Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Whatever Happened To Spider Baby!


I don't know that I'd ever read or heard of this oddball horror flick titled Spider Baby (or perhaps Whatever Happened to Spider Baby or The Liver Eaters or Spider Baby - The Maddest Story Ever Told or Cannibal Orgy...you get the picture) until I stumbled across its description on TCM. I saw it was dated 1968 and featured Lon Chaney Jr., and I knew I had to at least take a glimpse so I set it up to record and went on my merry way. I forgot about it, but my DVR did not and when it showed up on the recorded list I gave it a tumble.

Weird!

The movie was apparently actually shot in 1964, in glorious black and white, but didn't get released until 1968 because of finances. It's pretty clear not much money went into this production. Featuring novice and second-tier actors, that side of the film is sometimes awkward but mostly competent. The set design and the directing are other matters entirely, strictly low rent and downright shabby in places.

Washburn, Haig, Banner and Chaney
The movie is set in a classic "haunted house" inhabited by a gaggle of crazed children overseen by the caretaker Lon Chaney Jr. I got a distinctly Addams Family feel from the array of crazies, with characters who reminded me of various of those classic folks here and there at various times. I got the sense that the director wanted to make an Addams Family movie which was just a tad more blood-thirsty than the classic TV series would allow.

Mantan Moreland, a famous face from several vintage horror flicks opens the story as a delivery man who meets a grisly end. His scenes clearly seemed to have been shot apart from the rest of the cast as he doesn't interact with them, save by dint of stand ins and editing. Chaney shows up and disposes of Mantan and he's hardly mentioned after. He deserved better and the movie would've been well served to have actually added him to the mix more thoroughly.

The crazy-mixed-up-kids in this story are killers all, with a tendency toward cannibalism. Apparently the members of this family get nuttier as they age, so these kids still are "manageable" so to speak while older members of the clan are hidden away in the bowels of the house and apparently are merely fed and left to fend for their wild selves. The dark-haired girl (Jill Banner) likes to play with knives and the blonde (Beverly Washburn) seems more innocent but seems content to murder also. The boy (Sid Haig) who seems to be a cross between Uncle Fester and Pugsley is on the verge of getting out of hand and joining his relatives in the basement.

Schanzer and Ohmart
Some distant relatives with designs on the property appear, and that triggers the core plot. The crazies try to kill the nastier newcomers (Carol Ohmart, Quinn Redeker, and Karl Schanzer who plays a lawyer with a distinct Gomez Addams affect) while Chaney tries to hold the mess together. He fails, as does this movie ultimately. I get that some folks find it a cheesy cult flick, but I found it too dull and slowly paced to really enjoy. Chaney does put some effort into his part, but I find him too mawkish most of the time.

All in all Spider Baby is just too poorly done and while it doesn't mind laughing at itself, I find it not terribly funny. I though like the opening titles of the movie which are great cartoons. You can get a sense of that here at this website dedicated to the movie which is actually more entertaining than the movie itself.

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