Posted by: Ken Hulsey on May 26th, 2010
Written By: Ken Hulsey
Many of you may, or may not know, that last November I attempted to write an article about this movie and just couldn’t do it. As hard as I tried, I just couldn’t come up with anything. It was at that moment that I realised that I was just burnt out and I put my site, “Monster Island News“, on a mini hiatus until I could get refocused.
Well I have been getting back into the grove, so I thought that it was time to give it another go.
It is always entertaining to see how the cast from the original “Star Trek” television series tried to move on after the show got the ax. Many of the cast members continued to look for jobs in the industry. DeForest Kelley starred in the giant rabbit flick “Night of the Lepus” and Walter Koenig actually began writing episodes for TV series, including the “The Stranger”, which introduced Enik on “Land of the Lost”. Nichelle Nichols, Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner all attempted singing careers, the less said about that the better.
William Shatner, who is the star of today’s film, continued to get sporadic work, post Trek, most of which were bit parts in made for TV movies and cult films, like “The Devil’s Rain”. Probably the most notable of all of these, is the 1977 John “Bud” Cardos horror, “Kingdom of the Spiders.”
American horror film makers have always had an attraction to insects, both huge and regular sized. While the Japanese were focusing on dinosaurs, there North American counterparts were playing with bugs. Films like “Them!”, “The Deadly Mantis” and “Tarantula” did very well in the 1950s and though the trend ebbed somewhat in the 1960s, by the early 1970s things were back in full swing. “The Giant Spider Invasion” and “Food of the Gods” are two examples of how Hollywood tried to recapture the magic of the prior decades…..and failed.
Director John “Bud” Cardos and his producers, Henry Fownes, Igo Kantor, Jeffrey M. Sneller made a very important observation, people aren’t really afraid a 30-foot tall spider, they are scared of ‘real’ spiders. If a person is ‘freaked-out’ by one spider, then they should be crawling out of there skin if they were confronted with a literal army of them.
Armed with 5,000 live tarantulas that cost the production $50,000 to round up, Cardos and company descended upon the town of Sedona, Arizona to begin filming.
If you think that a bunch of actors with huge egos are hard to control, try wrangling 5,000 tarantulas. Each of the ‘creepy crawlers’ had to be kept warm and separated from their brothers and sisters due to the fact that they would eat each other. Complicating matters even more was the fact that the spiders had to be seen crawling on and towards people when naturally they shy away from humans.
Fans and tubes filled with hot air had to be used to herd the tarantulas into place for shooting. Even so, it can be noted that in many of the scenes that involved their human co-stars, the spiders can be seen trying to flee from them.
Robert “Rack” Hansen, a veterinarian in rural Verde Valley, Arizona, receives an urgent call from a local farmer, Walter Colby (Woody Strode). Colby is upset because his prize calf has become sick for no apparent reason, and brings the animal to Hansen’s laboratory. Hansen examines the calf, which dies shortly afterward. Hansen tells Colby he cannot explain what made the animal so ill so quickly, but takes samples of the calf’s blood to a university lab in Flagstaff.
A few days later, Diane Ashley (Bolling), an entomologist, arrives looking for Hansen. Ashley tells Hansen that the calf was killed by a massive dose of spider venom, which Hansen greets with skepticism. Undaunted, Ashley tells him the problem is serious and that she wishes to examine the animal’s carcass and the area where it became sick. Hansen escorts Ashley to Colby’s farm. Moments after they arrive, Colby’s wife, Birch (Altovise Davis), discovers their dog is dead. Ashley performs a quick chemical test on the dog’s carcass and concludes that like the calf, it died from a massive injection of spider venom. Hansen is incredulous, until Colby states that he recently found a massive “spider hill” on a back section of his farmland. He takes Hansen and Ashley to the hill, which is covered with tarantulas. Ashley theorizes that the tarantulas are converging together due to the heavy use of pesticides, which are eradicating their natural food supply. In order to survive, the spiders are joining forces to attack and eat larger animals.
The spiders begin their assault on the local residents, killing Colby’s wife and Hansen’s sister-in-law, Terri (Marcy Lafferty). Hansen arrives at their home and rescues Terri’s daughter Linda from the spiders. Hansen and Ashley take Linda to the Washburn Lodge. They consult with the sheriff, who tells them that the spiders are everywhere and Camp Verde cut off from the outside world. Smith drives into town, while Hansen and the other survivors at the lodge plan to load up an RV and escape. However, the spiders trap them in the lodge, and they barricade themselves inside. Meanwhile, Smith arrives in Camp Verde and finds the town under siege by the spiders. Smith tries to escape, but is killed when another car crashes into a support post under the town’s water tower, causing it to fall on the his vehicle.
Back at the lodge, the power goes out, and Hansen is forced to venture into the lodge’s basement to change a blown fuse. He succeeds, but is besieged by spiders who break through one of the basement windows, by using their combined weight. He makes it upstairs just in time to be saved by Ashley.
The film concludes the next day, with the survivors rigging up a radio receiver and listening for news of the attacks. To their surprise, the radio broadcast doesn’t mention the attacks, indicating that the outside world is oblivious to what has happened. Hansen pries off the boards from one of the lodge’s windows, and discovers that the entire building is encased in a giant web cocoon. The camera pulls back, and all of Camp Verde is encased in cocoons as well.
As a whole, the film is quite effective at delivering ‘chills’. Despite the fact that the film starts out rather slow, and has a hokey ending, the scenes where everyone is trapped in the lodge are very effective.
Now, I have to admit that I have a mild fear of spiders. That being said, I also have to admit that these scenes made me a bit jumpy.
It’s hard not to watch a bunch of people surrounded by spiders and not wonder what may be crawling up from under the couch.
You really have to tip your hat to Cardos for employing the very effective technique of having his heroes trapped with no possible way to escape. This method of generating fear has been used so effectively in such films as “The Thing” and “Alien”. There is just something unnerving about having no place to flee to when the monsters come, especially when you don’t know when, or where they are going to come from. Let us also remember, these are spiders, they are small enough to creep in from anywhere, and they do.
Gives me the willies.
No article about “Kingdom of the Spiders” would be complete without mentioning the notorious animal……um….arachnid (?) cruelty displayed in the film. During the film tarantulas are seen being squished, stomped on, burned and run over by cars.
Honestly, this upset a few people.
Okay, I can see if it were kittens or something, but spiders? Most people squish em, don’t they? I know I do.
Regardless, a film like “Kingdom of the Spiders” couldn’t be made today with ‘real’ spiders.
Overall this one is great for a good ‘chill’ and also for camp value. C’mon it’s got Shatner as a cowboy veterinarian who chases girls in a way that would make Kirk proud.
What more can you ask for?