On September 21st, 2019, the horror community would suffer the tragic loss of yet another iconic figure of the industry. Sid Haig, aged 80 at the time of his death, had succumbed to complications of Aspergillus Pneumonia. As a result, he would ultimately pass away in his sleep, leaving behind a loving family, legions of fans worldwide, and an impressive legacy in film that spanned almost 60 years.
The veteran actor was a familiar face in genre cinema. While he regularly appeared in popular cult and exploitation films like Foxy Brown (1974), Galaxy of Terror (1981), and Coffy (1973), Haig was likely most well-known for playing the role of ‘Captain Spaulding’ in Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses (2003) and its sequels.
Aside from his contributions to film, Haig will also be remembered for his kindness; to both his fans and his collaborators, alike. He was a dynamic actor with a tremendous personality and his presence will be sorely missed.
The Maddest Story Ever Told
Jack Hill’s 1968 film Spider Baby was one of Sid Haig’s very first credited appearances as an actor. Notably, it was also one of Lon Cheney Jr.’s last. A delightfully wicked blend of horror and black-comedy, Spider Baby has a bizarre but endearing quality to it – an oddball sort of charm, if you will. It is a flavor that feels very distinctive to the era in which it was made; a love note from the 1960s, gone mad.
Aside from Haig and Cheney, the cast of the film also includes Jill Banner, Beverly Washburn, Carol Ohmart, and Quinn K. Redeker. It was produced on a modest budget of $65,000 – which would be equivalent to about $480,000 today – and took only 12 days to shoot.
The plot follows the exploits of the Merrye family, who suffer from a rare genetic condition. This strange affliction is unique to the Merrye bloodline and causes a state of both mental and physical deterioration, which grows increasingly worse with age. When some estranged relatives with an insidious agenda arrive at the Merrye household, it spells trouble for the family’s shroud of secrecy and overall grotesque way of life.
Spiders Don’t Eat Other Spiders
First and foremost, you can’t talk about Spider Baby without mentioning the performances given by the cast. Everyone who appears in the film does an excellent job of breathing a unique and electrifying life into their respective characters.
Lon Cheney Jr. shines as ‘Bruno’, the compassionate but long-suffering caregiver of the Merrye children. One scene in particular, in which Bruno senses that the family’s time is coming to an end, was supposedly so well-played that it actually left the film’s crew choking back tears. Jill Banner and Beverly Washburn make for an outstanding duo as the two Merrye sisters, ‘Elizabeth’ and ‘Virginia’, and Sid Haig shows his incredible range as an actor in the role of ‘Ralph’ – the eldest of the three demented siblings.
In my opinion, this movie is perfect. Speaking in terms of tone, delivery, and general entertainment value, Spider Baby is superbly executed on almost every single level. The story, while a little batty, is more than compelling enough to carry the film’s 86 minute running time. Although it doesn’t enjoy the same level of acclaim and recognition as some of its counterparts from the same period, it isn’t because it shouldn’t. It is a criminally overlooked masterpiece that has somehow managed to slip through the cracks. With any luck, that is a situation that will eventually be remedied through exposure.
It’s Not Nice to Hate
If you couldn’t already tell, Spider Baby is a personal favorite of mine. I have seen the film many times throughout my life and the experience has never gotten old for me. Aside from starring two of the finest character actors to have ever graced the silver screen, it is genuinely just a fun movie to watch. I could easily gush on about it for several more paragraphs but will mercifully spare you the strain on your eyeballs. After all, why take my word for it when you could check it out and see for yourself?
I award Spider Baby (1968) with the highest possible rating that I could give – five out of five Cthulhus. I strongly recommend – hell, I urge you – to drop everything and watch this picture. You can thank me later.(5 / 5)
Spider Baby (1968) is currently available to stream in its entirety on Shudder, Tubi, and YouTube.
You can watch the trailer for Spider Baby, courtesy of Media Graveyard, below.
If you enjoyed ‘The Way Back Machine: Spider Baby (1968)’, then why not check out our other film-related content, here.