Spider Baby (1964)

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*. It looks like it’s going to be a rough ride as Quinn Redeker’s Peter introduces the story. He can’t read his lines properly. The timing is way off.
*. A gothic nightmare, with the old family house standing in for the castle. But it isn’t Southern or New England/Lovecraftian gothic. This is California and those are palm trees. Does that make a difference? Is it harder to take seriously?
*. It wouldn’t be right for Lon Chaney (by this time he had dropped the Jr.) to get through a movie without turning on the waterworks. He really liked to cry on screen. That said, he’s very good here in a completely ridiculous part.
*. The odd final acts of horror stars. Lugosi, Karloff, Chaney . . .
*. A movie that you would expect to find in the canons of cult film, and yet it makes it onto very few such lists. I think because it didn’t have much of a theatrical run and basically disappeared for a long time. As Joe Dante remarks, “it was a very elusive movie.” It’s certainly cult material, but never had much of a cult, at least until recently.
*. Family horrors. I think Hill is on to something in his commentary where he says that one of the things that makes the film so popular is the idea that no matter how sick and depraved the family members are, they still love one another and look out for each other. This is the dark side of “unconditional love.” Meanwhile, it is the more “normal” people who are cast as intruders who have to be gotten rid of.

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*. The family that eats together . . . is ghastly. There’s a great tradition of these grotesque dining scenes, beginning with The Old Dark House. Nothing more immediately highlights the disruption or inversion of convention and normalcy than a dinner with crazies. Of course The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was coming up. But also think of the sit-down dinner in Craven’s The Last House on the Left, which is where the “bad family” give themselves away because of their atrocious table manners.
*. It’s odd that a film that seems to stand at the start of so much was actually a parody of earlier films (the great tradition of Universal horror is directly invoked over the dinner table). You just have to tweak a genre very slightly to make it a satire, and you just have to tweak a satire very slightly to turn it back into something shocking.

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*. Or, to give things another turn of the screw, how much funnier would the movie have been if they had played the material straight?

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*. What do you think is going on between Ralph and his Aunt Emily (Carol Ohmart)? Has she been raped?  Her clothes are still intact, after all, and Ralph has by this time presumably regressed to a pre-pubescent state (in a bit of dialogue that was cut he even refers to her as “mommy”). My first impression on seeing her call for him when she revives is that she’d somehow fallen in love with him, but later she attacks him. Is she out for revenge? Or does she feel jilted?
*. Lots of obvious nods to Psycho (the peeping in on Carol Ohmart in her lingerie, the stuffed birds, the similar-looking house on the hill). In his commentary Hill admits that this is the only film that was any influence on him.
*. I’m glad that Carol Ohmart had fun with the part, running around in the woods in her lingerie and pearls. If her role as the garishly-garbed chatelaine of the House on Haunted Hill is any indication, she probably liked the chance to play dress-up. Though Hill and Haig are cruel in saying she “must have been in her 40s” when she made the picture, and Haig a bit condescending in referring to her as, “for a mature woman, very sexy.” Come on. In fact, by my reckoning she was in her mid-30s, and she looks sensational.
*. According to Hill, the kid at the end was just the niece of one of the producers, but does she ever look creepy! That’s one of the most memorable final close-ups in film.

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