THE year 1968 in film: "2001: A Space Odyssey," "The Odd Couple," "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" "Once Upon a Time in the West" and ... "Spider Baby."
"Spider Baby" sticks out from that list for various reasons. It is not like the other films that have become "classics." Much less effort went into its production than the others. Director Jack Hill was known to grind out films as quickly as possible, and with only a US$65,000 budget, that was as much necessity as an artistic decision.
Then again, "Spider Baby" is the only one of these films being screened in Shanghai this week, with the others not likely to be shown this year. And "Spider Baby" is the only of those films with an official website (www.spiderbabyonline.com), one that sells its own line of perfume.
So what gives here?
"Spider Baby" is a cult classic, one scraped from the garbage pail of history to live well past what anyone could imagine. While some interest can be derived from the pedigree of director Jack Hill (who went on to direct blaxploitation classics "Coffy" and "Foxy Brown") and its star Lon Chaney, Jr (cinema's original "Wolf Man"), the interest here is for people who want to see a film so shoddily made it becomes a perverse pleasure.
There is something sad about this situation. Are things so out of whack that young people today are more likely to have seen cult classic "Reefer Madness" than the film reviewed last week in this column, the true classic "Thief of Bagdad?" Perhaps.
"Thief of Bagdad" was produced with more care and artistic spirit than the collective output of everyone involved with "Reefer Madness." Does it ring of a hateful, condescending attitude to laughter when art doesn't come out right? Definitely.
Then again, there is also something incredibly beautiful about it. It's the spirit of the underdog that Lon Chaney, Jr, over the hill at the time and a shadow of his gifted father even at his peak, is preserved for eternity. That even with severely limited resources and little of the natural talent of his contemporaries, director Hill can infuse this film with something people might consider worth watching? Awesome.
So how does "Spider Baby" rank? To me, not well. Some moments with the de-evolved horror family are genuinely creepy. They talk innocent but act evil, and it's effective. The rest I found mostly boring.
This isn't enjoyable, but perhaps it will get you thinking about its designation as cult classic.