Daisies is a well-respected surrealistic art film from the Czech New Wave. It’s been discussed at length for its important status as a feminist film. Spider Baby, on the other hand, is a cult favorite, an oddball movie that, sadly, has mostly been forgotten. Despite those pretty major differences, there’s a key similarity that deserves discussion: the main pairs of characters in both films are almost the same people, right down to one being a brunette and the other a blonde. Both pairs are immature, mischievous, and have very little concept of real life consequences.
Spider Baby focuses on the Merrye family, which is so inbred that they suffer from a terrible condition which causes individual members to mentally regress as they age until they become savages. The Merrye clan lives in seclusion, and once a member of the family has fully regressed they get isolated further until they become such a threat to everyone that they get moved to their own section of the basement. Virginia and Elizabeth are two of the three remaining family members of their dying line, not yet old enough to be shoved into the basement. Being isolated from society gives them a dark, sprite-like quality. Due to their regression they have no knowledge of circumstances for their actions. Together they wantonly romp about the house, taking in pet spiders, eating bugs and suspicious fungi from their yard, and bickering almost constantly. Elizabeth is as volatile as a three year old on a bad day. Virginia regularly “plays spider,” which is a handy euphemism for murder. In their isolation, they act outside of society, with unkempt hair and make-believe games gone too far.
Daisies is a critique of Czechoslovakia under communist rule and the laws and regulations within. Marie and Marie are bored and disgusted with society. They decide one day to “go bad”. They turn into savages in flower crowns. The Maries of Daisies act stuntedly, but rather than being isolated, they’re wanton and disrespectful in public. They rip through the town, taking advantage of men, getting drunk, stealing, and eating to excess every time they get the chance. Despite their quirky destruction ultimately being intolerable, they never quite progress to murder, (though in their lawless chaos, killing doesn’t seem that far away). It is actually because of that chaos and anarchy the film was banned in its own country and from export at the time of it’s release, which resulted in Věra Chytilová being prohibited from filmmaking for 7 years.
Daisies is pointed to as a landmark of feminist cinema. Part of that distinction is that it’s an arthouse film directed by woman, but the other part comes from its idea of agency. The two Maries of Daisies are immature, “unladylike”, and savage by choice. They relish in the idea of bucking society, no matter how despicable they become. It’s no real surprise that Spider Baby would be neglected in a conversation of feminist films (or really any critical conversation about cinema), even though it features two distinct, disturbed women presented pretty sympathetically. One thing that discounts it from being a feminist film is that Elizabeth and Virginia are not given agency. They inherit their savagery via a family curse. They can’t help how wretched and impulsive they are. This makes them an object of pity and even demotes them to a damsel status resulting in them needing to be saved from society. Also, Spider Baby is directed by a man, so there’s that.
From a filmmaking standpoint, Daisies in an arthouse masterpiece and Spider Baby is a low budget horror-comedy that brings to mind the best moments of any Ed Wood film. From a character standpoint, they’re surprisingly similar. Marie and Marie don’t have a demented family in the basement, but that doesn’t stop them from being regressively chaotic like Elizabeth and Virginia. There’s a similar theme of chaos in both films that comes from presenting women who actively and violently don’t conform. Especially when, in the end, nonconformity is both sets’ downfall.