Spiders have proven to be difficult cinematically, mostly because they are so unpleasant. The thought of the eight hairy legs of a tarantula crawling over someone and then biting you is just not fun to watch. Nor is the thought of a black widow spider, which children are told are deadly. You could write fifteen Charlotte’s Webs, and talk all about how the spider is a natural part of the circle of life… you see one trapdoor spider, or think about how spiders drain the life out of their prey, it’s enough to give anyone the heebie-jeebies. But at least in Kingdom of the Spiders we get William Shatner battling these eight legged varmints. My review of Kingdom of the Spiders special edition after the jump.
Shatner plays Dr. Robert “Rack” Hansen. Like all great 70’s movies clichés, Shatner is a beer swilling ladies man veterinarian, who seems to spend most of his days drunk. Trouble starts when Walter Colby (Woody Strode) has a prize cow die on him. The death seems to be caused by spider bites, which visiting scientist Diane Ashley (Tiffany Bolling) suggests. Shatner is the reluctant hero here, not totally sold on the premise, nor is anyone else. But then the attacks keep getting worse, and remove a possible love interest from the equation. The makers – having seen both Jaws and The Birds – know what playbooks to follow so there’s a big parade where every person is surrounded and attacked by tarantulas to awesome results. These spiders are also poisonous, and they also spin some webs when it’s plot convenient.
Directed by John “Bud” Carlos, this is not a greatly technically proficient film, but it is good exploitation schlock without question. Mostly because it has an exploitable premise and the framework of two great films to rip off. The difference between The Birds and this is that Hitchcock was taking something generally benign and turning into something deadly, while in Spielberg’s tale, people could stay away from open waters if they so chose. With spiders, they are everywhere, and everyone has had an experience with them, from walking into a web unintentionally to having one come up a drain. And that’s why the film is effective; it gets to the creepy crawlies. Such gives the film an immediacy that enhances the mostly pedestrian filmmaking. But the film also benefits from a period lack of concern for the sanctity of its insect costars, and it looks like there are a great number of fatalities along with pieces of fur attached to shirts. The film does what all good exploitation does: it gets you, often in spite of the technical limitations. This one’s a winner in that regard.
Coming from the Shout Factory, this DVD is plush. The film is presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) and in 2.0 mono. The transfer is excellent considering. The film comes with a spirited commentary by director John “Bud” Carlos, producer Igor Kantor, spider wrangler Jim Brockett and DP John Morrill. There’s an amused interview with Shatner (17 min.), and interview with Brockett (12 min.) with visual aids and assistance from Lee Christian. There’s behind the scenes footage (17 min.), and an interview with writer John Lodge (5 min.). Rounding out the set there’s a poster gallery and the film’s original theatrical trailer.