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2018/11: Spider Baby or, The Maddest Story Ever Told (1968)

2018/11: Spider Baby or, The Maddest Story Ever Told (1968)

Directed by Jack Hill
Written by dorrk
25 November 2018

I first watched and reviewed SPIDER BABY OR, THE MADDEST STORY EVER TOLD as part of this website's inaugural Octoblur horror festival in 2014. It was one of my favorite movies of the 48 that I watched that month, the kind of introduction to a movie that always brings with it a hint of fear that the same level of enthusiasm will never survive a second viewing. That it did survive a second viewing is a testament to director Jack Hill's attention to the right details: although the situations in SPIDER BABY are sensational, they may not have continued to stand-out after a further five decades of creepy family horror movies without the care that Hill and his cast have taken to fashioning these truly subversive Merrye clan characters.

Anchored by a startlingly emotional performance by Lon Chaney, Jr. (when so many horror veterans were sleepwalking their way through these kinds of late-career cash-in roles), the trio of Beverly Washburn, Jill Banner and Sid Haig tap in to a disturbing collective dynamic that is always simmering just beneath the film's ostensibly PG-13-rateable content. Even Carol Ohlmert, Mary Mitchel and Quinn Redeker turn-in sharp performances as normals caught in the Merryes' degenerate web. Hill and cinematographer Alfred Taylor (who also shot the minor sexploitation classic THE TEACHER before topping off his career with KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE) create a fantastic, dark visual tone with very little but their distinctive actors to captivate in every frame. Surely, SPIDER BABY is one of those eccentric movies that gets incorrectly lumped into "Worst of" lists due to its budget and innate oddity, but Hill knows what he's doing and the cast gives 125%, making nearly every moment of this short cult classic a creepy delight.

Spider Baby or, The Maddest Story Ever Told (1968)

Trailer for Spider Baby (1968)

I'm always looking for kid-safe horror to watch with my children. SPIDER BABY buries its subversiveness beneath an ADDAMS FAMILY exterior, so I figured it was OK for a 12-year-old, and he picked it out from a short menu of curated selections I put together for him before Halloween this year.