January 20, 1968 [Spider Baby or, The Maddest Story Ever Told]

It's tough to beat the opening paragraph of Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle: Before blandly informing us that most of her family is dead, the narrator, eighteen-year-old "Merricat" Blackwood, observes, "I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I have." I am suspicious of anyone who can read that line and not check their own fingers, just in case.

Spider Baby lives in a castle, too--with Baby Jane and Mr. Rochester's mad wife and Norman Bates's mother. But the congenital degenerates of Spider Baby hunch over in giggling mischief, like the inky family in Charles Addams--speaking of favorites: the Addams movie theater cartoon in which we see the audience, all in distress and tears--except one, the little pointy-toothed bald fellow, tickled to death. This is the Spider Baby ethos, scraped together from horror comics and voice-balloon monster bubble-gum cards, "Monster-Mash"-y dance tunes and novelty vomit and rubber severed thumbs--with a genuine monster, Lon Chaney, Jr., his Sad Sack face solicitous, taking care of the gobbling brood, Tod Browning freaks and little girls with round eyes and knives.

The movie seems out of place, as though something has either passed by or is waiting to happen. On its own it's a tawdry mess; but there in the middle distance it hisses its charms, a weird nostalgia--more Little Shop of Horrors than Wait Until Dark--as cute as a moist little wound in the shape of a grin.


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