Jack Hill’s Spider Baby (1967)

September 17, 2015 | By

SpiderBaby_posterEveryone’s heard of the TIFF cold / flu, a viral cloud that often smacks TIFF-goers hard during the festival, but imagine the novelty of getting it without even attending a single TIFF venue. I got the bug through second-party transmission, so much of this week was dribbly & messy, but things are on the mend, and here’s the first of several delayed uploads.

Hopefully my review of Arrow Video / MVD Visual’s stellar Blu-ray edition of Jack Hill’s cult classic Spider Baby (1967) makes sense, as it was written just as the TIFF cold was in full surge. For those unfamiliar with director Hill, he’s part of a long line of graduates from both film school (UCLA) and the Roger Corman School of B-Level Filmmaking, as chronicled in Alex Stapleton’s Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (2011).

Alongside Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma, and many more, Hill got hands-on experience starting with uncredited work on The Wasp Woman (1959) and The Terror (1963), and soon landed credited directorial work with Blood Bath / aka Track of the Vampire (1966). Spider Baby was to have been his feature directorial debut, but the 1964-shot production remained in limbo until legal and financial issues were resolved in 1967.

It’s arguably his best film, and feels very contemporary – I don’t think it’s unfair to say Joe Dante ran with Hill’s concept of horror larded with Universal horror jokes and pop culture references in his own work, especially The ‘Burbs (1989) – which has ensured the film keeps getting on top- whatever lists of horror fans. The third act is a bit wobbly and things are wrapped up pretty fast, but it’s not an exaggeration in claiming Hill influenced more than a few filmmakers.

Hill directed very few films for someone who should’ve been prolific in the B’s, but that may have been due to the writer-director wanting to put his efforts into the right material. When it clicked, there was pure gold, and even assignments for Corman tended to transcend the producer’s core criteria of guns, boobs, and blood.

His best-known work remains the women-in-prison schlockfests The Big Doll House (1971) and The Big Bird Cage (1972), and the blaxploitation classics Coffy (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974), and while Switchblade Sisters (1975) should’ve pushed him farther, there was a long gap until Sorceress (1982), a problem-plagued production that had the director suddenly seeing his work recut with footage reshot by someone else.

(The irony is quite sharp, considering Blood Bath was a Yugoslavian flick recut with new Hill footage, and Hill directed scenes with Boris Karloff – his last work – in a quartet of 1968 Mexican shockers: House of Evil, Fear Chamber, Isle of the Snake People, and The Incredible Invasion.)

That seemed to put an end to Hill’s directing interests, although he did contribute scenarios to other films, including the CanCon classiques City on Fire (1979) and my personal favourite, Death Ship (1980), of which the Scorpion Blu-ray contains a substantive Hill interview.

Hill’s other feature from Arrow / MVD, Pit Stop (1969), will be up shortly, but coming next is Cub, a podcast with Roar composer Terence P. Minogue, a set of Twilight Time reviews, and that cluster of CD reviews and pieces from Rue Morgue’s former blog site, including a lengthy Q&A with director Dante Tomaselli.




Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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