Spider Baby (or The Maddest Story Ever Told) (1968) BluRay Review
Dir Jack Hill
Starring Lon Chaney Jr, Jill Banner, Carol Ohmart, Quinn Redeker, Beverly Washburn, Sid Haig, Mary Mitchel, Karl Schanzer, Mantan Moreland.
UK Bluray Release 24th June 2013 from Arrow Video
As soon as you see and especially hear the opening credits of Spider Baby you realise this is something special. It looks and feels like the start of a 1960’s US sitcom but when you hear Lon Chaney Jr singing lines like – “Sit around the fire with the cup of brew, A fiend and a werewolf on each side of you, This cannibal orgy is strange to behold, And the maddest story ever told”.
Then the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.
Spider Baby tells the tale of the three Merrye children , they live in the family home (an imposing Gothic house) and are looked after by their late Father’s chauffeur Bruno (Lon Chaney Jr , The Wolf Man). The children have a inherited genetic disease/curse that when they reach the age of 10 they start to regress mentally as they develop.
Bruno receives a letter (courtesy of the unfortunate postman played by Mantan Moreland) telling him that the children’s Aunt and Uncle will be arriving to view the estate and take custody of the children. So Aunt Emily (Carol Ohmart – House on Haunted Hill) and Uncle Peter (Quinn Redeker – Starsky & Hutch, Six Million Dollar Man) turn up with their solictor Mr Schlocker (Karl Schanzer – Dementia 13, Bloodbath) and his sexy secretary Ann (Mary Mitchel – Dementia 13) and poor Bruno attempts to portray the children and the house itself as a perfectly normal and happy enviroment.
The children are in their late teens and early 20’s , there is the odd and dominant Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn – an american child actress from the age of four) , the youngest Virginia (Jill Banner – who tragically died aged just 32) who is the titular Spider Baby, she is aggressive, psychotic and sexually awakening .Virginia will throw a handmade web and play spider by stinging her pray with a knife in each hand . And finally Ralph (Sid Haig – House of a 1000 Corpses , Devils Rejects) who is the eldest and far more regressed, he hides in the dumb waiter, his speech is now all but gone and he has a fondness to hunt and eat cats that enter the gardens.
As the four guests settle in the house for the evening and have a well cooked meal , Bruno starts to realise that he is starting to lose his grip on the family and the promise he made to the children’s late father to always look after them and keep them safe in the house.
Spider Baby is a wonderful look into family values and society in general in the early 1960’s. Jack Hill does wonders here on very little budget and the cinematography is fantastic. Lon Chaney Jr is absolutely immense , while he is on screen you just can’t take your eyes off him he just hold the audience in the palm of his knarly old hand. Also Jill Banner is stunning as the Spider Baby herself Virginia , she lights up the screen with her presence and look of innocence, while having an air of malevolence continually throughout the film.
Spider Baby is a fantastic cult classic, it is fun, heart-warming yet insane and violent. A wonderful combination with great OTT acting and a wonderful story – 8/10 .
The BluRay Disc
The BluRay transfer is superb , the majority of the film is crisp and clear with only a couple of noticeable drops in quality towards the end . A beautiful looking film , that shot in black and white looks even better for it now.
Arrow are renowned for their BluRay releases and here is a summary of the extras on Spider Baby.
Spider Baby with Audio Commentary
Commentary from writer/director Jack Hill and star Sid Haig. Not a lot to say about this other than watch it.
The Hatching of Spider Baby – The making of the Maddest Story Ever Told
This is a wonderful 30 minute documentary and a great insight into how the film was made, how everyone got involved and got the parts.
Featuring Jack Hill , Sid Haig, Karl Schanzer, Quinn Redeker, Mary Mitchel and fan Joe Dante talk about the making of Spider Baby and also about Lon Chaney Jr on set.
It also tells the story of how Spider Baby’s release was delayed by almost 5 years due to the property crash in Los Angeles causing the production company to file for bankruptcy.
This also has some beautiful stills and photos.
Spider Stravinsky – The Cinema Sounds of Ronald Stein
Ted Newsom (Filmmaker and Ronald Stein historian) and Ronald’s widow Harlene look at the life and works of Spider Baby composer Ronald Stein. It also looks at his work for AIP and for director Roger Corman.
Ronald Stein was responsible for the scores on other films including The Terror, Dementia 13, Attack of the 50ft Woman, The Underwater City and many more.
The Merrye House Re-visited
In October 2006 Spider baby writer and director Jack Hill and filmmaker Elijah Drenner returned to the Highland Park area of Los Angeles to visit the old gothic house from Spider Baby which still stands today.
A look around the exterior of the house where some scenes were shot, and it is amazing to see that the house actually stands on a normal suburban street in LA.
Alternative Opening Title Sequence
This shows the opening title sequence with the films original title of Cannibal Orgy .
An extended scene of when Bruno is driving Schlocker and Ann to the house , their arrival and subsequent first meeting with the children.
You can also see here the difference in the quality from the original and bluray copies.
Cast and Crew Panel Discussion
This is from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s Film to Film festival in September 2012.
Featuring a panel discussion with Jack Hill, Quinn K. Redeker and Beverly Washburn.
They discuss Lon Chaney Jr and reminisce of their time shooting Spider Baby.
Jack Hill’s 1960 30 minute short film and also Sid Haig’s debut. This was shot while Jack Hill was still a student.
Also original trailer and gallery of behind the scenes images from Spider Baby
All this comes with a reversible sleeve featuring original and new artwork and a collectors booklet.
As usual Arrow Video have outdone what I expected. Spider Baby is a lovely film but Arrow have made it unmissable here. The film now looks amazing , the artwork and booklet are beautiful and the extras are fantastic.
This is an absolute MUST for any horror fan, and one must applaud Arrow for their continual wonderful releases and great attention to detail.
9/10 for the BluRay Arrow release .
You can order Spider Baby HERE from Arrow’s site .