Spider Baby and Rock’N’Roll: Everything’s Better at Midnight

Although cinema historians may resent the claim, over the course of the past half-century or so, Rock’N’Roll has served as one of the most potent catalysts for introducing people...

Although cinema historians may resent the claim, over the course of the past half-century or so, Rock’N’Roll has served as one of the most potent catalysts for introducing people to some of film’s greatest overlooked gems, from the hyper-intellectual (i.e. Bowie’s references to William Klein’s masterpiece Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? or Pixies’ famous ode to Bunuel’s debut, Un Chien Andalou) to the crassest and campiest movies that you actually need to see before you die (i.e. the sonic king of sleaze, Taime Downe’s dedication to Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and Marilyn Manson’ sample of John Waters’ disturbingly brilliant Desperate Living on his very first LP) – all of which have regularly enjoyed midnight screenings.  1968’s Spider Baby, directed by Jack Hill (most famous for directing blaxploitation classics Coffy and Foxy Brown), falls into the latter category.  There’s a reasonable chance that fans of ‘90s alt rock will recognize the film’s title from “Spiderbaby (Yeah-Yeah-Yeah),” the seventh track off of White Zombie’s La Sexorcisto: Devil Music, Vol. 1.  Spider Baby is a legitimate horror classic that is, unfortunately, far more widely known than it is seen.  However, the movie, starring Sid Haig (at the beginning of his career) and Lon Chaney Jr. (at the end of his), is available via Blu-Ray and DVD this Tuesday, June 9th, courtesy of Arrow Video and MVD Entertainment.

Spider Baby is, indeed, as cultists well know, a humorous horror romp, as subversively joyous as it is funny, but it still falls well into the realm of a horror movie that every fan of the genre desperately needs to see.  The film, which was originally titled Cannibal Orgy (a far sexier title, albeit with substantial plot spoilers – sorry), tells the tale of a family of siblings born with a, “prenatal condition of savagery and cannibalism,” or, in layman’s terms, a perpetual youthful desire for “sex and violence” (as Perry Farrell is known to so often scream) – a sort of flawless metaphor for the excesses inherent in Rock’N’Roll itself… Spider Baby embraces the kitschy ‘60s Americana sex appeal of Russ Meyer (who Mr. Zombie is also quite the fan of), while also embracing a touching tale of unconditional, familial love, and something legitimately creepy and unsettling that the cast and crew have characterized as a rare example of “California Gothic.”

It’s easy to describe Spider Baby as part-Freaks and part-House of 1000 Corpses, but its impact on film would seem to be far more lofty, with a cat scene that was almost certainly paraphrased by Yorgos Lanthimos for his critically-acclaimed, genius, postmodern arthouse comedy, Dogtooth, in addition to a severed-ear-sequence that I would find impossible to believe Mr. Lynch hadn’t encountered prior to Blue Velvet.  There’s even a dinner sequence that’s television-friendly, but nearly as grossly amusing as one of Sweet Movie’s many [in]famous scenes.  While the film is far from anything that the likes of Criterion would even consider touching, it’s something whose appeal is far from limited to aficionados of horror and sleaze rock and, this summer, may just be the perfect DVD to project onto the screens of punk rock clubs around the country… just around midnight…


During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.