Tutti F*ckin’ Fruity: A Sid Haig Retrospective
The late Sid Haig would have celebrated his 82nd birthday yesterday. Joanna Jaguar looks back at many of the actor's lesser know roles.
The name Sid Haig typically conjures up visuals of everyone’s favorite foul-mouthed, wisecracking killer clown. But long before he donned the white and blue face paint for his role as Captain Spaulding in Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects, and 3 From Hell, Haig began an incredible career that would last six decades and be comprised of nearly 100 film and television show appearances.
Haig’s love of performing started at a young age when he enrolled in tap dancing classes in an effort to regain proper motor function after a large growth spurt impacted his coordination. At age seven, he landed his first paid gig as a dancer in some Christmas shows. In high school, mentored by the head of his school’s drama department, Alice Merill, Sid was cast as the Scarecrow in the school’s adaptation of The Wizard of Oz. Two years out of high school, he enrolled in the Pasadena Playhouse, a performing arts school in California. He eventually moved to Hollywood to start his film career.
Haig starred in a few horror movies in his early acting days in the 1960s and spent most of the ’70s starring in exploitation films, most notably with director Jack Hill, in films like Coffy and Foxy Brown, alongside famed blaxploitation actress, Pam Grier. A couple more horror film roles came in the 1980s until, tired of being offered the same “muscle with a gun” roles, he took a hiatus from acting in 1992.
A small role as the judge in Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 film Jackie Brown brought him back into the spotlight, and his eventual role of Captain Spaulding in 2003’s House of 1000 Corpses would solidify his cult status in the hearts of horror fans worldwide. Sid would credit directors like Tarantino and Zombie for his fame in later life, but his acting credentials far surpass just one singular character.
Spider Baby (1967)
Almost 40 years before Captain Spaulding, a fresh-faced and clean-shaven 26-year-old Sid Haig landed one of his first starring roles in a feature-length film in Jack Hill’s 1967 black horror comedy, Spider Baby.
In the film, Sid plays Ralph Merrye, one of the three mentally, emotionally, and socially stunted siblings of the Merrye family, who are afflicted with an illness that bears the family name, Merrye Syndrome. The disease causes the Merrye family to start mentally and physically regressing once they hit late childhood. The afflicted family eventually regresses further down the evolutionary ladder, until they become little more than feral animals.
Alongside his sisters Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn) and Virginia (Jill Banner), Ralph (Haig) is cared for by the family’s chauffeur, Bruno, played by Lon Chaney Jr., who tries hard to keep the ferocious and dangerous children safe, while also keeping the rest of the world safe from them. They forage their own food and live a quasi-vegetarian lifestyle, eating a mixture of garden weeds, mushrooms, and very rarely meat. Ralph is allowed to eat what he can catch (which usually consists of a neighbor’s pet cat) and Virginia, being the “Spider Baby”, has a particular affinity for bugs.
Haig’s character, Ralph, has regressed to the point of being unable to speak, and though he doesn’t utter a single word in the entire 80-minute film, it is one of his best cinematic performances and sits at the top of my personal Top Five Favorite Movies list. Spider Baby was my first introduction to Sid Haig, and there’s just something about an actor playing a mute character, and yet being able to portray such a wide range of emotions through nothing more than grunts and facial expressions that makes one truly appreciate that person’s acting chops.
Also Read: Haig on Superbeasto & Spider Baby Redux
The entire film took 12 days to shoot and had a $60,000 budget. Haig received just $100 a day for his portrayal of Ralph Merrye.
The Aftermath/Zombie Aftermath (1982)
This film is quite the doozy, but if you’re like me, and you have a weird kind of obsession with really bad, really campy 80’s horror, you’ll probably love it as I do.
The Aftermath is set in a dystopian future after a nuclear holocaust ravages the planet (well, at least Los Angeles). Three astronauts return to Earth to find their home plagued by some pretty agile zombies who are not only capable of running but also boxing, apparently.
The two astronauts who survive the impact of their shuttle in the ocean, played by Steve Barkett (Newman) and Larry Latham (Matthews), make camp for the night on the beach, where they first encounter the boxing undead. In the morning, they make their way through the decimated city of Los Angeles and find a group of survivors holed up in a museum.
Sid Haig’s character, Cutter – does that name sound familiar? Because it should – is the leader of a biker gang. It’s a typical “the-humans-were-the-real-monsters-all-along” affair that most zombie movies and shows have in one form or another. They assault and torture survivors for fun, have their way with women, steal everything they can… The usual.
Eventually, Newman and his brave band of survivors, now including Sarah (Lynne Margulies) decide they want to take down Cutter and the gang once and for all. At some point, Sarah finds a Star Wars-esque blaster gun, which she uses to take out the majority of the biker gang, and then the gun is never seen again. Nor are the zombies. It was the 80s. Things like continuity didn’t really matter much.
The film was confiscated in the UK under the Obscene Publications Act 1959 but ultimately was never prosecuted.
Night of the Living Dead 3D (2006)
Night of the Living Dead 3D (also stylized as Night of the Living De3D) is a remake of George Romero’s 1968 classic, Night of the Living Dead. It is the second remake of the original film, with the first one being Tom Savini’s 1990 film, which was made with the help of a revised version of Romero’s original screenplay. Night of the Living Dead 3D, however, had no such help, which, I’m sure, comes as a surprise to absolutely no one that’s ever seen this awesomely bad film.
In this iteration, directed by Jeff Broadstreet, Barb (Brianna Brown) and her brother Johnny (Ken Ward) arrive late to the cemetery for their aunt’s funeral and find the graveyard overrun with the walking dead. They run into the menacing mortician, Gerald Tovar Jr. (played by Haig), who tells Barb to run as he holds off a hoard of zombies attempting to escape his mortuary. Johnny abandons his sister, and Barb is rescued by Ben (Joshua DesRoces), a college student/drug dealer. They hop on Ben’s motorcycle and take shelter at a nearby pot farmhouse owned by Henry and Hellie Cooper (Greg Travis and Johanna Black).
Tovar finds his way to the farmhouse and convinces Ben and Barb to leave with him to safety. Of course, it’s not actually safe though, and he knocks out Ben and tosses him in the trunk of the car. Tovar drags Barb to his house and explains that he was the one who caused the zombie apocalypse through his embalming fluid. Barb pushes Tovar into a pack of the walking dead, and she and Ben try to escape until he realizes that, oops, he’d apparently been impaled on a tire iron whilst in Tovar’s trunk, and he starts to turn.
Night of the Living Dead 3D is a fun flick if you like zombies, boobs, and joints flying out of the screen at you, which, let’s be honest, who doesn’t?
Brotherhood of Blood (2007)
Sid Haig reunites with fellow Devil’s Rejects actor, Ken Foree, in Brotherhood of Blood, an action-horror-vampire film that attempts to turn the tables on typical vampire movies. Foree’s character, Stanis, spends much of his screen time strapped to a table screaming about a thought-to-be long-dead vampire-demon Vlad Kossel. If you were to take a shot for every time Stanis mentions Kossel, you’d likely be dead before the first half of the movie is over.
Meanwhile, Haig plays Vampire King Pashek, who has the infamous vampire huntress, Carrie Rieger (Victoria Pratt) chained up in his cellar. Carrie’s team of vampire hunters are planning to infiltrate Pashek’s lair to rescue her, but Carrie knows there is something even more dangerous than Pashek coming and seeks to team up with him and his vampire army to take down the threat.
While many people didn’t really enjoy Brotherhood of Blood, it’s one of my go-to movies to throw on when I’m bored. It’s obviously very cheaply made and it doesn’t exactly have a ton of redeeming qualities, but Sid and Ken as vampires are very much worth the watch. Also, it is fun to attempt the Vlad Kossel drinking game, even if it’s near impossible to do so without fear of death by alcohol poisoning.
Death House (2017)
Death House was written by Gunnar Hansen of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame. He also had a cameo in the film, which would end up being his final on-screen performance, released two years after his death in 2015.
Death House is one of those films that every horror fan should watch simply for its incredible cast of legendary genre actors, including Kane Hodder, Bill Moseley, Tony Todd, Michael Berryman, Dee Wallace, Barbara Crampton, Camille Keaton, Adrienne Barbeau, and of course, Sid Haig.
Death House is set in a prison that holds the world’s most evil serial killers – including the Icicle Killer (Sid Haig) and Leatherlace (Debbie Rochon) – in cells that project virtual reality environments reminiscent of those in which the inmates lived prior to being captured. The inmates are experimented on with hallucinogenic gas, among other things, and homeless people are brought into the prison and used as fodder for the killers to continue their sprees while being observed and monitored for their killing habits by Drs. Eileen Fletcher (Dee Wallace) and Karen Redmane (Barbara Campton).
An EMP device is detonated, which kills the power to the prison, and thus releases all the inmates that are housed within. Two agents, Kristi Boon (Camille Keaton) and Jae Novak (Cody Longo) are trapped inside the prison with these killers and must descend to the ninth level, where a supernatural quintet known as The Five Evils are confined, in order to escape.
Yes, Sid Haig was best known for his portrayal of Captain Spaulding, and for good reason, but he was so much more than just nightmare fodder for the coulrophobic. With almost 60 years of acting credits under his belt prior to his death, Sid’s abilities knew no bounds, and the cinematic world lost a great asset and horror icon when he died.