Horror Through the Decades presents: Spider Baby (1967)


Horror Through The Decades explores the iconic wacky proto-Texas Chainsaw film Spider Baby. Starring Lon Chaney Jr., Carol Ohmart, Sid Haig, Beverley Washburn and other horror royalty, you’re missing out if you don’t watch this as soon as you can!

Spider Baby or the Maddest Story Ever Told 

Jack Hill, the master behind such awesome exploitation films as Coffy, Foxy Brown, The Big Bird CageDementia 13, etc., brought us his fourth film, Spider Baby in 1967. I’m not sure if he, or anyone involved, would know the cultural significance it would bring to the horror film industry.

The thing I love the most about Spider Baby is how goofy it is. A lot of the films of the era appear to be that way when you watch them now, but this movie knew it was being ridiculous. It was meta before meta. The beginning theme song is very cheeky and sounds like it could be in The Munsters or The Addams Family. The lyrics of the song pretty much tell you the whole film. There is a fun animated sequence while it plays in the title credits.

"“Screams and moans and bats and bonesTeenage monsters in haunted homesThe ghosts on the stairThe vampire’s biteBetter beware, there’s a full moon tonightCannibal spiders creep and crawlBoys and ghouls having a ballFrankenstein, Dracula, and even the MummyAre sure to end up in someone’s tummyTake a fresh rodent, some toadstools, and weedsAnd an old owl and the young one she breedsMix in seven legs of an eight-legged beastThen you are all set for a cannibal feastSit around the fire with the cup of brewA fiend and a werewolf on each side of youThis cannibal orgy is strange to beholdAnd the maddest story ever told”"

Spider Baby is the first film about cannibalism that isn’t a direct racist finger-pointing at Native Americans or other indigenous tribes. It takes a cue from Night of The Living Dead and makes a commentary about social standing and class. The Merrye “children”, consisting of Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn), Virginia (Jill Banner) and Ralph (Sid Haig in his second appearance of many in Jack Hill’s filmography) are living in their family home, being looked after by Bruno (Lon Cheney Jr.), their father’s driver.

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The Merrye family has a disease on this particular side, which is later referred to as Merrye syndrome. In young adulthood, the children regress to the mental state of children and then beyond into animalistic sub-humans. Ralph is already regressing pretty steadily. Virginia is clearly not too far behind him, which we notice when we witness her playing “Spider” with a mailman, leaving him dead.

The piece of mail that the mailman left behind was a letter from a lawyer, telling Bruno that some distant relatives were there to claim the house and the “children”. I keep putting the word children in quotes because it’s clear that most of them are in their twenties or late teens, but have the mentalities of first graders.

The children’s Aunt Emily (Carol Ohmart at her icy best) and Uncle Peter (Quinn K. Redeker) roll up to the house right after the mailman is “squared away”. They’re accompanied by a not-so-pleasant lawyer, Mr. Shlocker (Karl Schanzer) who has a Hitler-esque mustache that might not be an accident. Emily and Shlocker are all about getting the money and putting the “children” wherever. Uncle Peter is much more receptive to the children. He seems to have a childlike quality to him as well.

It doesn’t really end well with everyone in Spider Baby obviously because it is a horror film. Aside from that, it’s hilarious. Peter asks Mr. Shlocker’s secretary Ann (Mary Mitchell) if she likes horror films. She says she loves them, especially The Wolfman…who was played by Lon Cheney Jr…who is sitting at the table as Bruno. He says “There is a full moon tonight”.

There’s a lot of weird and funny moments in this film and the end leaves you wondering. It’s one of the most intelligently written “B” movies I’ve ever seen.

Spider Baby – Courtesy of Lasky-Monka

The other thing that is so important about Spider Baby in regards to the cultural zeitgeist is that Texas Chainsaw Massacre borrows pretty heavily from the concept of Spider Baby, A kind of “backwards” family holes up in the middle of nowhere when the slaughterhouse they all worked at closes. It’s another commentary on class that wouldn’t exist at all without Hill’s influence.

Then there is House of A Thousand Corpses. Virginia and Elizabeth are both seen in Sheri Moon Zombie’s Baby and of course, there’s the fact that Sid Haig is in both movies. Rob Zombie has always been one to create pastiches of his influences and House of A Thousand Corpses has Spider Baby in every corner of the crazy house where the Firefly Family resides.

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I am basically screaming from the rooftop right now that if you’re a horror fan and you haven’t seen Spider Baby, it’s time to get to it. This is an oft looked over classic that formed the genre. You’d be doing yourself a disservice as a horror fan to not see it. You really have no excuse as it’s available for free if you’re a member of Amazon Prime.

Have you seen Spider Baby? Let us know in the comments.