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June 18, 2015

Movie Review: Spider Baby (1968, Blu-ray/DVD combo)

  The credits dub this “the maddest story ever told”, a promise that's well on the way to being fulfilled in the opening scene alone, when Virginia traps and kills a hapless deliveryman in her makeshift web. She's one of three siblings who suffer from a genetic disorder that causes them to regress back to childhood, while retaining the physical strength and sexual maturity of adults.
 So many directors got their start working for Roger Corman and Jack Hill was one of them. Deemed by Quentin Tarantino as "The Howard Hawks of exploitation filmmaking".  He has been mostly known for having directed Pam Grier in two revolutionary for their times pictures black exploitation pictures Coffy & Foxy Brown.   He would then go on to work with Pam twice more in the two rather infamous shot in the Philippines women in prison films for Roger Corman. Those flicks were the overrated The Big Doll House and the underrated Big Bird Cage. Hill also had a strong working relationship with the great Sid Haig who thanks to House of 1000 and Devils Rejects has had a major career revival.

Spider Baby is easily Hill's most interesting and personal film and should I say his most downright strange film.The film sets the tone imeditally with a unique opening titles sequence then moves onto a very chilling little sequence. A poor old post man (They can't catch a break, can they Kevin?) played by none other then the great Mantan Moreland get's trapped in a window then shredded to ribbons. 

Bruno (Lon Chaney Jr.) then comes home, Bruno is the caretaker of the estate and of the three "children" living inside the house.  Those pint sized cannibal kiddies are Ralph (Sid Haig), Virginia (Jill Banner) and Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn). He has his hands full making sure they stay in line and well... don't kill anybody. 

 Things becomes increasingly difficult for the loveable lug Bruno when he's notified that some distant relatives will be arriving shortly to obtain the estate and the children. The relatives are a colorful bunch consisting of Uncle Peter (Quinn Redeker) and Aunt Emily (Carol Ohmart). Along with these two come their lawyer Mr. Schlocker (the name says it all!) and his assistant Ann (Mary Mitchell. 

Things get worse when the four of them decide to spend the night. Bruno has to keep an eye out to make sure the kids don't cause any trouble and by that I mean off any of the visitors. 

 This film is a midnight movie pure and simple. It has all the elements and the proper perverse tone that it's not surprising it's a cult hit. The film is an interesting blend of horror and humor. The humor isn't forced and comes about naturally. Sid Haig's perverse peeping character of Ralph definitely steals the show. Carol Ohmart as Aunt Emily is a nice surprise as well. She's one of those greedy bomb shell characters that you love to hate... you can't hate that body though... just sayin'. 

The true glue holding the picture together is the character of Bruno played with major bravado by Lon Chaney Jr. It's such a heart warming and sincere performance. You truly feel for his character as he garners quite the amount of sympathy as the film moves on. He's a man who's stuck between a rock and a hard place. He's damned if he does and damned if he don't. 

One thing that definetly deserves mentioning is the outstanding B&W cinematography courtesy of Alfred Taylor. The film really mimics the feeling of those "old dark house" pictures of the thirties and forties. Taylor would go on to work with Hill again on a personal favorite of mine "The Swinging Cheerleaders". Which in my not so humble opinion is the best of "the Cheerleader" series. Taylor would even go on to do to the cinematography for the fan favorite Killer Klowns From Outer Space. 

So basically if you enjoy odd movies, cult movies, horror movies or just movies in general you have to see this. Don't mistake Jack Hill and a common explotation film director. This film is living proof that he doesn't need massive amounts of T&A to make an entertaining picture. It's a classic, plain and simple. So stop reading my review and go fucking buy this movie. Got it kids? 

Arrow USA has gone all out on this Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. 

The film has been previously released twice on DVD. Once by Image (Awful picture Q) and then released by MPI/Dark Sky in a very nice looking special edition. 

The film is presented in it's original 1.67:1 aspect ratio and the picture quailty is nothing short of amazing. You'd think Criterion ghosted the transfer for this because Arrow has done a mind blowing job with this transfer. They usually do nice work but this is certainly the most impressive transfer from them to date! 

The  2.0 LPCM audio is nothing to scoff at either. Everything is crystal clear and Ronald Stein's amazing score sounds perfect.

Now onto the extra's... I hope oyu have time because what we have here are hours upon hours of them. This Arrow release includes most if not all of the extras from the Dark Sky region 1 release and plenty of Arrow exclusive content. 

We start off with a lively and informative commentary track featuring Hill and Haig. It's a terrific listen as the two obviously are good friends and very proud of the picture they made. You get to find out plenty of great details such as the fact that the picture was only made in 7 days! Yes you heard me right, only 7 days to make this masterpiece. 

Next up is the thirty minute short film "The Host" directed by Hill and starring Haig. It's an interesting watch and I'm happy they included it. Next up is "The Hatching of Spider Baby" which features interviews with Jack Hill, Joe Dante, Alfred Taylor and the cast of the film. Anything that wasn't covered in the commentary is covered here. All the interviewees are candid and you can tell had a good time making this picture. 

New to this disk is "Cast and Crew Panel Discussion". This a 35 minute lively chit chat between Jack Hill and actors Quinn Redeker and Beverly Washburn. "The Merrye House Revisited" has Jack Hill returning to the films original location. It's a short but nice piece. "Spider Stravinsky: The Cinema Sounds of Ronald Stein" is an 11 minute talking heads piece about SB's composer Ronald Stein. Also included with this release is the films theatrical trailer, an extended scene and alternate opening titles. As per usual with an Arrow release you get a collectable booklet with writings by author Stephen R. Bissette.

Arrow Video has given Spider Baby the treatment it so rightly deserved. It's a must buy for British fans or American fans with all region players. A MUST OWN! 

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