Spider Baby Blu-ray Review

Lon Chaney Jr and Sid Haig star in this kooky, off-beat horror film from Jack Hill

Jack Hill’s Spider Baby crosses the Addams Family with homicidal cannibals in this kooky horror comedy from 1967. Featuring horror legend Lon Chaney Jr. in one of his late-career performances and a very young Sid Haig, the cult film has gained a following over the years with its off-beat tone. This cheap horror film has a lot of charm going for it, mainly due to its likable characters. While Spider Baby is not particularly scary and its macabre humor is firmly stuck in the 1960s, something about it evokes an odd sense of nostalgia for a bygone era of movies.

Bruno (Lon Chaney Jr.) is the loving custodian of the three Merrye siblings in a wonderfully dilapidated house that signifies this is a horror movie. This branch of the Merrye family suffers from a fictional disease called Merrye Syndrome. As the children in this family come of age, they begin to mentally regress and eventually their bodies deteriorate as well. Bruno watches over Elizabeth, Virginia and their creepy man-child brother, Ralphie (Haig). All three siblings are adults with the minds of small children. They’ve been kept from any formal schooling and lived under Bruno’s care since their father passed away. They also happen to be homicidal maniacs that survive on cannibalism.

The Merrye children have been doing fine on their own when distant relatives come to settle their dead father’s estate and collect his wealth. Emily (Carol Ohmart) and Peter bring a lawyer along in the hopes of selling the house. The outsiders find Bruno and the three children  odd. Things go from bad to worse when Emily decides it’s late and that she’ll have to spend the night in this kooky household. Elizabeth and Virginia set their sights on the snooping lawyer hoping to uncover their family’s secrets. And what exactly is in the basement…

They approach everything with a child-like innocence, even when they murder someone.

Spider Baby is definitely a film of its era. Watching it produced a great sense of nostalgia in me for older television shows from the 1960s. A big influence must have been the earlier Addams Family and its eccentric family unit. Jack Hill’s movie goes in a much darker direction with the concept, making the family members all homicidal maniacs. It’s hard to dislike the Merrye siblings despite them being cannibals. They approach everything with a child-like innocence, even when they murder someone. Elizabeth and Virginia as the two childish sisters are the real stars of Spider Baby. Virginia believes she’s a spider, leading to her murderous games. Ralphie is the more disturbing family member, since he barely speaks in the film and has a creepy appearance.

Spider Baby was made for the drive-in movie theater, a quickie production that wasn’t supposed to last beyond its initial theatrical run. Its cheap brand of horror has some laughs and memorable characters. The 1967 movie is not for everyone but cult film lovers should give it a look for its quirky nature.

Movie ★★★★☆

 

Spider Baby Blu-ray screen shot 5

This monochrome film has been released by Arrow Video in a solid 1.66:1 presentation. The main feature runs 84 minutes, encoded in AVC at very high parameters on a BD-50. The stable black-and-white cinematography has received a fine film-like transfer, one with crisp depth and consistent contrast. The 1080P video has excellent detail and moderate sharpness, limited by the film’s inherent softness. Director Jack Hill supervised and directly approved this new transfer.

The film elements used for this transfer are in clean condition, free of serious damage to the print. Overall resolution and fine detail indicate this is likely from a newer 2K film scan. There isn’t much processing that would mar the movie’s grain structure, it’s free of serious filtering and sharpening. The high-bitrate AVC encode handles the film’s master in a transparent manner without problem. Some mildly noisy grain pops up in a couple of scenes, possibly exaggerated from the film elements.

Spider Baby hasn’t received a lavish new restoration like some other films but the monochrome film looks about as well as it can in 1080P resolution. Arrow Video has done an excellent job with this disc.

Video ★★★★☆

Composer Ronald Stein’s score and opening theme song sung by Lon Chaney Jr. sound perfectly fine in the original mono PCM soundtrack. The recording fidelity is average but everything, from dialogue to the occasional Foley effect, is presented in pleasing sound quality. There is nothing wrong with the mastering with its rich dynamics. For a low-budget horror film, the 1967 monaural sound isn’t half bad.

Optional English SDH subtitles display in a white font.

Audio ★★★☆☆

Arrow Video includes a fairly extensive documentary with several key participants from Spider Baby, not to mention Jack Hill’s entire student film, The Host. This is a Blu-ray and DVD combo package. The Blu-ray is coded for Regions A and B. The commentary from Hill and Haig is quite lucid and the two men fondly recall a number of entertaining stories. The panel discussion is interesting since it includes actress Beverly Washburn. Spider Baby was shot in only 12 days.

  • Audio commentary featuring Jack Hill and star Sid Haig – A rolling discussion between two old friends. This is a commentary worth hearing since the discussion is entertaining and occasionally funny.
  • Panel discussion from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences FILM-TO-FILM Festival – Recorded September 2012, featuring Jack Hill and stars Quinn K. Redeker and Beverly Washburn (33:08 in upscaled HD)
  • The Hatching of Spider Baby (31:43 in HD) – Interviews with Jack Hill, Sid Haig, star Mary Mitchel, fan Joe Dante and more on the making of the film. This documentary interviews critical cast and crew and is a nice piece.
  • Spider Stravinsky: The Cinema Sounds of Ronald Stein (10:58 in HD) – The composer of ‘The Terror’ and ‘Attack of the 50 Foot Woman’ among others is remembered by Harlene Stein, Jack Hill, American Cinematheque’s Chris D. and others.
  • The Merrye House Revisited (07:38 in upscaled HD) – Jack Hill in 2006 revisits the original house that was used as the main location in the film.
  • Alternate opening title sequence (01:50 in HD)
  • Extended scene (04:04 in HD) – An extension of a scene early in the film when everyone meets outside the spooky house for the first time.
  • Original Trailer (01:03 in HD)
  • The Host (1960) (29:49 in rough HD) – Jack Hill’s early short film from his student days featuring Sid Haig in his first starring role.
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
  • Collector’s booklet featuring writing on the film by artist and writer Stephen R. Bissette, and an extensive article re-printed from FilmFax: The Magazine of Unusual Film and Television featuring interviews with the cast and crew, illustrated with original stills and artwork

Extras ★★★★★

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review as a screener that may not represent the retail disc. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. The 1080P images have not been altered in any way during the process.

  • Koroshiya1

    This movie should belong in anybody’s collection who likes weird movies. Gets better with every rewatch.