Spider Baby

Poor Lon Chaney Jr. was never fully able to step out of his father’s shadow. He acted in Hollywood for many years under his given name of Creighton (he wasn’t actually a Jr.) and gave a marvelous performance as Lennie in Of Mice and Men (1939). Throughout the 30s, he steered clear of the genre pictures his father had been famous for. In 1941, he starred in Man Made Monster and in the role he would forever be associated with – The Wolf Man. From that point on he would either be billed as Lon Chaney Jr. or just Lon Chaney.

Spider Baby

WATCH: Spider Baby (1964) – “The last of the Merrye clan afflicted with a degenerative brain disease that’s turned them into bloodthirsty savages live in a tumbledown mansion, spinning a homicidal web and carving up those unlucky enough to cross their paths. Meanwhile, loyal family chauffeur Bruno (Lon Chaney Jr.) covers their tracks. Trouble arrives in the form of two conniving cousins and their unctuous lawyer, who decide to spend the night … and come to regret it.”

The 60s were a time of experimentation for horror movies. Hammer studios and AIP discovered that people really enjoyed seeing period horror in lavish color. Other films laid the groundwork for today’s horror genre. Try watching Jack Hill’s Spider Baby – made in 1964 but not released until 1968 – and not think of Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) even though they are completely different in tone. Jack Hill wrote and directed this cult film. Lon Chaney gives a nice low-key performance that helps ground the rest of the oddball family. The two creepy young sisters are wonderful as is a young Sid Haig. While this is a horror film about, among other things, cannibalism – something not talked about at the time, the whole tone of the film seems whimsical. Lon Chaney Jr. even sings the theme song. While not great, this movie is a lot of fun.

AVOID: Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971) – Unfortunately this truly dreadful piece of trash was both Lon Chaney Jr. and J. Carrol Naish’s last film. This is really only watchable as a train wreck. Director Al Adamson originally envisioned it as a sequel to Satan’s Sadists so you have bikers who appear and disappear throughout the film. In fact it looks like this is a mix of just about every possible late 60s/early 70s genre except science fiction (yes there is an LSD trip and a musical number). Superfan Forrest J. Ackerman (Famous Monsters of Filmland) has a small role as Dr. Beaumont.