made just before his death. A genuine oddity, the film is exceedingly well shot by cinematographer Alfred Taylor and has a creepy PSYCHO-like feel about it as well as some nightmarish
surrealism. Better yet are the performances. While some have regarded Chaney's appearance here as degrading (he even sings the bizarre theme song), his genuinely touching performance is easily one of the best he gave toward the end of his career. It is nowhere near as embarrassing as his role in
the execrable DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN. Also remarkable is Banner as the "spider baby" Virginia, who combines a little-girlish innocence with a budding sexuality and puts a disturbingly homicidal spin on it. Mere words cannot properly convey the uniqueness of this film, which should be sought out
and seen by all with an interest in the genre.
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