I go for years without seeing a Jack Hill movie, then two turn up within a week or so. Following his 1974 black-cinema classic Foxy Brown, here's a more macabre work from ten years earlier.
It's a heartwarming story, this one. A family chauffeur named Bruno (horror legend Lon Chaney Jr, in his declining years) makes a promise to his dying employer (one Mr. Merrye) that he will care for his three children after his death. This he does, protecting them from the outside world. The trouble is, these are no ordinary children. They are grown adults suffering from a family condition which causes their mental age to regress as they get older, the result (we are told) of inbreeding. They are also psychotic.
Ralph (Sid Haig) is immature but lascivious, travelling through the house using the dumb waiter. Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn) is seemingly the least maladjusted, but malevolent nonetheless. However, it's Virginia (Jill Banner) who proves to be the Spider Baby of the title, her obsession with the creatures extending to stalking and eating them, whilst she also enjoys entrapping her human victims in a web made of string.
Things kick off when Bruno heads out to town on an errand, and in his absence Virginia picks off an unsuspecting postman (veteran comedy actor Manton Moreland in a small role). He's arrived to deliver a letter informing the family that two distant cousins are laying claim to a share of the family estate: Emily (Carol Ohmart) and Peter (Quinn Rodeker). They arrive, accompanied by their lawyer and his assistant. Naturally, the Merrye siblings are not pleased by their presence, and set about dealing with them...
Throw into the mix a dead father still lying in his bed, and some even further degenerated relatives lurking in the basement (where else?), and Spider Baby is a bonkers treat if you like this sort of thing. It's the kind of film where some unfortunate actress manages to end up being chased through the house and grounds in her undies and a borrowed negligee, but by this point I was laughing too hard to care how it got to this stage.
Everyone involved seems to be having a hoot making this thing. Your level of enjoyment watching Spider Baby will depend on your level of intoxication. I'd suggest a glass of wine or a bottle of Boondoggle before starting, then continue drinking for the duration.
NOTES ON THE BLU-RAY: The UK Blu-Ray from Arrow Films (released June 2013) is quite a revelation. The slightly blurry image of previous releases has been upgraded to a fantastic high-definition master. I really was amazed that a film shot on a tiny budget in twelve days could look this good, with film grain fully present and details in the backgrounds very sharp. There is the odd shot where things take a turn for the worse, but this is probably the result of optical zooming on the frame when making the original cut and doesn't spoil the presentation as a whole.
The sound is not quite as good, with background noise rising and falling on the exterior scenes, and a slight harshness throughout, but considering the source material it's crisp enough.
The Extras are fascinating:
* Commentary by Jack Hill & Sid Haig.
* A featurette in which Jack Hill revisits the house where the film was made.
* The Hatching Of Spider Baby - Cast, Director, and fan of the film Joe Dante talk about the making of the film.
* Featurette on film composer Ronald Stein
* Alternate opening and an extended scene
* The Host (1960) - Jack Hill's 30 minute student film
* Cast and Crew panel discussion
* Trailer and Gallery
PURPLE RATING: 7/10 for the film, 9/10 for the Blu-ray presentation
US 1964 (released 1968) - American General Pictures
Also known as: The Liver Eaters, Cannibal Orgy.
Certificate 15 (UK)
Blu-Ray/DVD: Arrow Films (UK), Dark Sky Films (US)