Skip to main content
The Independent Critic

Lon Chaney, Jr., Carol Ohmart, Sid Haig
Jack Hill
Rated R
84 Mins.
Arrow Films
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the main feature, available in the UK for the first time;Original 2.0 Mono Audio (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray);High Definition transfer of the feature supervised and approved by director Jack Hill; English SDH subtitles for deaf and hearing impaired;Audio commentary featuring Jack Hill and star Sid Haig;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;The Hatching of Spider Baby – Interviews with Jack Hill, Sid Haig, star Mary Mitchel, fan Joe Dante and more on the making of the film;Spider Stravinsky: The Cinema Sounds of Ronald Stein – 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 – Jack Hill revisits the original house that was used as the main location in the film;Alternate opening title sequence;Extended scene;Original Trailer;Gallery of behind-the-scenes images;The Host (1960) – Jack Hill’s early short film featuring Sid Haig in his first starring role [30 mins];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

 "Spider Baby" Gets the Arrow Films Treatment 

Quentin Tarantino once called Spider Baby director Jack Hill the Howard Hawks of exploitation. It's recognition that Hill lives up to even in this film, his first solo feature film and yet still widely recognized as one of his weirdest and wildest films. The 1967 film stars Lon Chaney, Jr. in one of his better performances late in his career as Bruno, a guardian and protector to three demented adults following the death of their father. Dubbed "the maddest story ever told," Spider Baby opens up with a scene of Virginia (Jill Banner) killing an unaware messenger in her makeshift web, a web largely birthed out of a genetic disorder all three siblings have that causes them to regress back to childhood while retaining their physical strength and the sexual maturity of adults.

Bruno has, for the most part, been able to cover up the misdeeds of the siblings. This begins to change when two distant relatives arrive at the house to lay claim to it - that is, if Bruno can get the three siblings to behave.

Doesn't that seem unlikely?

Created on a budget of $65,000 back in 1967, Spider Baby is an exploitation fan's delight. It's a film that also made Alfred Eaker's list of 366 Weird Movies, an honor I can't help but think it deserves and that writer/director Jack Hill would be proud of receiving. While it would be easy to peg Spider Baby as an incestuous cousin to such television and cinematic fare as The Addams Family and, to a certain degree, even Little Shop of Horrors. These comparisons are understandable, but there's also little denying that it's one weird-ass beast all its own.

Spider Baby covers the gamut of exploitation material including both incest and cannibalism, though Hill deserves some perverse credit for making the key characters surprisingly sympathetic and compelling. Jill Banner was a mere 17-years-old when she played Virginia, a gloriously unpredictable young woman whose behaviors will likely make you laugh even as you're squirming. Sid Haig shows up as remarkably regressed sibling Ralph, whose behavior isn't so much a polar opposite to Virginia's but he's got a more infantile quality going on. Beverly Washburn is here as the third sibling and completes the trio quite nicely. The film also features Carol Ohmart as Aunt Emily, who brings with her the spot-on Peter (Quinn Redeker).

Despite having a budget that was modest even in 1967, Spider Baby benefits greatly from the creative and inspired lensing of Alfred Taylor and Ronald Stein's almost endearing original score.

Yeah, I said endearing.

Spider Baby, though, truly soars on the strength of the perfect casting of Chaney, whose life had downward spiraled by this time due to alcoholism but who reportedly promised Hill he'd remain sober throughout the production. It has been long reported that Chaney kept his promise and was rewarded with one of the best performances of his incredibly up-and-down, mostly down, career.

With a wealth of winning extras on this DVD/Blu-ray release from U.K.-based Arrow Films, Spider Baby gets practically the perfect distribution for a film that remains an early, shining example of exploitation and bold, passionate filmmaking in a genre that could far too often be accused of going by the formula.

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic