Halloween Countdown – October 29

Screams, moans, bats & bones!
Teenage monsters in haunted homes…
The ghost on the stair!
The Vampire’s bite!
Better beware- there’s a full moon tonight!

And there is a full moon tonight, so what better trailer than one for a movie where the state of the moon hold’s no importance?

Merrye Syndrome- a genetic affliction unique to the Merrye family (funny, that) which kicks in around puberty and causes them to mentally, and eventually physically regress backwards down the evolutionary ladder.

Jack Hill’sSpider Baby can easily sit along side other self-aware horror-comedy of the era; the drive-in B-movies of Del Tenney, or Roger Corman’s Poe/Lovecraft mashups for AIP. In fact, it rises above a lot of its brethren.

The trailer certainly sells the zany, oversexed murderous feel of the movie’s last 15 minutes, but it sadly skips over the soulfully eerie build-up, where the Merrye sisters (Beverly Washburn and Jill Banner) swing between murderous and giddy childlike innocence (there is a shot in the trailer of them mugging straight at the camera that captures this though), and banter with Bruno, the gentle family caretaker and chauffeur played wonderfully by Lon Chaney Jr.

That is young Sid Haig leering and gibbering in the dumbwaiter, and Carol Ohmart (Vincent Price’s devious wife in House on Haunted Hill in the black negligee running about, menaced by the psychotic Merrye’s.

Ohmart is actually very good in the movie- most of the cast is, if you can balance the period affectations and the low-budget setting. There is a primal sexuality- and a sadness- layered over the poverty-row Addams or Munster feel to the proceedings. Good as Ohmart and Chaney are, Jill Banner is the real stand-out performance in this, as the unhinged Virginia.

Spider Baby is one of my favorite hidden gems- at times it comes across like Hill wanted to make a less sedate, more sensational version of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle but knew it needed more characters, sex and death to work as a b-picture.

Chaney wrote and performed the theme song (lyric sample for the entry’s intro above) which is pretty fun- much in line with his Christmas/Halloween jingle “Monster’s Holliday”.

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