aka Spider Baby Or, The Maddest Story Ever Told, The Liver Eaters
84 min., 1967
Written by Jack Hill
Directed by Jack Hill
My rating: ★★★★★
An often forgotten classic.
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Bruno (Lon Chaney, Jr.) has been taking care of three children, well not really children because you see they have “Merrye Syndrome” (their last name) which we learn from the beginning of the movie, it is a genetic disease that causes those affected to regress backwards once they hit puberty. So Bruno watches them ever since their father died, and he made a promise to keep them away from the public which would likely gawk at them. We have the eldest, Ralph (Sid Haig) who is also the most affected, Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn) who is the one that is left in charge anytime Bruno has to leave, and Virginia (Jill Banner) who is obsessed with spiders. So Bruno comes home after taking Ralph to the doctor and sees that Virginia has killed a deliveryman, but even worse is the letter that he was carrying. It seems that two relatives, Emily (Carol Ohmart) and Peter Howe (Quinn Redeker), are coming to the house with their lawyer, Schlocker (Karl Schanzer) and are going to be taking away the “kids”.
One of my favorite things about this movie is the performances. Sid Haig is great as Ralph, who improvised most of his “lines”. Beverly Washburn and Jill Banner play well off of each other making them believable sisters. Jill is also very good at playing a child acting like a spider; she’s just a joy to watch. But Lon Chaney, Jr. takes the cake when it comes to the acting. His role of Bruno isn’t the most complicated role, but he tackles it with some of the most sincere acting I’ve seen in a long time. Every time he talks about the “kids” you really feel that he loves them. The fear of them being taken away or being put on display for the public to mock really seems to scare him. The tears that well up in his eyes when he talks about them seems so genuine that it almost gets me teary eyed. Truly one of the greatest actors showing us how to really take on a role and make that character real.
This is a favorite of mine and there are so many good things I can say about it, but like a good reviewer I also need to bring up some of the bad things that go on. There aren’t that many but some of the acting does fall pretty flat. Carol Ohmart does an okay job, but most of the time it just feels very forced instead of natural. Along those same lines is Karl Schanzer, though I think that’s how the character is supposed to be acted, it just felt very weird when he was on screen, especially when he was alone looking through the house. Not terrible, just really weird and out of place. The only other thing that really bothered me about the movie is that there are a few scenes that seem to have been put back into the movie. Normally that’s not a problem, but they didn’t seem to clean them up and every time one of them comes on screen it’s a little painful to see. But then again I don’t know exactly what they had to work with, so I’m probably being a little picky about that one.
This is one of those classic black comedy/horror movies that most haven’t heard of and that’s just sad. It’s great! It has an awesome cast that is wonderfully acted and the story is one that can stand up to today’s way of looking at medical conditions. With it sometimes feeling like people would rather toss a strange medical condition on TV and go through all of the time and effort to show everyone just how different it is, instead of actually trying to cure it. So the story still stands up. Then we also have Lon Chaney Jr. singing the intro song and that just puts the icing on the cake that is the greatness of this movie.Have You Read...?