Thursday, September 13, 2007

SPIDER BABY - SPECIAL EDITION

Dark Sky Films is about to unleash a new, Director’s Cut edition, of Jack Hill’s seminal horror comedy, SPIDER BABY (1968), and as a fan of the film, I’m thrilled.

The twisted story centers on the remaining members of the Merrye family – Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn), Virginia (Jill Banner) and Ralph (Sid Haig, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS) – three adult "children" who suffer from a rare genetic disease which causes them to mentally regress as they age. Under the guardianship of chauffeur Bruno (screen icon Lon Chaney Jr., THE WOLF MAN), the Merrye "children" live in the isolated family mansion, away from the outside world. This is necessary because their condition instills in them a childishly cruel bloodlust. When a pair of distant relatives and their lawyer show up with designs on the family estate, an evening of horror and madness begins.

Shot under the title CANNIBAL ORGY: OR THE MADDEST STORY EVER TOLD, director Hill’s (FOXY BROWN, SWITCHBLADE SISTERS) is a sublime black comedy that pays affectionate homage to classic horror films while foreshadowing the psychotic killer-styled terror that would soon come into vogue. Deftly mixing humor and horror, with charming performances by Chaney, the late Jill Banner and the rest of the cast, SPIDER BABY is somehow genuinely creepy and disturbing, yet a lot of fun to watch.

Previously issued some years ago by Image Entertainment, this version restores some previously deleted footage and sports a brand-new, hi-def transfer from the original 35mm negative, along with a number of new bonus features. The beautiful black & white photography of Alfred Taylor is well served by the new 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, as is Ronald Stein’s bouncy-but-eerie score by the Dolby Digital mono tracks. None of the Image extras are included (which included a Hill commentary and cast reunion), but Dark Sky has assembled a fine batch of new material for this release. There’s a new commentary by Hill and actor Sid Haig, a retrospective documentary featuring pretty much all the surviving cast and major crew members, a short featurette focusing on composer Ronald Stein, a new visit to the "Merrye House" location, a still gallery, the CANNIBAL ORGY alternate opening credits, and an extended scene.

SPIDER BABY is one of the great cult films, and Dark Sky has given it a definitive release. If you own the Image disc, you may want to hang onto it for the old extras, but this new edition is a must-buy.

Highly and enthusiastically recommended.

BUY: Spider Baby (Directors cut)