14th Aug2013

Arrow Review Round-Up: ‘Spider Baby’ & ‘Django Prepare A Coffin’

by Mark Allen

DJANGO PREPARE A COFFIN

Stars: Terence Hill, Horst Frank, George Eastman | Written by Ferdinando Baldi, Franco Rossetti | Directed by Ferdinando Baldi

When Tarantino wrote “the D is silent, hillbilly” in his screenplay for Django Unchained I can only imagine he had the same rueful wish that Django Prepare A Coffin had been a silent picture instead of being as woefully dubbed as it is. The film’s a curious lesson in thievery: first and most obviously in its title character Django, first appearing in Sergio Curbucci’s Django as played by Franco Nero; and secondly in its frequent use and abuse of the techniques perfected by Sergio Leone in The Good, The Bad And The Ugly two years previous.

Perhaps I’m starting on a sour note. The premise of the film is actually rather promising: mysterious Django works as a hangman, executing framed criminals for the bad guy, except that he only ever makes it looks like they’ve died and carts them off to the wilderness so that he can recruit them into his gang and eventually take revenge upon the aforementioned douchebag.

Unfortunately, Django Prepare A Coffin takes that premise and falls over its own tied-together shoes into the dusty dirt with little more than a few pedestrian action sequences, slipshod vocal work and cinematography so blatantly ripped off from Leone it’s a wonder the film never even looks half as good as the master’s worst. Terence Hill does a sturdy job as Django – which is about as good as the tepid script will allow – and the Morricone-lite soundtrack is reasonably rousing when it’s not eminently forgettable, but the pacing is so off and the intonation of dialogue so often at odds with what’s on screen that it’s difficult to be an audience to the film rather than a passing observer.

SPIDER BABY

Stars: Lon Chaney Jr., Carol Ohmart, Quinn K. Redeker, Sid Haig | Written and Directed by Jack Hill

One movie that has no trouble getting an audience hooked (if not necessarily for the right reasons) is Spider Baby, another rerelease and an altogether less conventional story than Django Prepare A Coffin. Going through this film’s flaws and successes feels a little like explaining why Woody Allen’s a neurotic in a psychology thesis rather than just showing you Annie Hall, so I’ll just tell you what happens and you can decide whether or not it’s for you.

Spider Baby concerns distant relatives attending a meeting at a creepy, insect-filled home where they meet long-forgotten nieces and cousins with severe developmental disorders, no education and a moral compass forged in Bizarro world. (I don’t really know if you forge a compass but it’s a Bizarro compass, okay? It’s my metaphor and I’ll cry if I want.) Kooky characters like Ralph, the terrifying, bald adult baby who likes to roll around on the floor, hang out in dumb waiters and play with limbless torsos! Virginia, the eponymous Spider Baby (despite being a teenager) whose favourite game is to trap unwitting black postmen in window traps and ‘sting’ them to death with kitchen knives. Not forgetting their live-in butler/caretaker who appears to treat the occasional murder like tracking dog shit into the house and speaks every line as if it were his last, giving even Shatner a run for his money in the Inflection
Olympics.

And into this world some normal folks come, although they’re all pretty warped in their own way too. I smell social commentary! No, wait, that’s just the cat and scorpion buffet the kids have laid out for us. I think we’re supposed to root for the norms, although the jovial uncle who’s the ostensible lead is so patronisingly at ease with everything these oddballs throw at him one can’t help but wonder if he doesn’t have a black magic cult meeting at the weekend.

Seriously, he’s so devil-may-care about the whole thing that even when the Stan Laurel-lookalike lawyer and his uptight sister (who manages to let her hair down just long enough to put on some slinky lingerie she happens upon before being chased to the basement by Virgina and her unblinking sister) are mysteriously missing he’s more than happy to leave Laurel’s wary assistant – the only rational being in the entire movie – in decidedly unsafe hands while he goes to play ‘spider’ and somehow save the day. Those two get married later on, obviously.

It’s at this moment i’d like to point out that not one performance is close to being believable or sympathetic. the plot i’ve been describing is that of a horror movie, but Spider Baby plays much more like a Marx Brothers film – everyone’s this close to mugging the camera, howling and moving their faces around so much you’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching Matt Damon in Saving Private Ryan.

As happens in this kind of situation we all end up in the basement where the wackier members of the family are kept in a special ‘meat hole’ and Smiley Uncle Date Rapist carries Rational Annie out of the house just as Butler Bill produces a bundle of dynamite(!) and blows the whole place to kingdom come, wrapping up the plot in a nice little bow and ensuring that there’s only one surviving heir to the fortune weird forgotten misfits are apparently entitled to. Of course, there’s a ‘the end?’ card at the end designed to scare the heebies out of us, but I’m sure you’re smart enough to figure out why. Clue: Uncle D.R. bookends the film by talking straight into the camera from like ten years into the future. And he’s married. Oh, for Christ’s–he has a Spider Baby of his own, all right? There, I said it. You’re welcome.

Despite everything I just said, I enjoyed Spider Baby a hell of a lot more than Django Prepare A Coffin. Though probably not in the way its makers intended.

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