Wednesday 5 November 2008

Basking In The Cesspool Of Filth #7 - The Cesspool Lives!

I think I'll keep up with the cesspool posts, just not as frequent. Only three movies to mention at the moment, but I had to put this up for the simple excuse to talk about the first one (with bonus screencaps cause I liked it so much).

Spider Baby (1968 - Jack Hill) - I was really caught off guard by how much I liked this one. I picked it up on a whim (not quite a blind pick as I had vague memories of hearing interesting things about it) and loved every one of its 81 minutes. It's a bit trashy, a bit disturbing, quite a bit funny and wholly entertaining.

The Merrye family have a very rare condition - once they reach the age of 10, they start to regress mentally even though their bodies continue to develop. The three remaining children are under care of the family chauffeur Bruno (Lon Chaney Jr.), but it's pretty challenging because they tend to do things like accidentally kill messengers to the house while playing a game of spider - with really big knives.

The film keeps you on your toes in a couple of ways...First of all, for a "trashy" film of this variety the acting is excellent. Each performer fits their roles perfectly well without over reaching or seeming cheesy. Carol Ohmart as the Aunt who is looking to take over the house and Jill Banner as Virginia (the one who likes to play Spider) are each terrific and extraordinarily sexy in their very different roles. Ohmart starts out as cold and icy, but she flashes her hidden desires while getting ready for bed. There's a strong Barbara Stanwyck vibe about her and I'd love to see more of her work (she was also in "House On Haunted Hill" and a whole whack of TV in the 50s-70s). Banner is positively confounding - she acts and speaks like a little girl, but her physicality totally contradicts that. Especially in one particular scene where she has tied up Peter (a distant relative also visiting) in order to play spider with him...As she crawls into his lap talking about her prey's "juices" and nibbling at his face, you're just not quite sure how to feel - is it OK to note how sensual her behaviour is when her mental state is likely that of an 8 year old?

It's that kind of off-centre scene that keeps you guessing the whole film. Some scenes are played for straight comedic effect, some get laughs because of the creepiness and some are just plain eerie. The cinematography helps as well with shadows falling in all the right places and lots of backlighting to give spooky glows.

Initially shot in 1964, it wasn't released until 1968 and made appearances under different titles such as "The Liver Eaters" and "Cannibal Orgy" - neither of which fits the film at all. While sorting some of my books this weekend, I happened to run across "Incredibly Strange Films" (number 10 in the series of REsearch books) and immediately looked to see if the film was included. And of course it was. A few of the final lines from an essay written by Jim Morton are as follows:

"It is macabre and grotesque, but in an offbeat, fun-loving way. In offering bizarre situations and weird ethical dilemmas the film rebuffs the simplistic response. Contradictory emotions abound."

"...the film remains one of the best examples of extreme, idiosyncratic cinema both witty and macabre."

Subtitled "The Maddest Story Ever Told", it's made me want to dig into Jack Hill's other films (I have seen both "Coffy" and "Foxy Brown as well as "The Terror" - which according to IMDB left him uncredited). For now though, "Spider Baby" has shot near the top of my list of films from the 60s.

The House On Sorority Row (1983 - Mark Rosman) - In many ways, a by the book typical 80s slasher film - 7 graduating friends decide to stay a little longer in their sorority house for a final party, but they have a run in with the creepy house mother and a prank goes horribly wrong. The final girl is established early on, the girls get picked off one by one and the acting is mostly terrible. Logic holes abound as well. But I kinda enjoyed it...I wanted to see where it was headed and it pretty much flew by. It's not very good nor is it really very scary, but it still entertained me for most of its 90 minutes. The ending was lame-o though.

The Return Of The Evil Dead (1973 - Amando De Ossorio) - The second of the Blind Dead series of films from Spain is still spooky at times - in particular whenever the dead ride their horses in slow motion - but it just doesn't stack up with the first one. A slow witted villager (tired of being pushed around) rises the Templar Knights from their graves via a sacrifice. They "attack" the village by tracking their victims via sound and pretty much wipe it out except for a small group hiding out in a church. The plot just doesn't flow very well though and I never felt the hopelessness of their situation. And the time spent with the characters just wasn't interesting (except when the evil mayor uses a child to distract the Blind Dead so he can try to escape - now that's evil!). There were many points in the film where people seemed to avoid doing the obvious thing and instead put themselves into further danger. The film set up the parameters, but it didn't stick with them.

Both "Spider Baby" and "The House On Sorority Row" are currently being remade. IMDB doesn't have many details on the first, but the second looks to be populated by young actresses and helmed by a relatively unknown director (and Carrie Fisher as the house mother). I'm not sure what to think for either...

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