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Spider Baby
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJack Hill
Screenplay byJack Hill[2]
Produced by
  • Paul Monka
  • Gil Lasky[2]
CinematographyAlfred Taylor[2]
Edited byElliot Fayad[2]
Music byRonald Stein[2]
Distributed byAmerican General Pictures
Release date
Running time
80 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States

Spider Baby is a 1967 American black comedy horror film, written and directed by Jack Hill.[3] It stars Lon Chaney Jr. as Bruno, the chauffeur and caretaker of three orphaned siblings who suffer from "Merrye Syndrome", a genetic condition starting in early puberty that causes them to regress mentally, socially and physically. Jill Banner, Carol Ohmart, Quinn Redeker, Beverly Washburn, Sid Haig, Mary Mitchel, Karl Schanzer and Mantan Moreland also star.

The film was released to relative obscurity,[4] but eventually achieved cult status.[5]


The story is introduced to the audience by Peter in the retrospective of ten years after the incidents portrayed. Using a medical textbook, he discusses the concept of the now-extinct "Merrye Syndrome", a genetic affliction unique to members of the Merrye family which causes them, starting in late childhood, to regress down the evolutionary ladder mentally, socially and physically.

Flashing back ten years, we accompany a motorcycle delivery man to the decaying rural Merrye House, feared by locals, where three children of the Merrye family, Ralph, Virginia, and Elizabeth, live in seclusion with their protector and chauffeur Bruno (Chaney). All three exhibit playful innocence mixed with brutality and feral madness. Virginia is known as "Spider Baby" because of her obsession with spiders. She stalks and eats bugs, moving with a strange and spider-like grace. She also enjoys trapping unsuspecting victims in her rope "web", "stinging" them to death using two butcher knives. After murdering the innocent delivery man, Virginia cuts off one of his ears, which she keeps in a match box.

Ralph is a sexually advanced, but mentally deficient simpleton who moves through the house via the dumb-waiter. Unable to speak, Ralph communicates with only grunts and leers. He becomes sexually aroused with the arrival of the two visiting women.

Two distant relatives, Peter and Emily, arrive followed by their lawyer Schlocker and his secretary Ann Morris in order to examine and claim the property as rightful heirs. The four visitors are shocked by the children's behavior until Bruno explains that the children are inbred victims of an inherited family condition called the Merrye Syndrome, leaving them essentially as overgrown children, demented and dangerous. Bruno rebuffs the lawyer's suggestion to put the children in a modern institution, saying that he swore to the children's father to protect them for life.

Bruno's shaky control over the children deteriorates; murder, chaos and insanity ensue.[6] Dinner is served for the guests after Ralph happily kills a cat for the main course. The revolting meal includes insects, mushrooms, and a garden salad made of weeds.

Peter, Emily, their lawyer Schlocker, and his assistant Ann Morris insist on staying at the house, but with only two rooms available, Peter drives Ann into town to stay at the inn, leaving the lawyer Schocker and Emily alone in the house with Bruno and the children. The skeleton of the family's dead father is kept in a bedroom and is kissed goodnight by Virginia.

Alone in her room, Emily, secretly observed by Ralph, admires herself in black lingerie she has found. Meanwhile the overly-curious cigar-chomping lawyer Schlocker begins investigating the house. He stumbles upon the severed ear of the delivery man in a matchbox. He eventually makes his way to the basement, where he is attacked by mysterious figure, and then murdered by Virginia and Elizabeth with knives and a pitchfork.

Bruno sees Schockler's body on the dumb waiter and realize that he has lost control of the children. He tells the repentant Virginia and Elizabeth that the nasty Schockler got what he deserved, but that going forward, it will difficult to protect them. He tells them that their brother is just about old enough to join the older demented relatives Aunt Clara, Aunt Martha, and Uncle Ned, who have regressed even further than the Merrye siblings and have been confined to the basement.

Bruno leaves on an errand. Despite warning the children to "behave", events spiral downhill as the Merrye kids run amok. The basement dwellers are unleashed. The children chase the terrified Emily out of the house in the dark woods, where she is captured and raped by Ralph while his sisters look on.

Peter and Ann, having delayed finding lodging due to having dinner, find that all the rooms in town are taken are forced to return to the mansion for the night. As they arrive, Virginia and Elizabeth, fearing the consequences of what will happen, reluctantly make a plan to take care of them.

Greeting Peter and Ann in a sweet and fawning manner, they tell them that their two companions have gone to sleep. Elizabeth escorts the "pretty lady" Ann to her room, while Virginia begins flirting with Peter. Elizabeth leads Ann into the clutches of Ralph, who prevents her from screaming.

Bruno returns and realizes that he has lost control of the children and of their secret unsavory lives. Retrieving dynamite from a shed, he begins a plan to destroy the house, along with himself and the children.

Meanwhile Virginia begins a spider "game" with Peter. She begins wrapping Peter in cobwebs, immobilizing him in a chair. Virginia is about to "sting" the horrified Peter to death with her knives when Elizabeth intervenes at the last minute to stop her. She calls Virginia's attention to the problem of what to do with Ann, who is being held captive by Ralph.

As Virginia and Elizabeth plot to dispose of Ann, Peter struggles in his chair to free himself.

Out in the woods Emily awakes after being raped. Traumatized and delirious, she becomes sexually aggressive and murderous, calling out Ralph's name. Inside the house, she attacks him in vampiric style, while the two demented sisters struggle to defend him, all the while also confining Ann.

In the midst of being assaulted by tarantulas, Peter escapes his confinement and then frees Ann. As Bruno prepares the dynamite to destroy the house, he calmly urges Peter to escape the house as quickly as possible. Peter carries Ann out of the house to safety. Bruno turns to smile at the older demented Merrye relatives as they emerge from the basement. He then lights a bundle of dynamite to finish his plan of destroying the Merrye line. It is implied that all the Merryes, as well as Bruno and the now-demented Emily, are killed in the subsequent explosion.

Back in the present day, Peter recounts the story as the movie comes to a close. Addressing the audience, he explains that, as the sole remaining heir, he inherited the Merrye's vast family fortune, married Ann and wrote a book on the strange "Merrye Syndrome" phenomenon. He adds that his particular branch of the family was distant enough to be immune to the syndrome. However, the camera cuts to Peter's young daughter, who eerily resembles Virginia, admiring a spider in its web.



The location chosen was the (now historic) Smith Estate in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles.[7]

The film was shot between August and September 1964. However, due to the original producer's bankruptcy, the film was not released until December 24, 1967.[8] Spider Baby suffered from poor marketing as well as a series of title changes, being billed alternatively as The Liver Eaters, Attack of the Liver Eaters, Cannibal Orgy, and The Maddest Story Ever Told. Although these alternate titles have little or no relation to the plot, the latter two appear in the lyrics of the title song sung by Chaney: "This cannibal orgy is strange to behold in the maddest story ever told." The opening titles of the film also dub it Spider Baby or, The Maddest Story Ever Told.[citation needed]

The cinematographer was Alfred Taylor, who had previously worked on the film The Atomic Brain. The entire production cost about $65,000, and took only 12 days to shoot in black and white.[9] The film was released as a double bill with Hell's Chosen Few.


Spider Baby first opened theatrically in Fremont, Ohio, as a double feature with The Wizard of Mars on December 8, 1967.[1] It opened in Shreveport, Louisiana, the following week, on December 13, 1967.[10]

Critical response

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 94% based on 13 reviews, with a weighted average rating of 7.16/10.[11] Author and film critic Leonard Maltin awarded the film two and a half out of a possible four stars, calling the film "At its best it's both scary and funny."[12]

Home media

In 1999, a DVD of the film's original laserdisc transfer was released, including a cast and crew reunion and a commentary track by Hill.[citation needed] In 2007, Dark Sky Films released a version featuring Hill's director's cut, a new commentary with co-star Haig and multiple documentaries on the making of the film.[citation needed] In 2015, British home video distributor Arrow Films released a director-approved Blu-ray/DVD combo special edition of the film.[citation needed]


Stage adaptations

A musical version of Spider Baby played small community theaters, looking for a wider audience. It opened at the Empty Space theater in Bakersfield, California, on Halloween 2004. In October 2007, it opened in Brookings, Oregon, at the local Grange Hall, and in Orlando, Florida, at the Black Orchid Theater.

In 2009, the musical toured with stops in Fresno, Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Tehachapi and San Francisco. A 2010 multi-city tour had stops in Las Vegas, Toronto, and Los Angeles.

In 2012, it played in San Diego, California, at the 10th Avenue Arts Centre as part of Gamercon and Terror at the 10th, respectively.

The soundtrack for the musical version was the final project at Buck Owens' recording studio in Bakersfield.

In music

The film's theme song has been covered at least three times: By the band Fantômas on their film-score covers album The Director's Cut, by crossover thrash band The Accüsed on 1988's Martha Splatterhead's Maddest Stories Ever Told as "The Maddest Story Ever Told", and by Kid Congo Powers.[13]


In 2007, independent film producer Tony DiDio began preparing a remake of the film, featuring original director Hill as executive producer, and Jeff Broadstreet as director.[14]

Broadstreet stated in an interview, "We're going to stick very closely to the basic story of the original film, and at the same time dig deeper into the backstory of the inbred Merrye family." The new script by Robert Valding "expands on the themes of unconditional love, and also the story elements of cannibalism and the mutant relatives in the basement".[14]

In 2009, Spider Baby writer/director Hill and END Films launched the "official Spider Baby website", featuring historical information about the film, director/cast biographies, video clips and photo galleries.[15]

Preservation and archival status

In 2012, the film was preserved by the Academy Film Archive, using the original camera negative. A new fine grain master positive, new duplicate negative and new prints were created, as well as analog and digital soundtrack masters.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b "1st Run". The News-Messenger. December 8, 1967. p. 24 – via
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Spider Baby". American Film Institute. Retrieved August 29, 2019.
  3. ^ p. 92 Ray, Fred Olen The New Poverty Row: Independent Filmmakers as Distributors McFarland, 1 Jan 1991
  4. ^ "Spider Baby". CBS Interactive. Retrieved February 25, 2017.
  5. ^ "Videophiled Cult: 'Spider Baby' and the B-movie delights of Jack Hill". Cinephiled. July 5, 2015. Retrieved February 25, 2017.
  6. ^ Archived February 11, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ "Smith Estate". Roadtrippers. Retrieved February 25, 2017.
  8. ^ "Spider Baby (1968) - Jack Hill | Overview". AllMovie. Retrieved February 26, 2017.
  9. ^ "The Spider Baby Website". Retrieved February 25, 2013.
  10. ^ "Film Musicals Are Scheduled". The Shreveport Journal. December 8, 1967. p. B7 – via
  11. ^ "Spider Baby (1968) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Totten Tomatoes. Retrieved December 17, 2019.
  12. ^ Leonard Maltin; Spencer Green; Rob Edelman (January 2010). Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide. Plume. p. 622. ISBN 978-0-452-29577-3.
  13. ^ "Spider Baby - Official Video - Kid Congo & The Pink Monkey Birds". YouTube.
  14. ^ a b Fangoria - America's Horror Magazine
  15. ^ "The Official Home of Spider Baby". Retrieved March 24, 2016.

External links

This page was last edited on 25 November 2021, at 16:54
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