Combustible Celluloid
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With: Lon Chaney Jr., Carol Ohmart, Quinn K. Redeker, Beverly Washburn, Jill Banner, Sid Haig, Mary Mitchel, Karl Schanzer, Mantan Moreland
Written by: Jack Hill
Directed by: Jack Hill
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 81
Date: 01/08/1968

Spider Baby (1964)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Creepy Crawlies

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Spider Baby is one of the first films by the great Jack Hill (who directed Coffy, Foxy Brown, The Big Bird Cage, The Big Doll House and Switchblade Sisters). In my highly trained opinion, it's one of the greatest films ever made.

It was revived in the '90s as a midnight movie at L.A.'s Nuart theatre and here at San Francisco's Roxie theatre. It features one of Lon Chaney Jr.'s last performances, and even though he was pretty messed up at the time (an alcoholic), he still comes across as charming and gentle.

The movie concerns a weirdo family who has a regressive gene, which, as they grow older, causes them to become more and more like monsters. Chaney is their chauffeur, who's pledged to take care of the three remaining kids. Except that this obnoxious woman who is a distant cousin has found out about the mansion they live in and comes out to try and claim it as her inheritance. So the kids go a little crazy.

As with Freaks, the viewer ends up siding with the same monsters who would be the villains of an ordinary horror film. Every scene in this movie is a surprise, such as a bizarre mealtime scene in which the guests try to get their appetites around the weird family's tastes. It's also a great haunted house movie where every room has something new and creepy in it. I don't want to give anything more away. Let's just say that the movie goes farther than you expect.

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