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Written and directed by Jack Hill, Spider Baby  tells the twisted tale of Bruno (Lon Chaney, Jr.), caretaker of three orphaned siblings who suffer from "Merrye Syndrome", a condition which causes them to mentally, socially, and physically regress backwards down the evolutionary ladder starting in early puberty.

The siblings, Ralph (Sid Haig), Virginia (Jill Banner) and Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn) have been kept under control by Bruno, despite their killing of people but when the snooping, greedy Emily (Carol Ohmart) and her brother Peter (Quinn Redeker) arrive to take possession of the property, the bizarre behavior of the Merrye clan is revealed.

 Spider Baby
Spider Baby is a crazy title right? It screams either superhero spin off or bizarre horror and of course as Peter Parker ain’t having a kid any time soon this is indeed a horror. Of course when you hit the sub title ‘Or The maddest story ever told... ‘ and the opening theme kicks off, it’s very easy to see this is going to be a bizarre one. However, rather than oddball you out of the room this one is sort of cute and is very easy to embrace.  The opening theme song, which is like a dark variation of The Addams Family theme is just the right mood setter for what follows, which, not to overuse the similarity is The Addams Family, if the Addams Family where actually crazy and actually killed visitors to their weird home.
 
Virginia, the so called Spider Baby kicks off proceedings by capturing a goofy postman in her net and slicing him up like a spider (I know, I know, not exactly spider-like but this girl is nuts, so let’s not mess with her). Jill Banner as well as Beverly Washburn play these crazy sisters perfectly. They are utterly wild when they want to be but still pretty attractive in their madness, with cute looks at camera from time to time and an innocent, “did I do that?” cutesy attitude. Banner looks especially current with her wayward back-combed hair and other than the black and white sixties film-making, could almost get away with feeling like a modern actress.

 Spider Baby
Anyway, Spider Baby (originally called Cannibal Orgy) is one of those black comedy horrors that goes so out there it works. The weirdness builds and builds to its finale which takes it utterly over the top and into a whole new realm and the comedic timing and knowing looks from some of the characters actually prevents this from feeling all that dated. Jack Hill feels pretty ahead of himself with the sensibilities he displays here and there’s slivers of what Tim Burton seems to echo with his more amusing characters, as well as a fair few modern comedic moments that far out reach the usual 60s comedies this must have been rubbing shoulders with in 1968.

 Spider Baby

Video


Haters on grain will take immediate offence to the thick grain layer here that’s hard to be ignored because it’s always moving like a swarm of bugs but the sunlit exterior scenes eliminates a fair portion of it and it doesn't take long to get used to it really, given how great this resorted image looks.

This black and white image here is actually very, very good. Black levels are strong and the levels of grey between white and black are many offering up a deep, fairly sharp looking image for a low budget 60s horror. Texture and detail is great in certain elements such as costumes and some elements of the sets but it really does depend on where the light source is coming from and isn't always consistent.
 
This one really shows off the charm an HD overhaul can have on even the smallest of movies. This cult favourite really manages to shine in its new 1080p home and even with the limitations, there were moments where the image looked amazing. Arrow has done a fine job with this one indeed.

 Spider Baby

Audio


The audio track is best described as creaky. The eerie, yet fun score creates an atmosphere for almost the entire run time. The dialogue is extremely scratchy and has highs and lows when it comes to hiss but everything remains clear enough to hear of course. Sound effects are the crispest elements and even the odd bit of unbalanced elements isn't enough to let this track down.

Once again, we’re dealing with an old movie, from an old source and I could pick holes at tons if I lined it up to a something akin to its madness,  like Dark Shadows or something but you just can’t do that. Spider Baby sounds pretty good for its age and despite its issues and creakiness nothing is too far a miss and it keeps that nostalgic feel to its audio presentation because of it.

 Spider Baby

Extras


The commentary with Jack Hill and Sid Haig is a series of stop and starts and it doesn't really build a great deal of momentum. The pair complement most of the cast and each other but it’s a fairly light affair really.

'The Hatching of Spider Baby' (31:43 HD) mentions the original title Cannibal Orgy and moves through the history of the production. There’s a big chunk of the cast present as well as Jack Hill and Joe Dante (of course he’s a fan) and this is a fine companion piece for fans of the film.

‘Spider Stavinsky: The Cinema Sounds of Ronald Stein’ (10:58 HD) focuses in on the composer and his career and ‘The Merrye House Revisited’ (07:38 HD) has Jack Hill return to the house in the movie.
The Alternative Opening Title Sequence. (01:50 SD) isn't all that alternative, it just features the original title Cannibal Orgy. Also as an alternative, the ‘Extended Scene’ (04:04 SD) has a bit more footage from Bruno’s journey on the way to the house with Schlocker.

The ‘Cast and Crew Panel‘ (33:08 HD) is from the screening Quentin Tarantino and Harvey Weinstein helped happen when they  got the negatives for the restoration to happen. They mention the film was shot in 12 days, which not only makes sense it’s also pretty startling at the same time as these characters seem so lived in for such a short amount of shooting time.

Adding something extra to the mix, we get The Host (29:08 HD) which is a student film from Jack Hill featuring Sid Haig. We're also told of the films connections to Apocalypse Now and informs us of the friendship between Francis and Jack Hill could be the reasons for it.

Last up is the image galley, the trailer and a DVD copy.

 Spider Baby

Overall


Spider Baby is madness but madness that plays by its own rules to great effect. There’s a great combination of characters here, some funny yet disturbing scenes and a seemingly unafraid approach to just how weird it all gets without losing the audience along the way. The image has a pretty high grain ratio but that’s not enough to hide the good looks of this black and white joy of a 60s movie and while the audio crackles, it never ruins the overall effect. As for the extras, there’s tons and they are all mostly great, so anyone wanting to experience Spider Baby in HD shouldn't be disappointed with this one at all.

* Note: The images on this page are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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