Spider Baby and With Six You Get Eggroll :: His and Hers Drive-In Feature (1968)

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Spider Baby and With Six You Get Eggroll :: His and Hers Drive-In Feature (1968)

Without realizing it, Charles and I seem to have slipped into a style in movies we choose. Charles seems to veer towards the Sci-Fi/Horror genre, where I seem to have chosen a number of family dramadies wherein adult relationships, typically of adults with children and usually involving marriage, take on both humorous and dramatic situations (or in some earlier cases, horror and hauntings). It will be interesting as we go along to see if this trend continues. This issue of our year-by-year “drive-in double feature” series proves no different.

We take on the year 1968, the first film being Charles’ choice, a movie about a disturbed family with a legacy of horrific illness. The movie itself was released with multiple names, the name changing to go along with its double-featured pair at the drive-in. The film is categorized as Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller and Comedy, though the last seems to only be true unintentionally. If you are a modern horror fan, keep a close eye out for the brother in this tale and see if you can recognize him from his rather notorious horror character that he and Rob Zombie have made popular.

Our second film has a pre-Brady Bunch premise. You know, before the families moved in together and seemingly got along there was the awkward dating, the misunderstandings, the blow back from each other’s kids, the question of what to do with the two houses, and the battle of which they would live in, which they would sell, and how they would all end up living together in the end. With this film, keep an eye out for a ton of 70’s television series actors, as well as an award winning actress as a teenager, and a beloved wordsmith comedian.

Our first film (Charles’ choice) is Spider Baby, the story of the cursed Merrye family who have the Merrye Syndrome, a disease that reverses the mental capacities of its victims, turning them ultimately into cannibals. The cursed children have been orphaned and are being raised (and hidden) by the chauffeur played by Universal Monsters’ star, Lon Chaney.

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(please note, movie has had four titles, and three release dates, but was actually officially released in 1968)

Our second film (Laura’s choice) is With Six You Get Eggroll, a somewhat predictable (or at least familiar) story of a widow and a widower who fall in love. The falling part is the easy bit, despite a few stalled starts, it is the dating and marriage and eventual combining of households and children that gets tricky. If only the lead “lovers” had just a little bit of belivable chemistry.

With Six You Get Eggroll (1968)

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Brief history:

Spider Baby is a 1964 black comedy horror film, written and directed by Jack Hill. It stars Lon Chaney, Jr. as Bruno, the chauffeur and caretaker of three orphaned siblings who suffer from “Merrye Syndrome“, which causes them to mentally, socially, and physically regress backwards down the evolutionary ladder starting in early puberty. Sid Haig, Jill Banner, Carol Ohmart, Quinn Redeker, Mary Mitchel, and Karl Schanzer also star.

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Several references are made to the 1941 “scary movie,” The Wolf Man, which is one of Lon Chaney’s most famous character creations. In addition, Chaney sings the theme song, a parody of the Monster Mash, during the film’s opening titles.

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The film was shot between August and September 1964. However, due to the original producer’s bankruptcy, the film was not released until January 18, 1968.

Spider Baby suffered from poor marketing as well as a series of title changes, being billed alternatively as The Liver Eaters, Attack of the Liver Eaters, Cannibal Orgy, and The Maddest Story Ever Told. Although these alternate titles have little or no relation to the plot, the latter two appear in the lyrics of the title song sung by Chaney: “This cannibal orgy is strange to behold in the maddest story ever told.”

Released to drive-ins simultaneously under two different titles beginning in 1968 as the latter half of a double-feature. When paired with Hells Chosen Few (1968) the print was titled Spider Baby; when paired with Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965) (aka The Blood Suckers) it was titled The Liver Eaters.

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The opening titles of the film also dub it Spider Baby or, The Maddest Story Ever Told.

The cinematographer was Alfred Taylor, who had previously worked on the film The Atomic Brain. The entire production cost about $65,000, and took only 12 days to shoot in black and white.

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The film had a $60,000 budget (eventually going over budget by $5,000). Lon Chaney Jr. was paid a flat fee of $2,500 for his performance, each of the other actors were paid $100 a day. Coincidentally, the price of the actors salaries was the same as the daily rental of the Duesenberg that Bruno drives.

Star Lon Chaney Jr. wrote and sang the films quirky theme song.

Spider Baby Title Sequence and Theme Song

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The Smith Estate of Los Angeles, California was used for the exteriors of the Merrye house. The house still stands today. The house was originally occupied by Judge David Patterson Hatch, where he wrote occult books as well as metaphysical writings after he retired from the bench.

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The Smith Estate today.

There have been various musical versions of the film, adapted for stage and touring in community theaters in the early 2000’s to as recent as 2010, mainly on the West Coast and in Nevada, Florida and Canada.

The film’s theme song has been covered at least twice: By the band Fantômas on their film-score covers album The Director’s Cut, and by crossover thrash band The Accüsed on 1988’s Martha Splatterhead’s Maddest Stories Ever Told as The Maddest Story Ever Told.

A song titled Spiderbaby (Yeah-Yeah-Yeah) appeared on White Zombie’s album La Sexorcisto: Devil Music, Vol. 1.

Spider Baby (Yeah Yeah Yeah) :: White Zombie

His take:

Let me preface this by saying I wanted to find the most chronologically confusing film for my 1968 selection (a feat I will repeat in my 1974 selection – stay tuned), and I feel I succeeded in the classic Spider Baby (dum-dum-dum), a movie filmed in 1964, released to indoor “bull pucky” cinemas on Christmas Eve in 1967, and wide released in drive-in’s with not one but four different titles depending on which film it was double billed with. The film starts off with Lon Chaney singing the title track (see above) revealing part of the film’s plot. Beside Chaney, the film also stars future “Captain Howdy” and Rob Zombie film bud, Sid Haig, just proving that he was a creepy looking man even back then.

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As with my wife’s choice, the film is rife with sexual innuendo that inspired many one-liners batted between the two of us while watching (admittedly a common past-time). One must pay close attention to the actual film in order to catch many creepy and often funny facial expressions from the two sisters, which makes it easy to believe they are suffering from mental deterioration (or they just found out they made as much money as the car did making this movie).

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3 B rating (1 point given for Boobs, Beasts and Blood): 3 B’s

Definitely worth checking out. One B for Boobs between sisters Virginia and Elizabeth, and Emily prancing around in the outfit that the director Jack Hill took the actress to Frederick’s of Hollywood to buy. One B for plenty of Beasts, with Ralph and the rest of the basement family, with the bad Rogaine masks. And, one B for blood, even if it is of the cat persuasion.

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Her Take:

I honestly had no idea what to expect from this film, as I had never heard of it. But the fact that Lon Chaney was in it had me curious. The opening title scene (see above) got my attention, the animation is very Edward Gorey meets Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas characters set to a plot revealing theme song sung by star of the movie, Lon Chaney.

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The credits set a campy tone that is not completely carried through in the film, though one can imagine it taking on a second cult status life in late night revival theaters a’la Rocky Horror Picture Show.

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We open to a telegram delivery man/postman attempting to find the Merrye house. It must have a troublesome reputation based on the woman’s reaction at the house he stops at to ask. He somehow takes her freak out as a “go this way” and heads down a deserted dirt road that eventually leads to the house. The ominous front gate appears to be chained shut, but one touch reveals that the chains are not latched and the gate creepily (cue the horror music) up. He wanders in, a little unhinged, and heads up to the front door. After a few attempts to rouse the inhabitants, and a plead for someone to be home, he peers into one of the front windows. He leans in to an open one and it immediately falls shut, trapping him. It is here that he, and we, meet Virginia (no, not the song) who comes towards him with a large, rope-like spider web and sharp kitchen knives. She is apparently playing a deadly game of spider.

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Cut scene to Bruno, the very loyal chauffeur, who is returning home to the orphaned siblings, one of which is Virginia. He pulls up just as Virginia is arguing with her sister, Elizabeth, about her recent kill (who is still stuck in the window, now dead). Bruno calls the girls over to sit with him and listen to a lecture on morality in which he teaches them that it is wrong to hate. One has to wonder how he missed the more important lesson that it is wrong to kill. As he talks to the girls it becomes obvious that they are physically older than they behave, and that something is definitely not right with them.

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We meet their brother, misshapen and seemingly mute Ralph, who is wearing clothing at least four sizes too small for him. He produces the envelope left by the dead mailman, which Bruno discovers is a letter from a lawyer. It seems that some not-so-distant relatives of the Merrye family are planning to pay a visit to meet the children and collect on the estate. Oh, and they are coming to visit that same day, what a coincidence.

Not so creepy siblings, Emily and Peter Howe (related to the Merrye family somehow) are seen driving very badly to the Merrye mansion. Emily seems either under the influence on an over abundance of drugs and alcohol, blind, or all of the above. Despite her very poor driving skills she finds the deserted dirt road and the mansion (how is this place so easy to find?), and on arrival they are spooked at the ominous gate and decide to wait for the lawyer before approaching the house.

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The lawyer is accompanied by your typical horror movie damsel in distress. She is beautiful in the girl-next-door/Girl Friday kind of way and it is almost immediately that you realize there is a spark between her and brother Peter. This obvious pairing will be important later, but for now the four brave the walk to the house and the meeting of the family.

Emily seems to think it is all a hoax, the way the Merrye children are behaving and the state of the house. Nevertheless, she shies away from their version of dinner (cooked cat, garden mushrooms, and some kind of bug goulash). Peter braves it though, calling the food (all except the bug stew) delicious. I do wish that they had had the mushrooms cause Peter hallucinations, I think this could have been an interesting turn of events and lead to him questioning what was real, and drug-induced, in the estate.

I also wish we had been given more exposition and back-story to the Merrye family themselves. Who were the Uncle and Aunts in the basement? What became of the children’s Mother? Why is their Father upstairs in skeletal form, a’la Norma Bates (Psycho)?

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Dinner does produce a very meta conversation about horror movies, most especially the “classics“, like the Wolfman, that gets a smile and a gleam in Bruno’s (Lon Chaney, who was the Wolfman) eye. A blatant nod to the actors notoriety that goes rather well with him humming Monster Mash in his opening scene (really, this movie is just ready to be a cult classic).

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Due to weather and lateness of hour, and all the things that still need to be sorted out, everyone has to stay the night (of course). Bruno tries to dissuade, and does manage to shoo off Ann (the damsel), who opts for lodgings in town, and an overly eager Peter who happily offers to drive her. On the way to a motel, Peter and Ann decide to stop at the Inn for food and drink. We later see them back in the car, and very drunk (yet he still drives better than his sister Emily), discussing those monster movies again. Ann reveals her predilection for men of action, who are like werewolves (yeah, okay, Peter are you ready for her?).

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Oh look, no vacancy anywhere, guess its back to the estate. And yes, back they go just in time for Peter to get tied up by Virginia in a game of spider and almost killed. We also have his sister Emily, who for whatever reason likes to dance in lingerie in strange houses for extended periods of time, running through the forest around the house and being chased by Ralph. We are to assume that she and Ralph get better acquainted and that the experience leaves her touched, as when she returns she seems possessed.

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There is a battle at the end that includes people getting thrown into the basement of cannibalistic family members, Bruno giving the girls a box of dynamite, and Peter rescuing Ann from the basement creatures just in time to get out before the house, and all its inhabitants, blow up.

Peter, who we now realize was the narrator at the beginning, has gone on to inherit the Merrye money and marry darling, monster loving Ann. They have a daughter and a happily ever after, and are thankfully too far removed to be affected by the Merrye curse. Or, are they? If their young daughter’s creepy smile at a dangling spider isn’t enough of an indication that things are not okay, the question mark at the end of the “The End” is. Oh, don’t you just love those kind of Sci-Fi/Horror endings?

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Her Rating: Out of 5 stars: 3.5 – it’s bad, but in that good bad kind of way. I’d actually like to watch it again, and definitely would go to the musical version if its ever in town again!

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with-six-you-get-eggroll-movie-poster-1020420647Brief history:

With Six You Get Eggroll is a romantic comedy film starring Doris Day and Brian Keith. The cast includes Barbara Hershey,George Carlin, and Pat Carroll. This was Day’s final acting appearance in a feature film; her TV show The Doris Day Show premiered one month later in September 1968. This film also marks the feature acting debut of George Carlin.

The cast includes several actors in small parts – some who go uncredited – who are much better known for other performances, such as Jamie Farr, William Christopher, Ken Osmond, Allan Melvin, Jackie Joseph, Milton Frome, Vic Tayback, Peter Leeds, Howard Morris, Maudie Prickett and Creed Bratton.

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The film was released only four months after United Artists’ Yours, Mine and Ours. While both films have the same premise – that of a widow and a widower marrying each other and creating a blended family – the United Artists film was based on a true story and was a huge commercial success (if not critical) becoming the 11th highest grossing film of the year.

Although there are similarities between this film, Yours, Mine and Ours and the later ABC television show The Brady Bunch that premiered in 1969, the original pilot script for The Brady Bunch predated the scripts for both of these films.

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The location used for Herbie Fleck’s “Ye Olde Drive Inn” was a drive-in on Ventura Place, near CBS Studio Center around the intersection of Ventura Boulevard and Laurel Canyon Boulevard. The site is now a sporting goods store.

Both of the houses seen in the film are within a block of each other in the suburb of Toluca Lake, which straddles the borders of Los Angeles and Burbank in the San Fernando Valley. The neighborhood that Abby drives the camper truck through is the northern part of Toluca Lake, specifically Kling Street between Arcola Avenue and Cahuenga Avenue.

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The exterior shots for Abby McClure’s late-1930s Tudor Revival home were filmed at 4248 Clybourn Avenue; the same house number is also used in the film. The interiors are soundstage sets that bear no resemblance to the house’s actual interior. A studio replica of the street-facing façade was also used for some night shots – discernible by the differences in the tree in the front yard – specifically for the scene with rain.

A still photograph of the house across the street (4245 Clybourn Avenue) can be seen earlier in the same sequence where Jake arrives on the porch of the McClure house. The homes to the right have all had major remodelings, as well as the McClure house, which is almost unrecognizable as the same house today. However, the fire hydrant at the sidewalk, the covered driveway and the front yard tree all remain as of October 2013.

The exterior shots for Jake Iverson’s 1929 Mission Revival home were shot at 10011 Tikita Place. All of the exterior night shots were filmed at this location. The interiors – as well as the backyard – are also soundstage sets that bear no resemblance to the house’s actual interior and backyard. The house to the left of the Iverson house has undergone major remodeling, whereas as of October 2013 the Iverson house still looks very similar to its appearance in this film.

The film’s final punchline – a large two-story early-1950s Colonial house shown briefly at the end with a “Sold” sign on it and a front pathway flanked by the McClure’s sheepdog and the Iverson’s poodle – is also in Toluca Lake, at 10463 Kling Street.

The film’s score was composed and conducted by CBS Television and Columbia Records staff arranger/composer Robert Mersey, who is perhaps best known for his jazz compositions Whisky Sour, Rock n Roll Bop and especially the brassy instrumental Goldfinger (not to be confused with the 1964 John Barry song), which showed up several times on The Ren & Stimpy Show.

While Day had provided a vocal performance either onscreen, in voice-over or over the credits in all of her movies since 1958’s The Tunnel of Love, this is one of only three films not to feature a vocal by Day (the others being 1967’s The Ballad of Josie and 1968’s Where Were You When the Lights Went Out?). A male chorus is heard singing an easy-listening piece called You Make Me Think About You in one sequence, but no vocals are heard by Day. A 45RPM single featuring a vocal by Johnny Mathis and arranged and conducted by Robert Mersey was released by Columbia Records. The single peaked at 35 on Billboard’s Easy Listening Chart.

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Psychedelic folk band The Grass Roots make a cameo appearance as the band playing at the Pandora’s Box-style coffee house discotheque. The song they are shown performing is Feelings, written by Coonce, Entner, and The 13th Floor bandmember Kenny Fukomoto.

You Make Me Think About You :: Johnny Mathis

After its release, With Six You Get Eggroll went on to gross $10,095,200 at the box office according to Variety and the box office website The Numbers, making it one of the top ten moneymaking films of Day’s 39-film career.

The final scenes of this film feature Doris Day teary-eyed, wearing a housecoat and slippers. When her husband of 17 years Martin Melcher died suddenly just after production was completed, gossip magazines at the time used stills of Day from this movie, looking distraught and out-of-sorts, to accompany their articles about Melcher’s death.

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His take:

Let’s say I was going into this film with hopes, Doris Day having done some excellent work with Rock Hudson and Tony Randall in the past, unfortunately the same chemistry was not to be found with Doris and Brian Keith. I’m sure there was some casting director who thought Brian Keith would be a great romantic foil, I’m also sure that same casting director suffered some grievous head injury before making that decision (maybe kicked in the head by a cow). Don’t get me wrong, Brian Keith is a fine actor when left to the roles that he excels at – gruff, put upon bachelors (see Family Affair). The only saving graces of this movie are George Carlin’s re-occuring character and the future sitcom actors of America cameos during the last fifteen minutes of the film (Klinger and Father Mulcahy from M*A*S*H*, Al the Butcher from The Brady Bunch and Mel from Alice, off the top of my head).

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It was fun picking out all the sexual innuendos the director intentionally, or unintentionally (one can never tell), included in the film, such as a champagne money shot during their first late night booty call.

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3 B rating (1 point given for Boobs, Beasts and Blood): 0 B’s.

Zero “B’s”, unless you count Brian Keith’s lack of emotion through most of the film, and Barbara Hershey’s attitude towards Dad finally getting some as beastly. Not worth checking out unless it is for the last act of the movie.

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Her Take: 

I was really looking forward to this choice, as I remember it being a favorite of my Grandmother’s that she talked about quite a lot, and that I swore I had seen once as a young girl. After watching it, though, I think I may have confused it with Yours, Mine and Ours. The premise of both films, and as mentioned above, The Brady Bunch, was a popular one at the time – widow and widower, with children, get together and blend their families. As someone who is a widow, and in a Step-parent relationship (Charles being my children’s Step-parent), I am often curious, and admittedly biased and critical, over how such stories are presented. This one did some things very right, but the unfortunate casting of Brian Keith as the co-star, and love interest, to Doris Day, and the very slow-paced first half of the movie, made it overall not so right.

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Brian Keith always came across as grumpy and gruff in anything I’d seen him in before, and this was no exception. I think the only time I ever saw him soften, and have real chemistry, was in Parent Trap with Maureen O’Hara (but who couldn’t have chemistry with her?). He and Doris though were utterly unconvincing to me, and most of the time just flat out ill-matched. His temper flares seemed over-the-top, and without cause, especially the one that sets off the slapstick, comedy of errors at the last act of the film.

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I love a good dramedy, and I love humor within the struggle of raising kids and dealing with marriage, but in most cases this lacked any humor, or even warm moments. There were a few – very few – like the one scene between Abby (Doris Day) and Step-daughter Stacey (Barbara Hershey) after Abby gives Stacey a real lesson in being the lady of the house. I hoped for a similar scene between Jake (Brian Keith) and one of Abby’s sons, but no such luck. The exchanges between Abby and Drive-In waiter and persistent flirt Herbie Fleck (George Carlin) are very amusing, and yes, she has way more chemistry with him than with Jake.

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Honestly, Abby has more chemistry with everyone else in this film, including the police chief at the end, then she has with Jake.

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There was a very touching moment at the end with the kids see the light, so to speak, and stick up for one another, and for their Parents’ struggle to make a home for all of them, but it is an expected emotion that I felt should have come around a few times before. The pacing was so all over the place, painfully slow at times and erratic and way too fast at others, that it made it hard to truly connect with anyone. I found myself more interested in spotting the actor cameos and checking out the houses in the film (as my details above may reveal), then the actual plot.

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The whole eggroll thing, too, when we arrive at that scene in the movie it falls completely flat, and the young son of Abby saying the film’s title just elicited a major eye roll, and not a laugh, from us.

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Her Rating: Out of 5 stars: 2, and that’s generous. My advice, go watch some re-runs of The Brady Bunch instead.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Oh my gosh at the racist movie title! It’s interesting what was just considered cute back then. It sounds like I shouldn’t bother with this one huh? I still haven’t seen the space cat one, I’m waaaay behind but I just got Netflix back and will try to start making my way through your lists.
    Spider Baby looks nuts! I’m in for the bad, in the good sort of way too. Plus I’d like to see the “meta” conversation, very cool to have in a movie back then.

    Like

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