Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Spider Baby (1968)

or, The Maddest Story Ever Told.

Written, shot, and edited one afternoon back in 1964, this movie sat on the shelf for four years while everyone associated with it filed for bankruptcy. It was finally released in 1968. Spider Baby is significant for me because three actors I've noted in my blog-life come together for one of their last films. Lon Chaney Jr only had four movies released after it, Mantan Moreland had five (one uncredited) and hottie Carol Ohmart had but one. Of course those numbers go up if we use the 1964 filming date, but hey, I'm manufacturing a theme here, people!

This is the story of the Merrye family. They live is a large rural home, have a faithful family chauffeur, and are apparently fairly wealthy. The bad news is that they are sick, degenerate, murderous, inbred cannibals. Think The Addams Family, only more so.

A messenger (Moreland) arrives to deliver a letter from a lawyer. The lawyer, his secretary, and two distant cousins will be arriving with the intent on claiming the family fortune. Mr. Messenger is promptly hacked to death.

The Merrye family consists of two hot sisters, Elizabeth and Virginia, and brother Ralphie, who is in advanced stages of Merrye Syndrome, a degenerative disease causing them to regress mentally, socially, and physically. Chaney Jr is their caretaker.

The unusually short, cigar chomping lawyer with a hitler mustache arrives with his pleasant-enough looking secretary, along with Emily and Peter (husband and wife? Brother and sister?), who are distant relatives with a claim on the estate. They insist on staying the night. Does anyone here see that as a bad idea?

At the moment I can think of one example (Temple of Doom), but I know that the "disgusting dinner" scene has been done several times. Here it was not done well, methinks. Roasted cat, garden fungus, and weeds. Maybe if the video was clearer it would have had a bigger impact.

Apparently the key for the Merrye sisters to act as menacing as possible is for them to act as outrageous as possible. And, quite frankly, as bad as possible. Even Ohmart isn't buying the script. Not until she finds creepy Ralphie spying her goody-goody yum-yums that she realizes she's in trouble.

The sub-title was a reference to The Greatest Story Ever Told, which would have been cool had they been able to release it in a timely manner. Renamed and re released several times, it has been given names like Cannibal Orgy and The Liver Eaters. Yum. A couple of the characters mention liking horror movies and express their fondness for The Wolf Man, which, of course starred Lonnie.

It's hard for a comedy/horror to strike a good balance. Slightly too much humor destroys the horror. Spider Baby was creepy. Was it funny? Kinda. Spider Baby did some things right. Unfortunately, it did a lot wrong as well. Parts of the script absolutely sucked. There is a remake in the works. I'm curious if they can right the wrongs, or if they will simply screw it all up.


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