Sunday, April 11, 2010

Why I Love: Spider Baby

I was happier than Rob Zombie at a truck stop when Final Girl ’s Stacie Ponder announced Spider Baby, or The Maddest Story Ever Told as this month’s Film Club pickaroo. To quote my original review (read here) back on Valentine's Day of aught 9:

“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.”
I stand by that statement with even more conviction one year later, especially as I’ve since seen Jack Hill’s quirkily brutal 1968 black comedy about four more times. I adore it because gosh darnit, it’s one of the most lovable genre films I know. My original review spouts oodles of admiration, and I’d like to build upon that here with a new installment I hope to eventually Page Widgetize called, plain and simple, Why I Love (a movie I've seen many times).

5 Reasons:

1. Lon Chaney Jr.

With a rich baritone and unfolded map of a face, Chaney’s presence is such a solid base of kind warmth. Nearing the end of his career (and life), the once famed Wolfman turns in an earnest performance that somehow reminds me of why I’ve always wanted to hug the Cowardly Lion.

2. Family Love

Sure, Virginia, Ralphie, and Elizabeth aren’t the clan you’d like to be waiting on at your Denny’s waitressing gig, but the Merryes are undeniably a loving a family through and through. Chaney’s Bruno is the guiding force, a man who has devoted his life to providing the best possible conditions for three monstrous children to spend a few years. The sisters’ devotion to Ralphie is plain adorable. Heck, even the family pets are treated with kindness and gentility (so what if they happen to be fuzzy man-eating tarantulas). 

3. Quirkiness of the ‘Normal’ Characters

It’s easy to write off Quinn Redeker and Mary Mitchel as token Marilyn Munster tropes. Clean cut and attractive, both “Uncle” Peter and Ann seem to fade behind the outright wackiness of Sid Haig’s slobbering Ralphie and Jill Banner’s naughty Virginia, but pay close attention to just how much fun both actors have with their smaller roles. Redeker’s blissful sunniness makes him the truest innocent--a feat in itself amid madness, cannibalism, and near incest. Mitchel’s Ann is rather adorable, especially when she’s imitating Universal monsters or, as most the film, absolutely drunk. 

4. Music

How the opening theme song--sung by a sly Lon Chaney Jr. himself--never made it on a  juke box beside Monster Mash is beyond me. It’s an adorably macabre, cleverly worded ditty worthy of annual Halloween replays, daily ringtones, and wedding processionals. Likewise the film’s musical score--something I never really listened for the first two viewings--is equally playful and bombastically fun.

5. Sisterly Bonds

As Virginia and Elizabeth, and Jill Banner and Beverly Washburn are simply perfect. They bicker. They tattle. They pout. Occasionally, they drop their competitive snickering in order to protect big/little brother Ralphie or sweeten themselves up to dear old Bruno. In other words, they’re sisters, for better and worse. Although the raven haired Banner and petite blond Washburn share no physical resemblance, we never doubt for one instant that Virginia and Elizabeth share the most dramatically binding of all family bonds.
            There you have it. If you still haven’t seen Spider Baby, I will be sending my minions of black widows to your home to sit you down, spin webs around you and your Laz-E Boy, and insert the wonderfully featured (including a super cheerful commentary with the rightfully proud Hill & Haig) special edition into your DVD player for immediate viewing. Once watched, be sure to head over to Final Girl and busy yourself with a roundup of other reviews that damn well better heap mountains of praise upon Spider Baby with equal fervor. Otherwise, those black widows are going off their vegetarian diet and righting what’s wrong in the world.


            1. I saw Spider Baby for the first time sometime last year and absolutely adored it. It is the very rare type of genre film that one can actually adore and so for the reasons you bring up. I remember the moment the opening song came on, I was in love and felt like that track encapsulates all that I love about Halloween the holiday. Great post for a great film, Emily!

            2. Thanks Matt! I get happy just thinking about someone else enjoying the film!

            3. Yeah, it rules. Good call talking about Redeker and Mitchel, too. The scene talking about the old monster movies always kills me.

              I need to get the new DVD, mine's the old Image Entertainment one with a commentary only by Hill.

            4. The DVD is excellent, great features and all of them show the full heart that went into the movie.

              Redeker and Mitchel slipped by me on first viewing, but when you watch them a little more closely, you really do see that they too had such a great time with what may have otherwise been nothing characters.

            5. Excellent stuff! If I was sassier with technology the theme song would definitely be my phone ringtone. ...Although of course I would then miss all my phone calls because I'd want to just keep listening instead of answering.

              I noticed Redeker especially really bringing something to his role, he has this sweet charm about it that isn't usually found in roles like his. Mitchel's Wolfman impression had me laughing a ridiculous amount.

              I only watched this flick two days ago and already I want to see it again.

            6. Thanks Liam. You definitely pass the "if you don't like this, I will destroy you" test I instituted for this film. And of course, I totally agree with you on Redeker. He'd be the most awesomest uncle ever!

              Also, this film holds up extremely well to rewatches since there are so many great and tiny things going on. I grabbed the DVD from Deep Discount a few months back for around $12, and obviously, I'd easily recommend the same.

            7. The first time I saw this, late on TCM one night, I was confused and shocked. It took some time to roll it around it my head. Then I saw it again and fell in love with it, too. Just a wacky, wonderful film.

              I can't wait to see it again!

            8. It's more enjoyable each time. Watch it now!

            9. Having just seen this for the first time last night (during a rainstorm, fittingly), I heartily agree with you on every single point, down to the best line ("Cannibal spiders do"). And OMG Monty Burns: you are absolutely correct! Ralph's little lace collar just killed me.

              And true about Ann & Peter. "So are you really a Wolf Man fan, Ann?" I love how he slurs the line.

            10. I saw it for the first time about 2 years ago and was pissed that it took me so long to finally see it, because I absolutely loved it! It's a regular around Halloween time in the Phantom household.

            11. Raise those phantoms right! I had the same exact feeling when I watched it for the first time last year. A true gem.

            12. Send your minions of spiders over to my casa cause I ain't seen it yet. Need to rectify, ASAP

            13. They haven't arrived yet? Give a minion a company credit card and you never hear from him again. Typical.

            14. I bought this film and enjoyed it. Its a time capsule to another era of horrordom.

            15. I'd agree. On one hand, it lays the groundwork for hillbilly horror but at the same time, there's this cheerful innocence about it that just makes you happy.

            16. If you like the soundtrack music:


            17. I first saw the movie a couple of years or so ago, I'm guessing perhaps on the IFC (Independent Film Channel). Just recently, I ordered a copy from someone on the internet, and I've already watched it twice. LOVE it, for all the things you point out and more. I'm completely baffled as to why this isn't a classic that we see on TV all the time, or at least around Halloween.

            18. Right? Especially when you factor in the Chaney prestige, I have no idea why more people don't know it. Such a shame! Since you have the DVD, be sure to run through the extras. The commentary with Jack HIll and Sid Haig is wonderful and helps to show just how much everybody on the film truly cared.

              And you know, writing this now makes me realize it's been about a year since I last watched Spider Baby. Thanks for the reminder to get back on that!