Spider Baby

Wicked Wednesday: Summer horror movie recommendations

In the summertime when the weather is hot
You can stretch right up and touch the sky

Ah. The hot and dusty days of summer. When smelly people are everywhere, and we all feel ashamed for not losing a bit more weight before squeezing back into those old shorts.

I’m not a fan of summer. I think that’s what I get extra-excited about Halloween early every year (August the 1st, thank you very much). That being said, I love summer horror movies. Give me summer camps, dying shrubbery and sweaty people running from things. It’s a very satisying asthetic.

So I’ve gathered up a few of my favourites. There’s certainly a lot missing here…and there’s a lot of “stretches” involved. But my blog, my rules.

1. The Funhouse (1981)

This little Tobe Hooper number exists in god knows what time of the year. Sometimes it feels like autumn, sometimes summer. I think we can narrow it down to Indian summer at best.

The Funhouse follows a group of teenagers who go to a seedy carnival in town. When they decide to spend the night in the funhouse, they soon find themselves being stalked and killed by the carnival workers.

I always recommend this movie to people delving deeper into slashers, as it’s a rare gem in the genre: something you can watch all the way through without getting bored. But I love the visuals as well. It reminds me of staying at the state fair late into the night, bewildered by all the strangess around me.

2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

This is, for me, the ultimate summer classic. Another one of Hooper’s films, Texas Chainsaw Massacre really needs no introduction. It’s truly a masterpiece.

The heat. The sweatiness… It imagery just reeks of summer. It also has a lot of rotting flesh, so I imagine it reeked of that too. We may all have seen it half-a-million times, but who’s to say we can watch it half-a-million more?

3. I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

Right. So this is not my favourite Lois Duncan adaptation by a long shot. This movie actually upset Duncan when she saw it, as the violence reminded her of her own daughter’s tragic murder. It was stripped of its story and turned into a straight-forward slasher film (no hook-handed fisherman in the original).

But we couldn’t talk about summer horror without the one where it’s literally in the title. While I’m being a bit harsh on it, this is actually entertaining pop-corn fair. Sarah Michelle Gellar is an absolute gem in this one, so really just watch for her performance.

“I don’t think we’re that powerful, Julie. You’re giving us way too much credit.”

4. Spider Baby (1967)

This Jack Hill probably isn’t the film that immediately comes to most people’s minds when it comes to summer horror. But hear me out. Spider Baby is one of the brightest, sunniest horror movies I’ve ever seen.

When a couple go to see a family mansion, they find a group of mentally-regressing children in the home. The house is always being watched by people shading their eyes. That’s probably due to the fact that it was mostly shot in August and September in sunny California.

But there’s something very brave about a bright horror movie. It doesn’t need to always hide behind shadows in order to be unnerving. Yes eventually we spiral into the darkness of both the night and the family, but I think that makes the contrast all the more powerful.

5. Gatti rossi in un labirinto di vetro aka Eyeball (1975)

Some movies feel more like a season due to their settings. Is it in Salem? It’s perfect to watch in autumn. Is it Norwegian? Put it on in winter! So when this Italian horror gem puts ‘Americans’ on a tour bus in sunny Spain? It’s a summer movie to me, kids.

Umberto Lenzi’s Eyeball is one of my favourite gialli. It’s really bizarre (I mean really). It has a banging theme tune. And there’s that one grinning guy with the bag of oranges. Watching Eyeball for the first time was an absolute blast, and it’s been a pleasure to keep re-watching it ever since.

If this doesn’t get you in the travelling-for-summer mood, then I really don’t know what will.

6. Slumber Party Massacer II (1987)

What’s that? Another chance to plug my favourite horror movie sequel? Well, I’ll take that opportunity. Again.

This (literally) dreamy movie mostly takes place during the school year, but it still has some definite end-of-the-school-year vibes. The girls walk around in shades, sing Paisley Underground songs and hang out in unfinished houses. They also get killed by a drill/guitar-wielding maniac. Really just usual plans that we all pencil into our summer schedules.

I think because I associate this movie with the word “fun” so much, I immediately relate it to summer. Because that’s ultimately why most of these movies are here: what’s really the point of summer but to enjoy yourself?

7. The Summer of 84 (2018)

There are many coming-of-age classics: Stand by MeGoonies, and new-comers like Stranger Things. They’re all rich with nostalgia. We’re a nostalgic type of species.

Which is why Summer of 84 is great. It reminds you why you loved the classics of the 80s. It has a plot line that’s well-worn, but well-loved: the person next door isn’t who you think they are. Think of The People Under the Stairs and The Burbs.

Only this book has an added punch to the gut with it’s jaw-dropping ending. It’s the end of both summer, and of naive innocence.


So what is your favourite horror movie to watch in the summer? I bet it’s Friday the 13th. It is, isn’t it?

Wicked Wednesday: Spider Baby (1968)

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On occasion, I finally get myself around to watching a film that has long lingered on my “to-watch” list. I’ve been meaning to watch Spider Baby for ages. It has everything I could want: it’s stylish, a bit humorous and it stars Lon Chaney Jr.

And thank god I finally got around to seeing this.

Spider Baby also often includes the subtitle The Maddest Story Ever Told. It’s probably not, but it is pretty wicked and fun.

The three Merrye children suffer from a disease called Merrye Syndrome, an illness that affects many members of the family. It causes anyone who has it to regress in age once they hit a certain age in childhood. Peter, the man who introduces us to the disease, tells us that anyone with Merrye Syndrome will continue to regress past a “pre-natal level” and resort to savagery and cannibalism. But it’s a disease that Peter insists is now extinct.

The last three children to have it are the spider baby Virginia (Jill Banner), Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn) and Ralph (Sid Haig, who is about as ridiculous and over-the-top as you’d expect from him). The children are looked after by their chauffeur Bruno (Lon Chaney).

One morning, an unsuspecting postal worker goes to Merrye House to deliver a letter. He’s obviously been told it’s of some importance because the poor man has to go through the gates and up to the house to try and deliver it.

But when he sticks his head through an open window, he’s caught in Virginia’s spiderweb and cut up by the two massive knives she uses as a sort of pincer. Her sister Elizabeth sees her with the dead body and chides her. And when Bruno arrives back home with Ralph from Ralph’s hospital visit, Bruno lectures her as well. Though, as a theme throughout the movie, Virginia asks if he hates her, to which Bruno reminds her that she shouldn’t hate.

But Bruno finds the letter, which announces that the heirs to the home will be arrive that very day with their lawyer, and that they will be the legal guardians of the three children. To which Bruno says to the children, “We’ve got to keep some secrets today.”

Emily (Carol Ohmart, House on Haunted Hill) and Peter (Quinn Redeker) arrive at the house to take possession of the home, and the siblings find the children trying to act on their best behaviour.  Though Ralph and big-child-like personality immediately creeps Emily out. Meanwhile, their lawyer Schlocker and his assistant Ann are in the car with Bruno. The chauffeur stops on the road while he waits “the blasting” to be done for the new highway that is to be built.

The group are finally all together at the Merrye House, and Bruno has no other choice other than to explain the children’s syndrome to them. He tells the cousins that the children are ill due to the inbreeding in the family, but Peter and Emily are reassured that it hasn’t affected them because they are too distantly related. Since the children are unlikely to have children of their own, the disease will die out with the last three. Though, it’s worth mentioning here that Bruno has left out the fact that the Merrye children’s uncle and aunt are living in the basement in an awfully-regressed (yet unseen) phase.

Deciding to settle in for the night, the children go out to forage for the food use in one of the strangest dinner scenes I’ve ever seen right behind Derranged. Virginia picks some wonderful non-poisonous mushrooms while Ralph hunts down a poor kitty. Peter, bless him, is such a likable character. He munches through dinner, cheerfully eating the cat. Granted he doesn’t know it’s cat, but you know, good for him for trying.

Virginia and Elizabeth are perfectly creepy. While both actresses were in their late teens/early twenties (this was filmed in 1964), they both capture a sinister… innocence? It’s a tricky balance, but the smiles are so sweet and creepy. Though the children are all a bit too much for Emily and Schlocker. They think it’s all a set-up to creep them out and leave. Granted, it’s not an intentional bit, but this family is pretty frightening.

Since Schlocker is really stupid, he decides to snoop around the house. He finds a moving bookcase that leads to the basement. There he finds the hungry relatives who grab him. But the girls get to him first and kill him.

Bruno finds the girls with the corpse and understands that this the end for the children. Chaney gives an excellent speech here, just in case you forget how incredible he is. He promises the girls that he will go out and get them a “toy” to help sort out their problem.

It’s also worth noting that the theme is fantastic. Not that having a great theme really makes a film, but Chaney does this, so it really does help lift the movie. Actually, Chaney lifts this entire film to a really great level.

Meanwhile, Emily is trying on several saucy robes. Unbeknownst to her, Ralph is watching from the window. When she finally sees him, she runs away. Then finding the corpse, she runs away again into the night. The Merrye kids race after her, but Ralph gets to her first, doing…er something to her off screen.

Peter and Ann? Well, they’ve spent most of their time trying to find a place to spend the night (there’s no room in the inn) and getting wasted on classy cocktails. They arrive back at the house unable to find lodgings, and see that things really aren’t quite right.

Virginia and Elizabeth lead Ann to “Daddy’s room” – Daddy being dead for years and his corpse occupying the bed. Ann understandably gets panicked seeing a corpse in her bed, but Ralph grabs her before she can scream.

Virginia goes off to tend to Peter, who she’s taken a special shine to. She wants to play spider with him and she catches him in her web. But a issue with Ralph and Ann distracts the girl, and she leaves Peter alone. Though Peter isn’t too alone as Virginia’s tarantulas are there to keep him company.

But while the madness ensues, devil Emily shows up looking a little crazy. She immediately jumps on Ralph, but ends up in the clutches of the aunt and uncle. Bruno finally arrives with his surprise, leaving Ann and Peter only minutes to escape from the Merrye house.

The film goes full circle to the focus on Peter and his life years after his adventure at the Merrye house. He seems happy and content, but horror only lurks around the corner, right?

Jack Hill (who also directed personal favourite Jackie Brown and other exploitation films) creates a really fantastic show. It’s black-and-white, but it’s so stylish you’d dream it in colour. It’s so clear as to how this is a cult film. It’s quotable, and the cast look so attractive together. But really, it’s Chaney Jr who steals the show, which is saying something considering how fun it is to watch Banner, Washburn and Haig together as the Merrye children.

It may have taken ages for me to get around to watch Spider Baby, but it has already joined the ranks of my favourite horror films from the 60’s. I look forward to many rewatchings in the future.

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