Look, I know most normal people aren’t like me, setting aside about 50 movies to watch each October. I mean, who has that kind of time and demented dedication? If I think I won’t have time to watch a movie when I get home from work, I’ll set the alarm to wake me up at five in the morning so I can devour Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Hellraiser like a bowl of Count Chocula before heading off to the day job.
It’s crazy behavior, but I’m not hurting anyone, so my wife lets it slide. I keep a record of each movie I watch in an old notebook, comparing each, what I call the season, Horrortober. There’s even a ratings system, but I’ve already said too much.
Looking over just the past five years, the final movies of my Horrortober, viewed after a hard day of merry making, have been: Night of the Living Dead, The Witch in the Window, Halloween (the OG, of course), Trick R Treat, and The Hills Have Eyes (OG as well). The problem has always been, by the time I park my ass down to watch that last movie of the best season of the year, I’m pretty darn pooped. I doze more than I gaze.
Now, this year, this lovely year of the pandemic and social unrest, the fates have decided to gift us with the PERFECT Halloween. It’s on a Saturday, there’ll be a full moon, and we get an extra hour of sleep. All this in a bag of crap year where a lot of places may cancel Halloween altogether. I’m equal parts giddy and angry.
I’m hoping the kids can trick or treat (dressed as Trumpy angry oranges or Biden zombies), but if they can’t, we still plan to party like monsters in my lair. Which means the very last movie might be a tough one for me to stick with to the end. So, I’ve combed through the extensive video library in my mind to think of the perfect Halloween capper. It has to be something engaging enough to cut through that pumpkin ale brain fuzz. Preferably, a classic in black and white, because nothing sets the mood better than faded whites, darkness and shadows. No picking of low hanging fruit, as you can see I’ve often done.
I puzzled until my Grinchian puzzler was sore.
And then it hit me like a stampeding herd of hungry yaks.
What I’m about to reveal to you is a sure-fire, guaranteed crowd pleaser that will keep you and everyone glued to the screen. It bridges old horror with the new wave. And it is as strange as it is screamingly funny.
The movie I’m talking about is….SPIDER BABY!
Released in 1967, it was written and directed by Jack Hill, the same man who went on to helm classics like Coffy, Foxy Brown and The Big Bird Cage. Spider Baby is not an exploitation flick, but it does have a direct correlation with another classic that had yet to be made — The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. You know, bat shit crazy families living in dilapidated houses, hungry for unsuspecting victims to wander inside. Better yet, you can think of this as The Addams Family on LSD. Or, perhaps, the glue that binds the two together.
It stars Universal Monsters legend Lon Chaney Jr. He’s not all wooly and howling at the moon this time around. No, he plays Bruno, the chauffeur and caretaker for the remains of the Merrye family (who I’m sure gave inspiration for Rob Zombie’s Firefly family). The Merryes consist of two young girls, Virginia and Elizabeth, and their ulta-bizarre brother, Ralph. You may recognize Ralph as Captain Spaulding himself, the late Sid Haig. Sid and Hill reunited several times over the years, both working on the three exploitation movies I mentioned earlier and more. Think of them as exploitation’s John Ford and John Wayne, pilgrims.
All three Merrye kids suffer from a genetic disease that eats away at their brains and, from what we can tell, sense of morality. They are as deadly as they are strange. There are some other, older relatives who are locked in the cellar, but it’s the trio of wacko adolescents who hold this bizarre affair together.
Poor Bruno is as beset taking care of these deranged siblings as he was worrying about getting all fuzzy and murdery during the full moon. They don’t make his job easy. Things get infinitely worse when their cousin Emily (played by the gorgeous Carol Omhart from House on Haunted Hill fame) and her brother come to the crumbling house to wrest control of the family home and finances from Bruno and the band of crazy-ass Merryes.
Spider Baby is so out there, you can’t take your eyes off the screen. Spiders are eaten, cats are killed, Ralph is hornier than a howler monkey in heat (which leads to some strange implied incest) and Bruno is desperately trying to hold things together. Virginia and Elizabeth are especially captivating, at once childlike and sinister. They’d just as soon share their lollipop with you as they would cut out your tongue.
The dinner party alone is worth the watch. Here’s a Halloween dare — recreate it for your own family and see if you’ll ever get a Christmas present again.
Billed as a horror comedy, Spider Baby has a little something for everyone. Well, except the gore hounds. For that, may I suggest The Devil’s Rejects? It has the look and feel of a Universal Classic (I’m always reminded of The Old Dark House), but the subject matter is very latter sixties. It draws from the well of what came before and the fresh spring of what was to come in the genre.
What makes this the best movie to watch on Halloween night, despite all I’ve already revealed?
There is not one single dull moment in the film. Clocking in at just about 80 minutes, it’s as lean and mean as a young, bald, boner-toting Sid Haig. You’ll cringe, you’ll laugh, you’ll gasp. What you won’t do is snore. And if you’ve never seen it before, I’m pretty confident you’ll make it your own Horrortober mainstay.
So, get your favorite Halloween libations ready, fill some bowls with candy, turn out the lights, and take a trip to the Merrye house. You’ll be glad you came…and was able to leave with your bowels where they belong.
Hunter Shea is the product of a misspent childhood watching scary movies, reading forbidden books and wishing Bigfoot would walk past his house. He doesn’t just write about the paranormal—he actively seeks out the things that scare the hell out of people and experiences them for himself. You can follow his madness at huntershea.com.