Spider Baby, or The Maddest Story Ever Told

Quinn Redeker and Jill Banner in Spider Baby, or The Maddest Story Ever Told (dir. Jack Hill, 1964).

Beverly Washburn, Jill Banner, and Lon Chaney Jr.

Sid Haig.

Late in Lon Chaney Jr.'s career, perhaps his most nuanced and humorous performance. He plays Bruno, chauffeur to the last remnants of the Merrye clan, a family stricken by a degenerative disease that turns them gradually into homicidal freaks. Assorted deformed uncles and aunts are confined to a pit in the basement, leaving only three younger Merryes to roam about the house and grounds of the crumbling old family mansion: Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn), the most rational of the trio, relatively speaking; Virginia (Jill Banner), cute as a bug, which also happens to be a major part of her diet; and Ralph (Sid Haig), a bald, affable, cat-killing, cretin. Bruno has been doing a pretty good job of containing the Merrye menace up until the beginning of the movie, when a messenger (played by Mantan Moreland, one of the most politically incorrect old Hollywood character actors) falls victim to Virginia's deadly indulgence of "playing spider." The trouble escalates when a team of inheritors and lawyers descend on the house, with predictably ghastly results.

What would otherwise be a minor, albeit amusing campfest is raised quite a few notches by atmospheric cinematography, very effective comic acting, and the film's ability to inspire sympathy for both the deranged, psychopathic Merryes and their despicable would-be displacers (except maybe for the thoroughly loathsome attorney Schlocker, played by Karl Schanzer).

1 comment:

Wade said...

I remember watching this years ago, on network television. It's funny what they used to show. You don't see many black and white films anymore, except on PBS, and those are only the "classics."

When I was a kid, I used to depend a lot of late Saturday night time and Sunday afternoon time watching old movies, many of which you have mentioned on your blog.