Saturday, June 27, 2015

Spider Baby (Arrow Blu-ray) - The Maddest Blu-ray Ever Sold

I have always appreciated Spider Baby though admittedly it is not my favorite horror picture. It’s not the acting; I think everyone does a fantastic job and it isn’t the music which may actually be one of my favorite theme songs of all time (Lon Chaney Jr. does a splendid job). Aside from the opening sequence of the movie which I find to be part humorous and part super creep out, I really lose interest in this particular demented family about a third of the way in, once we really understand the level of strange. I suppose that’s because the movie begins to follow a fairly straightforward narrative which is in contrast to the absurd, novel opening. I enjoy it. I do not love it as some of you do, but the history behind the release and production of this picture is absolutely fascinating, must be told and available on the new Blu-ray from Arrow US.

What works for Spider Baby is an unsettling family of characters seemingly thrown together as a band of perfect deranged misfits at varying stages in mental and physical development and psychosis. The atmosphere is strange and unusual, like Lydia Dietz thrown back in time and given a mean streak, spider woman roleplaying cosplay. When the “norms” finally enter the picture the whole fish out of water, country mouse/crazy mouse routine begins. Moments of pure slapstick humor give way to disturbing performances that break the boundary of acceptable cinema circa 1967. All the time Lon Chaney Jr plays the great mitigator trying to preserve his family and heritage while coming to terms with a modern, by the numbers world.

For those of you who love this movie, the artwork from genius artist Graham Humphreys should be enough to sell you on this disc. If not, the history lesson provided by Jack Hill, Sid Haig, Joe Dante and company should be reason enough. If that’s not good enough try an gorgeous HD transfer for a release that is available in both the UK and the US! This is part of the Jack Hill series from Arrow which means Hill helped supervise the production and thus lends his whole heart to the release. It shows. The making of featurette is long and robust, full of tidbits and release notes that flesh out this odd film. Of course, the soundtrack nut in me loves the featurette focusing on the music production. It would make a great 7 inch release for the right record distro company (we’re looking at you Death Waltz/Mondo or One Way). I’m also a bit of a nut for alternate title cards which is included for Spider Baby. The booklet is informative, full of stills and pretty. This is an Arrow package; it needs only be opened to be admired.

The well-rounded horror fan is not well-rounded without a viewing of Spider Baby and this is the edition to pop your cherry. If you’d been waiting to indulge, suckle at the Blu-ray teet now. If my recent experience with Arrow has taught me one thing it is that a black and white movie with proper HD transfer and restoration is a thing to be admired and appreciated. Even though Spider Baby has not resonated with me the way it does for some of you, I have a greater appreciation for it thanks to the material on this disc that creates a basis in horror history for the release and even a special eye on the plight of locating original film materials. Build a web for this one. You better beware. There’s a full moon tonight.

  High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the main feature, available in the UK for the first time
  Original 2.0 Mono Audio (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
  High Definition transfer of the feature supervised and approved by director Jack Hill
  English SDH subtitles for deaf and hearing impaired
  Audio commentary featuring Jack Hill and star Sid Haig
  Panel discussion from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences FILM-TO-FILM Festival, recorded September 2012, featuring Jack Hill and stars Quinn K. Redeker and Beverly Washburn
  The Hatching of Spider Baby – Interviews with Jack Hill, Sid Haig, star Mary Mitchel, fan Joe Dante and more on the making of the film
  Spider Stravinsky: The Cinema Sounds of Ronald Stein – The composer of ‘The Terror’ and ‘Attack of the 50 Foot Woman’ among others is remembered by Harlene Stein, Jack Hill, American Cinematheque’s Chris D. and others
  The Merrye House Revisited – Jack Hill revisits the original house that was used as the main location in the film
  Alternate opening title sequence
  Extended scene
  Original Trailer
  Gallery of behind-the-scenes images
  The Host (1960) – Jack Hill’s early short film featuring Sid Haig in his first starring role [30 mins]
  Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
  Collector’s booklet featuring writing on the film by artist and writer Stephen R. Bissette, and an extensive article re-printed from FilmFax: The Magazine of Unusual Film and Television featuring interviews with the cast and crew, illustrated with original stills and artwork

From Arrow Video:

The credits dub this “the maddest story ever told”, a promise that’s well on the way to being fulfilled in the opening scene alone, when Virginia traps and kills a hapless deliveryman in her makeshift web. She’s one of three siblings who suffer from a unique genetic disorder that causes them to regress back to childhood, while retaining the physical strength and sexual maturity of adults.

Lon Chaney Jr gave one of his most memorable late performances as Bruno, their guardian and protector, who has managed to cover up their crimes until two distant relatives lay claim to their house. When they insist on moving in, Bruno has to cross his fingers and hope that the ‘children’ behave towards their new guests…

This was the first solo feature by Jack Hill, whom Quentin Tarantino dubbed “the Howard Hawks of exploitation filmmaking”, and it remains one of his wildest and weirdest. 

Just for fun, enjoy the Lon Chaney Jr version of the theme to Spider Baby and the Fantomas cover:

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