Kingdom Of The Spiders (1977)
Directed by: John ‘Bud’ Cardos
Starring: William Shatner, Tiffany Bolling, Woody Strode, Lieux Dressler, Altovise Davis
1/2 (out of 4)
WARNING: SOME SPOILERS AHEAD.
In the town of Verde Valley, Arizona, something is killing farmer Colby’s cattle. Local veterinarian Dr. Robert ‘Rack’ Hansen (William Shatner) teams up with university entomologist Diane Ashley (Tiffany Bolling from The Candy Snatchers) to make a shocking discovery: huge tarantulas are banding together in large colonies. And they’re pissed.
That’s the plot of Kingdom of the Spiders, a late 70s nature-on-the-rampage flick directed by none other than John ‘Bud’ Cardos, who would later go on to direct The Dark and Outlaw of Gor. But while those two later films are enough to make you want to jump into a hill of tarantulas, this early item ain’t half bad. It helps that our two main heroes are likable – the Shatman actually manages to turn in a surprisingly subdued performance and bug expert Bolling is totally hot – an early scene has her emerging from the shower with a wrapped towel only to come across one of our 8-legged baddies. Instead of screaming, she reacts with amused delight before grabbing it and releasing it outside. A half-naked hot blonde and she likes bugs too? Every geek from here to Flagstaff will need restraining orders.
But then again, we’re in Verde Valley, as Dorsey Burnette tells us in an enjoyable country ditty: “Will tomorrow bring the love we need – To last for evermore? – Or could it bring the unknown – That we’ve never seen before?” There’s not much out here in desert country, except for rocks and giant spider hordes. Pretty soon, the amusing clash of Captain Kirk’s cowboy machismo versus city girl Diane’s brand of feminism is interrupted by a string of deaths-by-spider-bite. A side-plot involving Rack and his relationship with his dead brother’s wife and daughter is distracting, since it never really is followed up on. In the movie’s favor, Cardos really did use about 5,000 of the little buggers, and there are some nice scenes of people being cocooned in silk-webs.
The biggest problem with Kingdom of the Spiders is that, surprisingly enough to me, it gets a bit dull in the second half, as our heroes barricade themselves inside the local lodge owned by Emma (Lieux Dressler from Truck Stop Women), and defend themselves from the approaching spiders, Night of the Living Dead style. They come through the ceiling, they come through the fireplace, the come through the doors … honestly, there are only so many ways I can watch people fend off spiders. Things get really amusing during the town attack scene, where people are running all over the place in a panic as they are being bitten by tarantulas crawling all over them. Two things occurred to me during this scene: 1. Why is everybody covered in spiders? Did they fall from the sky? And: 2. How likely is it that a person would sit perfectly still long enough to be covered in a giant silk web? Is half the town population narcoleptic?
Then again, the city of Verde Valley is just a place where stupid things seem to happen. Farmer Colby’s wife (played by Altovise Davis – wife of Sammy Davis Jr) thinks that shooting at the critters is a good idea, even when one gets on her hand. Stuntman Whitey Hughes screams like a woman as he is attacked while piloting an airplane – where did these spiders all come from? (Again, the theory that they dropped from the sky is given merit.) Finally, in a hilarious bid to give the movie an environmental spin, we’re told the spiders are attacking because their food has been killed by excessive spraying of DDT. Damn the man – again! The final shot of the film is very effective – sure, it’s fake-looking, but the implications are creepy anyway. I think Verde Valley will have to cancel the fair.
Kingdom of the Spiders is what it is – amusing 70s B-grade cinema about killer spiders. It’s drive-in fare all the way, as if the actors in it didn’t tip you off already. And I personally think the Shat isn’t a bad actor. It would have been interesting to see what he did with his time in an alternate universe where Star Trek: The Motion Picture was never made.
- Bill Gordon
As an aside, I found something really groovy. A massive spider web in Texas. (More info at Bug Girl’s Blog ) Seems that others have also made the connection with the ending of this movie.
There’s a brand new edition of Kingdom of the Spiders from Shout! Factory. Here are the bonus features:
- New Widescreen Transfer
- New Interview With William Shatner
- Jim Brockett: Spider Wrangler Featurette
- Audio Commentary By Director John Bud Cardos, Producer Igo Kantor, Spider Wrangler Jim Brockett And Cinematographer John Morrill; Moderated By Hostel Producer Scott Spiegel And Lee Christian
- Rare Behind-The-Scenes Footage
- Interview With Writer Stephen Lodge
- Poster Gallery
- Original Theatrical Trailer