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Film / Spider Baby or, the Maddest Story Ever Told

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This Cannibal Orgy is strange to behold
And The Maddest Story Ever Told!

Spider Baby, or the Maddest Story Ever Told is a 1967 low-budget comedy horror film, written and directed by Jack Hill and starring Lon Chaney Jr., Carol Ohmart, Quinn Redecker, Beverly Washburn, Jill Banner, and Sid Haig.

The film centers around the Merrye family, whose members are affected by the Merrye Syndrome, which causes them to regress into crazy and cannibalistic beings. Looking after them is family's chaffeur Bruno (Chaney).

Problems arise as new legal guardians are given to the family, and their overnight stay turns out to be very troublesome.

Examples in this film:

  • Accidental Misnaming: Bruno refers the lawyer Mr. Schlocker as "Mr. Shocker" a few times.
  • Age-Inappropriate Dress: Virginia, Elizabeth, and Ralph all dress much younger than their actual age, reflecting the Psychopathic Manchild tendencies brought on by the Merrye Syndrome.
  • Animated Credits Opening: Not quite "animated", but the the opening credits are accompanied with cartoon characters representing the cast, plus a hissing cat, a howling dog, and a sketch of the Merrye house itself.
  • Black Dude Dies First: The postman played by Mantan Moreland is first one to go when he pokes his head through the house's window and Virginia kills him.
  • Cannibal Clan: Downplayed. The incest and isolation are there, but the Merryes' cannibalistic tendencies arise as an end-stage symptom of a progressive and hereditary brain disorder that reduces them to a bestial state, not willful maliciousness or twisted clan "custom".
  • Character Title: "Spider Baby" refers to Virginia Merrye, an Ax-Crazy Womanchild who loves spiders, and pretends to be one as part of a "game" which usually ends in the death of the other participant.
  • Chekhov's Gun: While taking Mr. Schlocker and Ann to the Merrye house, Bruno stops the car because the road up ahead is being blasted with dynamite for a new highway. Near the end of the film, Bruno steals dynamite from the demolition site to use in his Murder-Suicide / Mercy Killing of the Merrye children.
  • Cigar Chomper: Mr. Schlocker the lawyer smokes a cigar in practically all of his scenes. After Elizabeth and Virginia kill him, we even see his corpse with a cigar in his mouth!
  • Cool Car: The family car driven by Bruno is a pristine condition 1930s Duesenberg J limousine, a very sought-after car even in 1967 when most cars of the 1930s were either hot rods or rust-buckets.
  • Creepy Doll: Some ragdolls, stripped naked and affixed to the walls, are seen throughout the Merrye household. One appears to be crucified over a spiderweb drawing carved into the wall, suggesting these were Virginia's doing.
  • Cry Laughing: Bruno does this while driving to get the "toy" for the Merrye children.
  • Daddy's Girl: Virginia, who gives her daddy a goodnight kiss even though he's nothing but a skeleton.
  • "Do It Yourself" Theme Tune: Lon Chaney Jr. sings (or rather recites) the opening theme.
  • Dumbwaiter Ride: Ralph is shown several times in the film riding in the house's dumbwaiter from the basement to the main floor. Mr. Schlocker's corpse is also transported to the main floor this way.
  • The End... Or Is It?: The ending suggests that Peter's daughter Jessica might have the Merrye Syndrome.
  • Evil Vegetarian: Kind of. During dinner, Bruno explains the Merrye children are on a vegetarian diet, as their late father belived eating meat would quicken their mental regression. When Ralph starts chowing down on the "rabbit" prepared for the guests, Bruno hand waves this, as "Ralph's allowed to eat what he catches." Virginia also eats bugs, which are NOT vegetarian.
  • Eye Scream: Virginia stabs the postman in both eyes with her knives.
  • Either/Or Title: Spider Baby, or The Maddest Story Ever Told.
  • Foregone Conclusion: As the film opens with Peter explaining that the Merrye Syndrome was wiped out, one can assume the three Merrye children (and their aunts and uncle) are not going to survive the film. What's not revealed is how they are killed off: they are blown up with dynamite as a Mercy Kill Murder-Suicide by their loving caretaker, Bruno.
  • Framing Device: The film's plot is framed as being told to the audience by Peter as a Flashback to ten years ago.
  • Grotesque Cute:
    • Virginia and Elizabeth look and behave like darling little girls while also being violent, amoral sadists, with Virginia killing for fun in her "spider" game and both of them killing Mr. Shlocker and later attempting to kill Ann and Peter.
    • Ralph is basically a toddler in the body of a teenager which makes him seem more innocent than his sisters, with Uncle Peter often referring to him as "a big kid". However, he's shown to be just as violent as his sisters, killing and later eating a feral cat, and his teenaged body shows its ugly side when he rapes Aunt Emily.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: The Merrye children are twice referred to as "retarded"; at the time of the film's creation this was a legitimate medical term for people with intellectual disabilities.
  • Hollywood Darkness: Nighttime exterior shots of the Merrye house are artificially darkened daytime shots. Also used during the chase scene between Aunt Emily and the Merrye children.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: More regressed Merrye syndrome victims exhibit cannibalistic traits.
  • Ironic Name: They're called the "Merrye" family, yet their situation (being afflicted with a degenerative disease that causes mental age regression and murderous tendencies) is anything but "merry".
  • It Runs in the Family: The Merrye clan suffer from a degenerative disease that causes them to become murderous, insane cannibals.
  • Lingerie Scene: Emily provides one, and Ralph peeps on her.
  • Madwoman in the Attic: The Merrye children's uncle and aunts are kept in the basement of the house.
  • Mature Younger Sibling / Childish Older Sibling: The nature of the Merrye Syndrome causes this in the three children: Ralph the oldest is essentially a toddler mentally, while the younger Virginia and Elizabeth act like slightly older children.
  • Middle Child Syndrome: Virginia seems to be between Ralph and Elizabeth in age, and is the most actively and frequently sadistic of the three.
  • "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization: After being chased and raped by Ralph, Emily becomes so sexually insatiable she starts to chase him.
  • Old Retainer: Bruno the family chauffeur was entrusted with Ralph, Elizabeth and Virginia by their late father, and acts as a surrogate parent to them.
  • Psycho Knife Nut: Virginia, who likes playing "spider" with two knives in hand.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: The Merrye children are this due to suffering from the Merrye Syndrome; they operate at levels ranging from toddlerhood to elementary school-age, and have no qualms with things like murdering people, killing and subsequently eating wild animals, or engaging in incest with close relatives.
  • Sanity Slippage:
    • Bruno, who, given the situation, likely wasn't "all there" mentally even at the start of the film, really starts to go downhill after discovering that Elizabeth and Virginia have murdered Mr. Schlocker.This culminates in Bruno suicide-bombing the house as a Mercy Kill so the children don't eventually become feral monsters like their aunt and uncle in the basement.
    • Aunt Emily seems to undergo one after being raped by Ralph; she wanders back to the house and calls out to him in a dazed state, and when she finally finds him, she screams and attacks him in a rage.
  • Scarecrow Solution / "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: A downplayed variant is referenced, but ultimately averted; after the dinner scene, Aunt Emily believes that Bruno and the children are intentionally being creepy and off-putting to scare them off, calling it "the phoniest set-up [she's] ever seen".
  • Southern Gothic: The Merrye house has the dark, rotted, overgrown aesthetic and bizarre characters often associated with this; however, they aren't too particular about what region the film takes place in, and the actual house they used for the film was in Los Angeles.
  • The Speechless: Ralph appears to be incapable of speech, communicating solely with animalistic grunts.
  • Spiders Are Scary:
    • The Merrye house is filled with spiders.
    • Moreover, Virginia has two pet tarantulas named Winifred and Barney.