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Bonus Reviews: “Spider Baby, or The Maddest Story Ever Told” (1967) and “Fresh” (2022)
Horror Bulletin Bonus for Week 201
For this week’s bonus films, we’ve got an unrelated pair of films. We'll look at the wild classic, “Spider Baby, or The Maddest Story Ever Told” with Lon Chaney Jr., and also the brand-new “Fresh” from 2022.
New Book: The Horror Films of Roger Corman
We do the usual “Horror Guys Treatment” for all the horror films directed by Roger Corman from 1954 up to 1990. Included are 29 full-length films that truly count as horror, and then watched them all. In addition, we’ll look at seven other noteworthy Corman movies that aren’t horror, including his first producing credit, his first directing credit, his favorite non-horror project, and a few others. If you love Roger Corman’s macabre masterpieces, we’ll cover all of them here.
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Fourteenth Issue of Horror Bulletin now available
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The Horror Guys Guide to:
Tales to Make You Shiver, Volume 1 and 2
Here. We. Go!
Directed by Mimi Cave
Written by Lauryn Karn
Stars Daisy Edgar-Jones, Sebastian Stan, Jojo T. Gibbs, Andrea Bang
Run Time: 1 Hour, 54 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
It’s just a story of a young woman looking for love. She finds a terrific guy, and they live happily ever after. At least that’s how it could go from the beginning of the movie. But we know this is horror, so it’s not that easy. This was really beautifully done. You can suspect what’s going to happen, and you might be sort of right. But how is it going to end? Gotta watch to find out.
Noa swipes right on the dating app. She goes into the restaurant, and the guy she’s meeting talks about acid reflux through the whole meal. Oh, and he’s wearing a t-shirt and a long scarf— he says it looks like she’s wearing a blanket. She’d look better in a dress. He’s a pig, and a cheap one at that. He calls her a stuck-up bitch as they say goodnight for the evening.
Noa and friend Mollie laugh about the story the next day. After her workout at the gym, she goes to the grocery store and meets Steve. He asks for her number. They meet again the next night for an actual date. Paul, Mollie’s ex-boyfriend, is their bartender. Steve is a plastic surgeon. They hit it off and go to her place for the night. They start seeing a lot of each other; it’s all very Hallmark-y and romantic.
Steve asks Noa to go away with him for the weekend, but first, they go to his place out in the country. They get there, and there’s no cell signal or wi-fi. He fixes her a drink, and it doesn’t take long before the drug kicks in…
Credits roll, thirty-plus minutes in.
Noa wakes up, and Steve admits that he drugged her. She’s chained to the floor in a mostly-empty room. She cries and gets upset, which he expects. He explains his plan; he’s going to sell her meat. People pay for that. He’ll keep her alive and sell her, piece by piece. So it’s Fresh.
Mollie calls repeatedly, and “Noa” sends photos of nice places they’re visiting. She Google’s Dr. Steve, and she finds that he looks nothing like the photo Noa showed her. The places Noa has been sending photos of are just stock images.
Back at Steve’s place, Noa finds out that there’s another girl in the room next door; “We’re in the same boat.” Her name is Penny. And Melissa is in a cell too, but she’s pretty much lost her mind by this point. Steve is upstairs dancing with someone’s amputated leg, which he cuts up and tenderizes before putting in little vacuum-sealed baggies. Someone comes to the house and picks up the boxes of little baggies.
Noa almost wakes up in the middle of surgery, but she’s sedated. Her butt isn’t what it used to be. Elsewhere, Mollie goes to see Paul to get information about “Steve” and where he may have taken Noa. He promises to look up Steve’s credit card info to get his last name. When she gets the name, she does Internet research and finds him online. He’s got a wife and kids living in a house somewhere else.
The imprisoned girls talk, and it turns out that only Noa actually slept with Steve; none of the others did that, so maybe he likes her more. She also finds evidence that this may have been going on for a long time with many other girls. Noa asks what people taste like, and he describes it for her.
Mollie goes to talk to Ann, Steve’s wife, and she actually meets Steve. His other name is Brendan. Mollie confronts him about abducting Noa, and he denies everything. Mollie doesn’t have enough to go on to press it further and starts to leave. But she calls Noa’s phone, and her distinct ring comes from Steve’s pocket. Oops, busted. His wife knocks her out right then. She’s totally in on it.
Paul texts Mollie but gets no response. She, however, has location services turned on, so he can find her phone. Ann doesn’t look terribly stable. We soon see that she has a prosthetic leg.
Steve brings Noa some clothes and tells her that he made her dinner. She makes note of all the windows and escape options as she sits at the dinner table. Steve tells her his “origin story” about eating human meat. “There’s a whole community of people devoted to this.” He does make it sound very enticing. He makes a nice pasta dish with a great big meatball on top. “Is it me?” She asks.
Then she tastes it. “This meal was $30,000,” he says, with some pride. “You’re eating Hope. That was her name.”
She says, “It’s not what I expected; it’s indescribable.” Is she serious or stringing him along?
Penny tells Noa that it sounds like they have someone new in the cells. Steve wants to have dinner with Noa again. Ann texts Steve, wanting to know when he’ll be home as he dresses up for dinner with Noa. That night, they eat Melissa. Noa jokes and comments on the food. He shows her some of his trophies, and she recognizes Mollie’s phone. They laugh and have a great time with a lot of wine. She even makes some “food puns.” She then cries and says it’s guilt because she “doesn’t feel awful” about eating people. He falls for her; they dance and then have sex again.
And then she bites his penis off. And blinds him with a good squirt of toothpaste in the eyes.
She grabs his keys and runs downstairs to release the other girls. Noa, Mollie, and Penny make it upstairs, but Steve has recovered enough to grab a gun and put up a fight. He chases them outside, where Ann and Paul have just arrived in separate cars. Ann goes inside and finds evidence of the dinner and violent sex. Paul hears a gunshot and nopes right out of there, driving away.
After some battling, the girls finish off Steve in the woods, and Ann soon finds the body. “Let’s get his body on ice,” she tells the servant. Noa goes back for her phone and runs into Ann, who attacks her. This goes badly for Ann when Mollie shows up on the scene and recognizes her.
The first half-hour could have been from any Hallmark movie. Then, suddenly, it takes a turn. I had my doubts for a long while that this was even going to be a horror film, but yeah— it is.
You know she’s either going to escape, be eaten, or join Steve in future endeavors. All three are foreshadowed pretty clearly, but you can’t tell which way it’s going until the end.
The acting is all great here, everyone is believable, and it’s actually pretty romantic until it’s not. The soundtrack is excellent, and the pacing is really well done as things escalate. I liked that you could see where it was going, but not really.
Spider Baby or The Maddest Story Ever Told (1967)
Directed by Jack Hill
Written by Jack Hill
Stars Lon Chaney Jr. Carol Ohmart, Quinn K. Redeker
Run Time: 1 Hour, 21 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
This had plenty of horror and plenty of comedy. Kind of interesting seeing a well-known face near the end of his career, Lon Cheney, in a movie with young faces who went on to do lots of other things after this. It’s a lot of fun.
We get creepy but cringeworthy poetry as the animated credits play.
A man reads to us from a book of peculiar diseases. There’s one that regresses people back before birth to a time of barbarity and cannibalism. The disease was extinguished forever ten years ago…
A messenger has to deliver a package to the Merrye house. Virginia, the girl inside, pretends to be a spider and cuts off his ear— and the rest of his head. Elizabeth says Virginia’s going to be in trouble for that.
Bruno drives a big black car up to the same house. He notices the messenger’s vehicle outside the gate and goes inside. He calls for Elizabeth and Virgina. He spots the body. ”The one time I leave them alone!” He complains. They let their brother Ralph out of the back seat of the car; he’s simple-minded and almost acts like an animal.
Bruno tells Virginia to never play spider again. Ralph gives Bruno the message the man was bringing in earlier. It’s from a lawyer. There’s a relative coming to visit, and he’s part of the estate too— they may sue for the inheritance. “Children, we’ve got to keep some secrets today,” Bruno warns. There’s a secret door that hides the secret basement housing Aunt Martha, Aunt Clara, and Uncle Ned.
Emily and her brother Peter arrive at the house. Emily runs into Ralph and thinks he’s a baboon.
Bruno is a chauffeur, and he drives Mr. Schlocker and Ann in the car. He’s Emily’s lawyer, but Bruno didn’t even know that. Bruno has been the caretaker for the three Merrye children since the death of their father seven years ago. Bruno says that the three aren’t ordinary — he calls them “retarded.” Schlocker says they should be put into an institution.
Soon, everyone arrives at the house. Bruno says he swore that the children would never become open to public scrutiny. Bruno adds that all three children are not just retarded, they also regress back in time. These three are the unfortunate result of inbreeding.
Schlocker wants to know about Clara, Martha, and Ned. Bruno says it became necessary to put them in a more private sort of institution. Virginia crawls around outside looking for bugs to eat like any spider would. Ralph, on the other hand, hunts for a cat. Peter gets a kick out of Ralph, all dressed up for dinner. Virginia takes care of Barney and Winnifred, two large real spiders.
Bruno cooks the cat Ralph caught for dinner. “We don’t eat dead things,” Elizabeth says. They are all forbidden to eat meat. Eating flesh will worsen their condition. It’s a very awkward dinner, but Peter’s into trying everything. Emily is basically in shock at these people- she eats a candy bar and potato chips from her purse. It’s clear that Emily and Schlocker are planning to evict Bruno and institutionalize everyone else when they take possession of the house.
Ann and Peter talk about old horror films, like the Wolf Man. Bruno warns that there’s going to be a full moon tonight. Emily says she hates spiders, and Virginia takes offense. Peter drives Ann to a motel in town.
Virginia mentions that Schlocker looks like “a big fat bug.” Elizabeth thinks that maybe Virginia should go “play spider.” Their father, who’s been dead for seven years, is still lying in his bedroom. The girls kiss him goodnight every evening.
Schlocker goes downstairs at night to explore and finds the messenger’s ear. Then he finds a secret door and goes downstairs to where the older relatives are caged. The two girls come in, and he says “this is beyond the bounds of prudence and good taste!” They scream and come at him with knives. “Kill him!” They scream. And they do.
A little later, Bruno watches Schlocker’s dead body go up the dumb waiter. Bruno knew this was coming some day. Bruno tells us that more men like Schlocker will be coming for them. Bruno says that there wasn’t time anyway, since Ralph is almost to the point he’ll have to join Uncle Ned and the others downstairs.
Bruno says he’s going to go get something for the girls, a big surprise. While he’s gone, Emily finds Schlocker’s body too. She runs off with the girls right behind. Emily runs right into the arms of Ralph.
Peter and Ann have been at every motel in town, but there aren’t any vacancies anywhere. They’re both really drunk, so they decide to go back to the Merrye house. The girls welcome them home in the creepiest possible way; Virginia ties Peter to a chair— it’s her “spider web.”
Meanwhile, Bruno goes to the new bridge they’re building and steals some dynamite. Emily wakes up out in the field outside. Emily attacks Ralph, Ralph attacks Ann, and Peter knocks over the spider cage, releasing the whole collection at his feet.
Aunt Clara and Martha grab Ann and Emily and eat them. Bruno returns and gathers the three children in the basement. He lights the fuse to the dynamite just as Peter rolls down the stairs. Peter grabs Ann, who isn’t really dead and rushes out of the house. Uncle Ned and Clara get out, and they’re hairy monsters, looking sort of werewolfy. Then the bomb goes off, killing the family.
Peter, the only survivor, inherited everything. He explains that the Merrye Syndrome is now completely extinct and eradicated. He married Ann, and they now have a daughter. Little Jessica goes outside and admires the spiders…
It’s a hoot!
The opening music, “Spider Baby Theme” was recorded by Lon Cheney himself. It’s not exactly a song, more of a spoken lyric kind of thing, but it’s good. The awesome Ralph was a very early appearance by a very young Sid Haig. Lon Chaney was really good here.
It’s definitely a dark comedy, as there are a lot of funny moments and in-jokes, like Cheney talking about the Wolf Man and Ralph’s dress-up costume. The main draw here is just how crazy off-beat the whole thing is compared to other films of the times.
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