John Cardos, 1977
Starring: William Shatner, Tiffany Bolling, Woody Strode, Lieux Dressler
“Are you crazy lady? This is our home, and no damn spiders are gonna run us out!”
A veterinarian nicknamed Rack (Shatner) calls on a local farmer and his sick calf. The calf dies of unknown causes and Rack sends off a blood sample to be analyzed. Soon an arachnologist, Diane (Bolling), shows up with predictably bad news. The calf was killed by spider venom. A very large dose of spider venom. Despite Rack’s stubborn disbelief, more animals die and the farmer reveals a huge spider burrow on his land. Diane theorizes that because pesticides have killed off their natural food source, the big, hairy spiders are turning to large mammals, with humans next on the horizon. In retaliation, the farmer sets the spiders and their home on fire, but they escape and later kill him. The local sheriff tries pesticide, which also doesn’t work and leads to a widespread assault on the humans by their eight-legged enemies. Planes are crashed, cars and trucks are overturned and widespread panic is caused. Rack, Diane and some others hole up in a lodge and prepare to escape, but they are trapped by the spiders and prepare for a final showdown.
This movie... it’s wonderful. There are a lot of mediocre arachnids attack films, but Kingdom of the Spiders sits securely at the top of the list and manages true greatness. For starters, there’s an amazing early performance from William Shatner. He’s not quite as over the top as Incubus, Kingdom of the Spiders is probably one of his most straightforward, restrained roles. With that said, it’s still Shatner being Shatner. You either think he is amazing or you are a fool. His infamous performance of “Rocket Man” is actually from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror films award show, where Kingdom of the Spiders was nominated for Best Horror Film.
The other actors can’t live up to Shatner, but do excellent work considering the film they were cast in. The lovely Tiffany Bolling (Candy Snatchers, Wicked Wicked) doesn’t get naked in this surprisingly straight role and is able to keep up with Shatner’s mildly offensive and male chauvinistic romantic banter. Their chemistry makes some of Shatner’s painful dialogue easier to bear. Marcy Lafferty (Shatner’s then wife) appears, as does Lieux Dressler (Grave of the Vampire).
The ending is the second key reason to watch this film (after Shatner). It’s absolutely insane and is emphasized by the near perfect pacing of the film. I’m not going to spoil the fantastic, surprise conclusions, suffice to say that you will hopefully be as delighted by it as I was.
5,000 tarantulas were used in the making of this film and by god, they are everywhere. Though a few rubber models were used, most of the tarantulas you see in this film are real. As a tarantula lover, it upsets me to think that some of them were harmed or killed during the making of this film, but I try not to focus on that. If you know anything about tarantulas, you would know that you have to keep them apart because they are territorial and cannibalistic. That means 5,000 separate containers. And actors and extras willing to have tarantulas crawling all over them. Fortunately Mexican red knees were used. They’re known for their docility and make great pets and movie spiders, though of course the red knee I had for a few years was a right bastard. RIP Armand.
There is no mistaking the low budget of this film, which is particularly reflected in the stock music borrowed from TV shows like The Twilight Zone, but I don’t think the financial limits will surprise anyone familiar with the genre.
Kingdom of the Spiders comes highly recommended. This is definitely the best spiders attack movie out there and has believable performances, solid direction, and some great cinematography that takes advantage of the Arizona setting. And a lot of amazing spiders. The special edition DVD is another excellent release from Shout Factory and includes a lot of great special features. There’s a great commentary track, some interviews, behind the scenes footage, etc.