Spider Baby, or the Maddest Story Ever Told is an underloved classic from 1967 that you may never have heard of, but you should!
Lon Chaney, Jr plays Bruno, the long-suffering caretaker of what remains of the Merrye family, who have been afflicted with a condition that causes them to mentally regress once they pass the age of puberty. Virginia (Jill Banner) likes to pretend to be a spider, Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn) thinks everyone should hate each other, and the eldest and most regressed, Ralph (stunningly performed by Sid Haig), is a toddler in a pro wrestler’s body. As the story opens, they receive a letter (and Virginia stabs the mailman to death) telling them lawyers are coming to claim the estate in the name of long-lost relations, and to take the “children” into care.
“Now Children, we’ve got to keep some secrets today.” — Bruno
When the lawyer and erstwhile cousins arrive and demand to be fed and spend the night, the Merrye family and Bruno try to appear normal, but it is a losing battle, and soon the visitors flee for their lives through the corridors of the mansion. And discover what is in the secret basement.
Spider Baby is an unusual film with an interesting premise. And that premise is taken to the logical extreme, for if the “children” revert as they age, what happens when they pass the newborn stage? Because they have aunts and an uncle much older than Ralph. What are they like? It’s a unique concept well-told.
Years ago, some friends of mine in Boston dreamed of making a stage production of this film. I don’t think they ever did (though Wikipedia tells me there was a musical stage version!), but it would be a glorious thing to see, grown adults portraying dangerous “children,” stalking animals and visitors while an irrepressibly positive caretaker tries to avoid upsetting them while keeping them from committing murder.
Oh, hey, Fantômas did a cover of the theme song!
Anyone who loves old black and white horror should see Spider Baby, an inspired and macabre tale without a rubber-suited monster in sight!