This trippy fun movie concerns the fuck-all crazy Merryes, who have some sociopathic disease from inbreeding and are being cared for by a long term driver named Bruno. Played by Lon Chaney Jr, he has promised their deceased father he would protect the adult siblings from outsiders. Anyhow this wack-job disease is explained as social regression from the age of 10 on, but it’s coupled with actual aggression and a seeming lack of morality. So, the family of 2 sisters and a brother, Virginia, Elizabeth and Ralph, kill and do so brutally.
I have to say there is something compelling about the family that sticks together in illness or criminality. This theme recurs in many films, loyalty and fidelity are values we all seem to admire and its fascinating when that devotion trumps social mores or laws.
It starts with Virginia playing “spider” with the mailman, which is basically her stabbing the hell out of him through the window on the porch as he is trying to deliver a package. And then Elizabeth is all, you shouldn’t have done that, tsk tsk! It’s like she borrowed her shirt and stained it. And that’s part of the enigma of this disease, they are child-like, careless and playful about their violence.
So they have to hide the body but not before she greedily snatches a souvenir of his ear. This I totally get, I love souvenirs.
Then we meet Ralph played by the completely recognizable and incomparable, Sid Haig. I can’t say enough about this guy, despite being typecast for his unique appearance he brings it in every role I have ever seen him in, a truly talented and amazing actor. In fact, he is a mute and often traverses the house by dumb-waiter (mental note, looks fun, must have dumb-waiter in dream home.) Yet even without words he expresses his fascination with the new activities and the very sexy visitors. (What’s wrong with sexy?)
Peter Howe, the distant relative and the assistant Ann are sweet to the Merryes, he plays with them like children and finds them quaint, and Ann and Peter are flirty and fun together, taking off to find a hotel at one point and getting pretty tipsy. Their drunk-driving scene is hilarious! Emily, the other Howe is considerably greedier and freaked out by the household.
Emily and the lawyer stay at the house. In one scene, the Marilyn Monroe-esque Emily is trying on some pretty hot lingerie, catching Ralph’s attention (mute but clearly not dumb.)
Sure enough, Bruno can’t watch the “children” constantly and they kill the lawyer <insert lawyer joke here> while he is away and feed him, yep, feed him to the relatives who live in the basement. Cannibals! So we learn they aren’t the only existing Merryes by a long shot. The plot thickens with blood! Peter and Ann come back drunk after their hotel expedition fails, Emily is freaked out and running away from the madness in her pin-up lingerie.
I really cannot do justice to how deranged this movie gets. Three nut jobs just can’t be contained. Jack Hill, the director and writer, really captures the madness. Each sibling’s illness is escalating rapidly, encouraged by their increasing control of the household. Eventually Bruno has to make a brutal decision.
Highly recommended, it clearly influenced the crazy family theme in horror films that followed. A must-see for October!