Saturday, February 14, 2009

This has gone well beyond the boundaries of prudence and good taste!

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d make an announcement:

I’m in love.

It’s sudden, I know. Foolish, perhaps? But ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce the current fire in my lady loins:

Jack Hill's Spider Baby or The Maddest Story Ever Told (1968)

How is it possible that I survived 27 years without seeing this movie?

Somewhere in the boonies of California, the immensely huggable Lon Chaney Jr. plays Bruno, the sad faced, deep voiced caretaker to the, um, unusual Merrye children: Elizabeth, a short and sassy tattletale, the homicidal arachnoholic Virginia, and Ralphie, the canine man-child played by a young, skinny, and gloriously bald Sid Haig.

Life is merry in the gothic Merrye mansion; spiders are fed (and occasionally eaten), kittens are caught, and everyone has fun fooling around the dumbwaiter. Much like the colder, bloodier (and usually less funny) descendants of hillbilly horror, Spider Baby’s plot gets rolling with the intrusion of city folk to remind us that the Merryes are different. Isolation isn’t the problem; genetics is. Apparently the family is cursed with a disease that leads all the children who have reached the age of ten to slowly (or quickly, if they follow the Atkins diet) descend into a state of “pre-human savagery and cannibalism.” If Benjamin Button is anything like this, I’m changing my bet and saying it’s guaranteed the Best Picture win.

The invading urbanites include a Hitleresque lawyer named Schlocker and the uptight distant Merrye cousin Emily (you know she’s in for it because she has a tight bun and faux British accent), plus two nicer bland pretty people, all of whom are seeking a large inheritance from their savage kin. The children don’t take very kindly towards strangers (well, except Ralphie, who’s got a hard--I mean soft spot for the ladies). The inevitable dinner party and sleepover follow, gleefully complete with creeping tarantulas, incestuous seduction, Ms. Pacman style bows, Wolfman references, and, needless to say, loads of full-flavored fun.

High Points
The opening theme song makes me want to dip Chaney’s vocal cords in dark chocolate and eat them slowly. Not in a cannibalistic way or anything.

In his formalwear, Ralphie resembles Monty Burns whenever we see the tycoon as a child clad in knickers and Yankee Doodle Dandy hats

Elizabeth and Virginia, despite little physical resemblance between the actresses, are wonderfully believable as young sisters

Low Points
Drunk driving never looked so easy

Lessons Learned
Twine is really strong if tied correctly

Hearing “Aunt Emily!” shouted by knife wielding nieces makes me thankful that my little ladies refer to me exclusively as Auntie Em.

Uptight rich city blondes pack sexy lingerie when staying at long-lost relatives’ homes

Stray Observation
Anne, the Marilyn Munster of the party, is quite the lush (note the final scene)

Winning Line:
Elizabeth: Spiders don't eat other spiders.
Virginia: Cannibal spiders do.
I chose this one mainly because it reminds me of the sea monkeys I grew in college. When I ran out of their powdery nourishment, I tossed in a few bits of dry cat food. Within a day, the little tank was clouded and the sea monkeys were no more. A friend pointed out the error of my way: cat food is made of fish. Hence, I had unknowingly transformed my baby brine into cannibals. I’ve since developed two theories regarding the cause of this massacre: 1) they developed a taste for fish flesh and ended up eating each other to death or 2) upon devouring their ancestors, my little swimmers committed mass suicide out of shame and horror.

Buy and cuddle with. This is horror comedy the way it should be done. Unique and pitch-perfect performances around the board, disturbing images that tickle like a spider’s spindly legs, and cheerfully self-aware dialogue to make you giggle. If this film doesn’t make you smile, your heat is made of stone that needs to be ground and served on a platter with rabbit and fungus. Nothing personal. It just is.

Right girls?


  1. Thank you for your kind comments. May you have many readers of your blog.
    ==Jack Hill

  2. I don't have enough kind words for this wonderful film. Thanks for stopping by!