Friday, 3 May 2013

Horror Review: Spider Baby (1968)

A caretaker devotes himself to three demented adults after their father's death.

I've always had a soft spot when it comes to black and white Horror films, it's hard to put my finger on to why that is, honestly it could be a many number of things.

The film opens with a quirky yet catchy theme tune which was sung by Lon Chaney Jr. (The film's original title "Cannibal Orgy or, The Maddest Story Ever Told" was incorporated into the theme song, which culminates with a line that states "This cannibal orgy is strange to behold and the maddest story ever told.") I wish more films would adapt this as it really set the mood for the film.

Talking of Chaney, he put in a great performance that we are accustomed to from him, he really was spectacular in-front of a camera. Unfortunately you could tell that he wasn't feeling too well, "Spider Baby" would actually be one of his last on-screen performances and would sadly pass away 5 years later.

The rest of the cast are fantastic and yes that is a young Sid Haig. Writer/Director Jack Hill brought us a very taboo subject for it's time, The three children that are looked after suffer from "Merrye Syndrome", a genetic affliction unique to members of their family, which causes them to mentally, socially, and physically regress down the evolutionary ladder, starting in late childhood. Yes inbreeding, it may seem a tame subject in today's Horror genre but back then it was rarely spoken of. It caused a-lot of controversy and it even had to wait 33 years before it would see a release in the UK.

The film has some absolutely stunning cinematography is extremely macabre from beginning to end and is full of dark humor. The characters are extremely well written and despite their craziness you find yourself rooting for them. You can see it's influence on later films, especially Tobe Hooper's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre".

"Spider Baby" is a fantastic black and white Horror and one of my firm favourites, I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a dark story.

If you want to see the "Spider Baby" trailer then just click on the video below:

Miscellaneous facts about the film:

The directorial debut for Jack Hill.

During the filming of "Spider Baby" (originally titled "Cannibal Orgy"), director Jack Hill wrote a treatment for a sequel called "Vampire Orgy," which followed Peter and Ann on their honeymoon.

The film was shot in August and September of 1964 with the title "Cannibal Orgy, or The Maddest Story Ever Told", but its release was held up for years because the producers went bankrupt, which tied up the film in legal limbo. Independent producer David L. Hewitt acquired it for distribution in 1968 and changed the title to "Spider Baby" and "The Liver Eaters."

Shot in seven days between August and September of 1964.

The film was adapted as a stage musical in 2004.

The Smith Estate of Los Angeles, California was used for the exteriors of the Merrye house. The house still stands today.

The Smith estate house was originally occupied by Judge David Patterson Hatch, where he wrote occult books as well as metaphysical writings after he retired from the bench.

Quinn K. Redeker would sometimes sit in Lon Chaney Jr.'s trailer while Chaney told him stories and anecdotes about his films. Chaney would often be making his specialty - homemade mustard - while doing so.

Released to drive-ins simultaneously under two different titles beginning in 1968 as the latter half of a double-feature. When paired with Hells Chosen Few the print was titled "Spider Baby;" when paired with Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (aka "The Blood Suckers") it was titled "The Liver Eaters."

The wrap party was held at the home of actress Mary Mitchel and her then-husband, producer Bart Patton. The couple's dog had recently had puppies, and that evening co-star Sid Haig and his wife took one of the pups home and named it "Uncle Ned" after the character in the film.

The film had a $60,000 budget. Lon Chaney Jr. was paid a flat fee of $2500 for his performance, each of the other actors were paid $100 a day. Coincidentally, the price of the actors salaries was the same as the daily rental of the Duesenberg that Bruno drives.

Interior sets were erected on a soundstage in Glendale, CA. The same walls were moved and redressed to create the various rooms in the Merrye home. 

The studio where the bulk of the film was shot was not equipped with air conditioning, only fans. With temperatures in the triple digits outside, the crew were all uncomfortable, but none more than Lon Chaney Jr., who was often dripping with sweat by the end of his takes. A bucket of ice water was brought in so Chaney could be mopped down with a cold, wet towel after each take.

After dinner, there's a brief scene that ends with Schlocker wagging his cigar at Emily. Originally this scene ended with Emily ripping the cigar from his hand and puffing on it, but the producers hated this irreverent moment and demanded it be cut.

Director Jack Hill accompanied actress Carol Ohmart on a trip to Frederick's of Hollywood, where she personally picked out the wardrobe she dons in the latter half of the film.

For the scene in which Ralph climbs down the house and peers in the window, Sid Haig had a rope tied around his feet and was lowered in front of the window. Pressure built up behind his eyes and he panicked, so this footage was shot very quickly.

The rocking chair that Virginia ties Peter to as she plays her spider game was an antique that belonged to director Jack Hill's grandmother. It was destroyed during filming.

During the climax as he's struggling with Mary Mitchel, Sid Haig had the flu and a temperature of 103°. The producers employed a doctor to standby on the set to give Haig an injection every few hours so he could continue to work.

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