"Spider Baby or, The Maddest Story Ever Told" (1968) is a macabre and absolutely fantastic low-budget Horror/Exploitation/Comedy feature starring classic Horror icon Lon Chaney Jr. in one of his last roles and 70s to present day Exploitation icon Sid Haig in one of his first roles. Directed by the great Jack Hill to whom the world of cult-cinema also owes several Blaxploitation classics (including the awesome "Coffy" of 1973, starring Pam Grier), "Spider Baby" presents what is quite possibly the most lovable bunch of murderous lunatics ever seen on screen.
Lon Chaney plays the kind elderly chauffeur and caretaker Bruno, who, after his boss Mr. Merrye has passed away, devotes himself to taking care of the late master's children. The Merrye children are not quite your everyday children, however, as the physically adult kids are suffering from a rare condition - the Merrye disease - which effects the brain in a way that makes them quite demented: the two cherubic teenage girls Virgina (Jill Banner) and Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn) both have demented urges, especially Virginia whose obsession with spiders makes her the eponymous 'Spider Baby'. Their brother Ralph (Sid Haig), on the other hand, is a simple-minded fellow how communicates only with grunts, but has an incontrollable sex-drive whenever a woman arrives... One day, their nice uncle Peter (Quinn K. Redeker) and bitchy aunt Emily(Carol Ohmart) arrive along with the sleazy, Hitler-mustached lawyer Schlocker (Karl Schanzer) and his assistant Ann (Mary Mitchel), which brings Bruno into the trouble of having to disguise the dangerous character of his demented fosterlings...
"Spider Baby" is a demented, hilarious and simply extremely entertaining film and I cannot imagine that any fellow Horror fan would not love it. The film is full of macabre themes including cannibalism, murder of innocent people, rape, and utterly demented obsessions, all of which are presented in a wonderfully ironic and fun manner. While "The Maddest Story Ever Told" has some truly 'mad' and incredibly macabre scenes, they are always presented with a twinkle in the eye and never meant to be taken seriously. In this manner, the film succeeds as a pioneering Exploitation feature and Horror film, as well as a Comedy. All three of the Merrye children are utterly demented but incredibly likable, and Chaney's Bruno the caretaker seems like a lovable grandfather, whereas the visitors are divided into nice (uncle Peter and Ann), and greedy (Schlocker and aunt Emily).
The performances are wonderful. Lon Chaney is always superb, this being one of the finest moments in his impressive career. Sid Haig is a personal favorite active actor of mine (both for his great 70s Exploitation films and for the great stuff he is doing today, such as Rob Zombie's "House of 1000 Corpses" and "The Devil's Rejects"), and his character here (he was in his late 20s when this was made) is a very cool and very likable outlook to the sinister fellows he would play throughout his entire career. The arguably greatest praise has to go to the two female Merrye girls: Beverly Washburn and Jill Banner are fantastic as Elizabeth (Washburn), who is obsessed with 'hating', and Virginia, who is obsessed with spiders (and being a spider), and their quarrels are among the funnest moments in the film. Carol Olmert, who plays aunt Emily, will also be known to Horror fans for playing Vincent Price's wife in William Castle's equally awesome "House on Haunted Hill" (1959). The film also features the black actor/comedian Mantan Moreland in a tiny role of a messenger.
Overall, "Spider Baby" is a hilarious, macabre, morbid and absolutely brilliant Horror comedy that simply has to be seen by anybody interested in Horror/Exploitation/Cult-Cinema and Black Humor in general. Fantastic in all regards!