After making an oath to his dying master, a loyal caretaker has spent the last several years looking over the diseased Merrye family. That is, until the day that a lawyer and some distant relatives arrive and shake things up.
The Movie Itself [usr 4] :
Spider Baby takes place in a fairly pleasant looking Californian countryside in a large (though fairly unkempt) house, locked away behind a gate that has been chained shut to keep the world out, and the madness in.
It is this gate that a mailman foolishly walks past in his mission to deliver a letter to the Merrye family. He makes his way up to the house, believing no one is home, and begins yelling in through a window. Virginia, one of the two young Merrye girls, hears his calls and comes to him while playing a game where she is a spider, and he is her prey. At first, you think she is being very cute, with her rope web and slow movement towards you, warning you that she’s going to catch you. Cute, that is, until you see the knives she carries. An unfortunately timed window falling shut on the mailman soon leads to his death…and gives us a good look into the state of the Merrye household, and what this disease does to it’s carriers. This point is confirmed when Virginia’s sister Elizabeth comes into the room to discover the mailman; she is not shocked at the violent scene, but instead rather playfully teases Virginia that she’s going to be in trouble.
The Merrye disease/curse is a condition that causes one’s mental faculties to regress rapidly. In fact, the disease is so brutal that, according to what we are told, it can cause the victim to regress past the fetal stage and cause a primal rage. It is called the Merrye disease because thankfully, it seems to only affect the one family (due to incest). The last remaining Merrye family members have, since the death of their father, relied on their former caretaker, Bruno, to care for them. Bruno, being of no relation to the family, is unaffected by their sickness, and is largely a father figure to the family.
Soon, Bruno arrives home from taking Ralph to an appointment. Ralph is several years older than the girls, and has regressed to a toddler like state. They find the murder scene, and with no more than a “tsk tsk” to Virginia, we discover that Bruno’s mental state may very well be as unstable as the Merrye’s.
They find the letter that the mailman had come to deliver, and learn that the lawyer will be arriving shortly with guests. It turns out that a disputed inheritance has caused two distant relatives to believe that they have a claim to the house and the care of the remaining living Merrye family members.
What takes place after the arrival of our unwelcome guests is a night of bizarre interactions that are both dark and comical. We get a good look at what a deranged family will do when the real world comes knocking.
Spider Baby is touted as a horror-comedy, and it tows that line very well. The overall tone of the film is quite light, given the disturbing plot, but the actors do a great job of playing their parts in this gray area between innocence and lunacy. So much so that it’s very likely that you’ll find yourself ill at ease, even though you’re not actually scared. I’d say they found the best balance here.
The movie satisfies your thirst for a dark, twisted story, with a good amount of well-timed and executed overacting that is super charming and totally worth a watch. There’s even a surprise or two tossed in there, to keep you on your toes.
Video Quality [usr 3] :
This picture was shot in 1967, and you can tell its an old film. It’s all in black and white and, although it looks like a decent transfer, I still caught myself noticing some blurry shots and film grain throughout. At the end of the day, this movie looks pretty good on blu, but won’t wow you.
This blu ray is no doubt the best looking version of this film possible, and, as you will see in the special features, great care was taken when restoring and preserving his movie.
Audio Quality [usr 3.5]:
Sporting a mono audio track, one can only expect so much Spider Baby in the sound department. It shows its age here, with the sound effects and musical tastes of the time. It’s sure to be nostalgic to anyone who grew up in the 60s and 70s, but for the younger audience, it’s a bit lackluster. For what it is, though, it does sound quite clear.
On a side note, the opening music just might be the most terrifying thing I’ve ever heard. If you can watch the opening credits and not get a little unnerved, I’d be quite surprised.
Special Features [usr 4.5]:
Arrow Films did a great job with special features for this blu ray. They included several featurettes with cast members that were filmed fairly recently, which are quite interesting to watch. Also, we see one of Jack Hill’s first films, The Host, which was really cool.
- Audio Commentary with Jack Hill & Sid Haig
- The Hatching of Spider Baby (31mins):
- A fun making of featurette, which interviews of cast and crew about the history behind the film, what it was like filming, and the unexpected resurgence in success as a cult classic.
- Spider Stravinski (11mins):
- A short biography style mini documentary on Ronald Stein, the film’s composer, and the music for the film.
- The Merrye House Revisited (8mins):
- Writer/Director Jack Hill returns to the house used in the film in 2008. An interesting interview while traveling to and walking around the old house, intermixed with scenes from the film.
- Alternate Opening Title Sequence (2mins)
- Extended Scene (4mins)
- Panel Discussion (33mins):
- Film to Film panel discussion about preservation projects, including Spider Baby and Carnival of Souls. Includes Q&A session with cast and crew from the film.
- The Host (1960) (30mins):
- A short film by director Jack Hill, which he shot during school. Was Sid Haig’s first film, and the first of several in which they worked together.
- 50gb Blu ray and DVD
- Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
- English subtitles
- Audio Formats:
- English LPCM Mono
Final Thoughts [usr 4]:
If you’ve been itching to watch a movie in the same vein as The Munsters or The Addams Family, then order yourself a copy right now. This movie is funny, dark, and most importantly, fun to watch.
If you are already a fan of this film, the special features are well worth the upgrade, and the picture quality is absolutely better than what you’d see on DVD.
Full disclosure: This feature was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process.