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Super Special Saturday Night Spider Fever

18th Nov 04

This very special Zombie Club was originally to be known as Triple Spider Sunday but alas that was never meant to be. Not being able to hold this marathon spider fest on a Sunday, we had to move it to a Saturday night, and at that time, Tarantulas – The Deadly Cargo was added as a special additional ingredient to the already somewhat unpleasant hairy-legged banquet we had already proposed, comprising Earth Versus the Spider, Kingdom of the Spiders, and The Giant spider Invasion.

"Hello? Yes, this is the sheriff."

Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo Kingdom of the Spiders Giant Spider Invasion Earth vs the Spider (MST3K version) Spiders 


Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo (1977)

Plot
Pilot Tom Atkins and his co-pilot (not Tom Aktins) are flying back a load of coffee beans from Guatamala. The only problem is that some pesky tarantulas have managed to board the plane via the coffee sacks. Predictable scenarios ensue as tarantulas run amok on the plane, eventually making their way to the cockpit to establish the first of many ‘spider-movie-plot-devices’ which we were to notice on this very special spider night – the old ‘spider bites the pilot / driver of moving plane / vehicle’ ploy. A crisis ensues after the plane crash-lands nearby the small town of Finleyville, CA and our eight-legged friends cause havoc throughout the local community.

Zomblee
Tarantulas – The Deadly Cargo is a made-for-TV movie from 1977, which I saw when I was a kid. I only remembered one scene from it and when I found this on eBay, the name rang a bell. Even if it wasn’t the same movie, it looked cool enough and either way it was going to fit in comfortably with tonight’s proceedings.

About halfway through Tarantulas – The Deadly Cargo it became apparent that I remembered it from my childhood for a reason and, despite some negative moaning found on the IMBD, this was actually a really cool little movie. I remembered it because it’s the kind of film that stays with you – simple as that. What is immediately striking about it is that for a TV movie, this looks really good and is shot with intensely strong colours filling the screen. Colourful too are the small-town characters on offer in this spiderfest, ranging from the town mayor, autistic school children, a really cool kid who gets a nasty bite and dies, and someone called Bert. It's always good to have a character called Bert.

The plot doesn’t take the usual route and instead opts for something altogether less by-the-numbers than you might expect. Lets just say that the town’s method for putting an end to the eight-legged crisis is not something you could ever predict, as the townsfolk delve into their ‘Big Book of Spider Facts’, which furnishes them with the knowledge they require to restore normality to the town of Finleyville. A surprisingly good start to Special Saturday Night Fever, and you will never look at coffee beans the same way again.

"Wanna take a trip to kingdom come? That's
gasoline!"

Jim
It's true, Tarantulas - The Deadly Cargo had the potential to be a huge mistake but actually turned out to be really rather good. Yes, it had that weekday afternoon TV movie look and feel (the kind you saw as a kid when you were sick and couldn't go to school) but it was well shot, well acted and was generally very easy to watch. It must have had quite a budget too, managing to build a realistic plane wreckage set AND being able to afford Tom Atkins - that's not bad you know. The spiders were also all real, which is quite something, although the handlers were a little overenthusiastic and had a habit of inappropriately throwing the spiders into shot from off-screen. Still, who can blame them.

But, with the exception of the slowest fire engine in film history, there's not much to fault with Tarantulas... The plot is essentially a reworking of the script from Jaws, albeit with an unscrupulous orange plantation owner instead of that guy who runs the beach, but the same can be said for all the late 70s eco-horrors, so there's no surprise there. All in all, a great start to the night.

"Well hello there..."
Oh, hold on, that was in the next film...

Rawshark
Glad you mentioned the Jaws reference, Jim, because that’s essentially what this film is, and that’s what makes it so enjoyable. Not having a clue what to expect here, I was immediately caught up in that 70s film device (interesting plot and good character depth) of grabbing your attention, and soon forgot all about Tarantulas… being a TV movie and was happy to go with the flow.

You can pretty much check the plot list off as you go along; spiders jump on a plane, plane crashes, spiders escape plane wreck. “Reluctant doctor” investigates mysterious cow and people deaths, and teams up with a “specialist” to discover it’s not snakes, but spiders that are causing this, and not only spiders, but “The Most Poisonous Spiders In The World!!” Together they must convince money-driven orange-plantation owner to close down his plant before more people are killed. If it all sounds clichéd nonsense, it pretty much is, but it is so enjoyable, and by the time we got to the bit where the townsfolk team together to try to overthrow the (suddenly hundreds) of creepy critters we were cheering them on every step of the way. Especially with such an ingenious idea involving buckets and spades, wasps and microphones.

Nice direction, solid script and amiable performances, and also not afraid to go into tragedy (surely the little boy didn’t have to die!), but it’s going to have to lose a half star for its decision to kill Atkins off early on and its anti-climactic ending. Still, I suppose it’s difficult to try to fit an air tank into a spider’s mouth and shoot it with a sniper rifle.

Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo

Director
Stuart Hagmann

Cast
Claude Akins
Charles Frank
Deborah Winters
Bert Remsen
Sandy McPeak
Pat Hingle
Tom Atkins
Howard Hesseman
John Harkins

Rating
Zomblee
Jim
Rawshark

Runtime
90 mins

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Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)

Plot
Huge spider hills appear throughout a small rural community as vet Robert “Rack” Hansen and Diane “the specialist” Ashley investigate widespread deaths of local livestock.

Rawshark
1977 film you say? Need a rugged hero to battle an attack of increasingly vicious eight-legged freaks you say? Step forward Mr Shatner, your time is now, for this is Shatner's film all the way. Following a very similar plotline (cows and people get bitten, "cocky doctor" meets "specialist" - "No, not snakebites, it's a spider bite!") as an earlier film I saw recently, it's Shatner as Rack that holds the screen, whether effortlessly portraying 'Mr Cool' by leaning on a lamppost, or wooing Dr Diane by running her off the road in his truck and insisting on taking her for dinner.

The spiders almost take a backdrop until the sudden cow attack and then all hell breaks loose, as our plucky heroes battle the spiders by burning the hills and we're learning some more spider film clichés (telephone operator / meddling mayor / at least one good explosion) and seeing loads of great shots of the actors forced to interact with these huge real-life hairy beasts. Yet the spiders are a resilient little army, and soon fight back by cocooning several people and launching an all out attack on the town that prove that his film owes to The Birds what the previous film owes to Jaws.

All good clean fun then, with Shatner providing many a good laugh along the way, and a great little end siege scene that is genuinely quite nerve-wracking, all the way up to it's Red Dawn ending.

"That explains the spider hill."

Jim
Right, I was going to start this piece by pointing out how far-fetched the plot of this movie is, but then again it is spider night so I guess that's a given. In this one Shatner plays a small town vet named Rack who keeps getting brought animals that are mysteriously ill. Initially everyone seems to think that snakebites are causing the problem, but that appears to be a common mistake in spider movies. It's a good job then that there's a beautiful female spider specialist in town to point out the obvious while simultaneously giving Shatner an excuse to exercise his world famous charm. At least that'll help him keep his mind of his long dead brother's wife who lives in town with her daughter. That would be the niece of Shatner, then.

Yes, this movie is all Shatner, Shatner, Shatner. Every frame oozes Shatner. It's a Shatner movie, you see. And I don't care what you think of the big Shat himself, we love him, especially Zomblee whose every other word was, you guessed it, Shatner.

Rawshark meanwhile was the first person to spot the uncanny similarities between this film and the last - apparently there aren't many killer spider plots, at least there weren't in the 70s.

Still, at least the ending was different. Like Rawshark said, out of nowhere the film turns into a parody of Hitchcock's The Birds, except with spiders. And the final scene has to be seen to be believed, I shalln't spoil it for you...

"How can they turn off the power, man, they're animals!"

Zomblee
Kingdom of the Spiders kicks off with William Shatner doing a great John Wayne impression complete with horse, lasso, chaps and cowboy hat - he looks like he's living the dream, trying to make up for years in Trekkie spandex. Then local livestock start to die off and the local farmer (Woody Strode) is getting edgy. It can't be the spiders, can it? Well, yes it can, especially if "the pesticides are killing off the spiders' food supply, forcing them to change their eating habits", which explains why the pesky l'il devils are going around biting dogs and cattle on their noses.

Captain Smirk leads the hunt for the answer, taking him to a rather worrying collection of rather worryingly enormous spider hills and before he knows it, the spiders are taking over. When I say taking over, I really mean it. One of the impressive aspects of this picture is the pure scale of the 'kingdom'. The spiders really do take over the community and are EVERYWHERE. There are some truly terrifying scenes in this film, which had me squirming in fear, most notably when little Linda is crying on her bed, understandably distressed at the hordes of hairy-legged beasts all over the duvet. If, like me, spiders aren't your thing, then many scenes in this film will make you physically jolt all over the place in disgust. Credit goes to the cast of Kingdom of the Spiders (Shatner included!) - many of them are running around the place covered in these things, especially in the scenes that depict the town of Camp Verde falling apart and losing the battle to the deadly arachnids, as cars crash, buildings explode, and spiders get squished.

Released the same year as Tarantulas - the Deadly Cargo, Kingdom of the Spiders is perhaps the scariest PG-rated film I have ever seen. With its Night of the Living Dead style last reel, punctuated by spiders' attempts at getting into the house by any means possible, I was riveted. Perhaps the thing that really did it for me was the way the spiders cocooned their victims, covering their already unpleasant corpses in masses of web - a really cool idea that adds a little unpleasant visual flourish to proceedings.

In summary, Kingdom of the Spiders is worth seeing just for the Shatner, looking very worried all the time and giving one of the cheesiest performances ever. It's tough going if you don't like spiders though, and the ending is wicked.

"Look, its not just a few spiders! It's a migration due to some sort of imbalance."

Kingdom of the Spiders

Director
John 'Bud' Cardos

Cast
William Shatner
Tiffany Bolling
Woody Strode
Lieux Dressler
David McLean
Natasha Ryan
Altovise Davis
Joe Ross

Rating
Rawshark
Jim
Zomblee

Runtime
97 mins

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Giant Spider Invasion (1975)

Plot
Mini-asteroids fall on a rural community (why is it always a rural community??!!), invoking the curiosity of the local folk who discover that the small rocks actually contain what appear to be diamonds. They also contain fairly big spiders, except the dumb-ass hick who’s breaking open the rocks doesn’t seem to notice them. The spiders eventually grow into much larger arachnid beasts (the titular ‘giant spiders’) who eventually make their way to busier areas, to spread the word of b-movie spider cheese. As is formula with 70’s spider flicks, a specialist is called in to put things right. Now, where did I leave my Geiger counter? Is it at the sheriff’s office?

Zomblee
The Giant Spider Invasion is great fun. It’s also an awful film. It’s a pure low-budget ($250,000) sci-fi horror movie making which aspires to be nothing more than it is. The special effects are hilariously terrible. The giant spiders really are Volkswagen Beatles with big hairy legs protruding from the sides, and you’ll notice that the editing attempts to minimise our opportunity to get a decent look at the big beasts. During this viewing we had to pause the DVD to get a good look during a scene when the spider is on the roof of the fat farmer’s house (“Its not bad, you know!” – trust me, that was the booze talking). Although there is more than one giant spider, we don’t get to see any more than one of them at any one time, so you could be forgiven for thinking that the title of The Giant Spider Invasion is referring to just one giant spider. If only they had more VW’s!

The sheriff, played with gusto by Alan Hale Jr, is fantastic. He’s 50% of what makes this film worth seeing. For a start, he’s the happiest, most jovial sheriff you’ll ever come across. And he’s ALWAYS on the phone. It looks like they got Hale in for one day and just filmed all his scenes there and then, in his office, on the phone. It’s a comforting sight too. If I ever see him in another film I’ll be very disappointed if he doesn’t take at least one phone call: “Hello? Yes, this is the sheriff.” He’s a big, bubbly hunk of love and I’m his number one fan. He’s worth a review star alone.

During the fun of The Giant Spider Invasion, you may be curious as to why the spiders are so big, and why they came from space at all. Fear not, because our specialist played by Barbara Hale, explains everything to her students (and us) through her highbrow lecture on black holes. Them black hole spiders then do what spiders in spider films do, and wreck havoc in the local community. In the film’s most ambitious scenes they eventually arrive in the centre of town (which looks nothing like the rural setting the film started with). Unfortunately though, from that point onwards, everything gets very dark. The lighting crew had obviously gone home for the day, leaving the small, remaining crew and actors to shoot the final scenes. The spider gets killed (probably by “neurones”, although we can’t be sure) in a mediocre explosion, and as we see it bubbling and melting all over the place, we realise that The Giant Spider Invasion is over. The DVD is ejected and Steve Martin comes on the TV. Fucking great – it’s The Man With 2 Brains! Let’s watch this for a while…

"You know Dave, a lot of strange things are happening around here."

Rawshark
The drink was beginning to take effect by this point, I must admit, and I probably enjoyed Giant Spider Invasion far more than I really should have done. It truly is a pretty bad movie, but in the state of growing inebriation it's quite good fun, well for the first part at least...

The hokey effects are generally appalling, but good in the way that Plan 9 From Outer Space is enjoyable with friends and 5 bottles of wine. Comets hit the earth with accompanying swirling colour wind effects, out-of-place cuts to military stock footage, and then there’s plenty of NASA waffle and sexism as the “reluctant doctor” teams up with a female Dr (“But, you’re a woman!”) “Specialist” as they explain events are due to mini black holes and doorways through space or something.

It’s 27.07 on the clock before the first spider appears (a small one) and then they attack killing a blind woman (a medium-sized cuddly teddy bear spider in the barn), the extraordinarily annoying goatee-bearded farmer and a few others who get in the way. There’s a diamond sub-plot that goes nowhere, and it’s only the Sheriff (as Russ points out) that really holds the attention and gets this film an extra half star. By the time the giant VW beetle spider attacks the town, I’ve pretty much given up caring, and the film ends on an extremely under lit anti-climactic ending. Guess the money must have run out. Thank God for a bit of Steve Martin…

“A Geiger counter? We don’t have any Geiger’s around here...”

Jim
Yeah - what the fuck was that crazy sub-plot with the Swedish couple finding diamonds in a bunch of spider eggs? That didn't make any sense to me at all but the sheer ludicrousness of the situation did make me laugh - it made me laugh a lot actually. As did the continued plot device of the country fair coming up and the complete disregard for reality the Mayor had, him disbelieving in the mini-black hole spider phenomenon and everything. Tch - what a fool.

And I know my two zombie buddies have both mentioned this, but the sheriff in this flick is fucking hilarious. Absolutely every time the film cuts to him, he's on the phone. Or he's answering the phone. Actually, at one point we cut to the sheriff's office and he's not on the phone and I remember one of us shouting, "He's not on the phone - look!" But then, of course, the phone rings and he answers it as we all fall about laughing. Classic.

Also, I wasn't too impressed with the ending. They literally, out of nowhere, just blow the 'spider' up and the credits roll. I agree with Rawshark, it's a classic 'run out of money' ending involving some dynamite and a load of worried extras, but with a title like The Giant Spider Invasion, what did you expect anyway?

"...but you're a woman!"

Giant Spider Invasion

Director
Bill Rebane

Cast
Steve Brodie
Barbara Hale
Alan Hale Jr
Robert Easton
Leslie Parrish
Christiane Schmidtmer
Kevin Brodie
Tain Bodkin
Bill Williams

Rating
Zomblee
Rawshark
Jim

Runtime
84 mins

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Earth vs the Spider (MST3K version) (1958)

Plot
Joel and the bots from the Satelitte of Love riff over a 50s B-movie about a giant spider escaping from his cave and going to town.

Jim
It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of everything Mystery Science Theatre, so when the idea of a Spider night started to get banded about I practically demanded we include this one. In retrospect, it might not have been such a brilliant idea as the MST3K take on Earth Vs The Spider isn't one of the strongest in the series.

The problem might be with the film - Bert I. Gordon's giant spider movie is actually quite an okay film and, as such, doesn't really provide as much opportunity for strong riffing. MST3K has provided some classics (Manos: The Hands of Fate being almost legendary and one that every film fan has to see) and I guess the formula of bad film equals good MST3K experience is something to think about in the future. I'm going to give MST3K one more chance at zombie club by bringing Sandy Frank's classic Time of the Apes to a monkey themed night soon since that one's my absolute favourite, but I think we need a break from this stuff for a bit.

Still, despite it lacking the killer gags of classics like Manos or Time of the Apes, it does have some quite funny moments, although I'm not entirely sure about the short in front of this one.

"Do I please you?"

Zomblee
Watching five spider films in a row isn’t recommended. During the The Man with 2 Brains interlude something must have happened to disable my note-making faculties, because the scrawls in my note pad are not only sparse, but also illegible. I do remember thinking that this film actually looked like it was not worthy of MST3K abuse, and thus places it in the way- below-average-MST3K episode pantheon. Having only seen two MST3K episodes that I thought were any good (Manos, and Space Mutiny), I now have my reservations about them in general (sorry Jim) because there are SO MANY awful movies out there that deserve such treatment. Unfortunately the MST3K fish don’t always seem to bite the appropriate bargain bucket celluloid bait.

The best thing about Earth Versus the Spider was the sheriff. Yeah, I know that’s what I said about The Giant Spider Invasion, but what we’re talking about here is two back-to-back spider movies that feature small town USA sheriffs who are CONSTANTLY talking on the phone. Even though the Earth Versus the Spider sheriff wasn’t a loveable big cuddly sugar pop like Alan Hale Jr in The Giant Spider Invasion, the very fact that he shared the desk-bound phone passion ethos as his colleague in Earth Versus the Spider was making me laugh so much that I couldn’t see much past this.

According to my “notes”, there were some “crazy antics in a cave”, some “electrode beams”, a character who said “what goes on here?”, and last but not least, “sheriff…on phone”.

"Hello? Sheriff's office?"

Rawshark
Yup, the booze was really beginning to take hold by now. Reality was beginning to seem like a long-distant dream, and having the Mystery Science Theatre crew sneak in a baffling short film on ‘Public Speaking’ before the main event didn’t help matters. Remember kids, three things must you do if you are about to undertake some ‘public speaking’; you must be a) Heard, b) Understood and c) Pleasing.

Riii--iight. So on with the spiders please. Earth Versus the Spider turned out to be a pleasing little black and white ‘b’ movie that seemed to have been made with some care. In fact, I often found myself ignoring the MST3K droids talking over the film, and instead tried to concentrate on the plot of the actual film itself. Admittedly, my memories of this film are somewhat blurred, but there were some really great cave shots, skeletons that had had all life sucked out of them, lots of shots of a big spider and a spider’s web that would have made a great climbing frame for kids

In fact, although I enjoyed the MST3K team on this film (not as good as some of the other riffs of theirs I’ve seen though) by the end I really just wanted to watch the original film in all its 50s black and white glory, dodgy effects and all. Four spidey films down, one to go. Sleep was beginning to beckon. I needed to stay awake for the next film so I reached for my packet of lemon sherbets…

“But I didn’t see the deputy.”

Earth vs the Spider (MST3K version)

Director
Bert I. Gordon

Cast
Ed Kemmer
June Kenney
Eugene Persson
Gene Roth
Hal Torey
June Jocelyn
Mickey Finn
Sally Fraser

Rating
Jim
Zomblee
Rawshark

Runtime
73 mins

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Spiders (2000)

Plot
Dunno. Something about a giant alien spider, I think.

Jim
Before we go any further i have to point out that this film was spider movie number five and we were all getting a little blurry eyed, especially Zomblee whose eyes by this point were like piss holes. Rawshark and I weren't doing much better though and as a result I can't remember much about it. All I can remember is some ugly bird with glasses running around a warehouse set with some friends, a CIA type bloke who looked like a poor man's Agent Smith and a giant red alien spider.

The sweet irony of course is the special effects were done by industry powerhouses KNB (of Evil Dead II, Re-animator and just about every other cool horror ever fame) and as such the spider bits where easily the best we'd seen all night. That I do remember, but not much else, except laughing at Zomblee flinching violently every time Rawshark cracked one of his sherbet lemons between his teeth.

"What time is it?"

Zomblee
Yeah. That about sums it up. It was very late. The fifth spider movie in a row. I’d had my fair share of combustibles and wine. Rawshark had these lemon sherbet sweets, and every time he bit into one, that loud cracking sound made me think that every bone in my body had broken, causing me to flinch uncontrollably.

Of course, I couldn’t say anything because five spider movies had robbed me of any articulation. How do I tell someone that the cracking sound of the lemon sherbets they're eating are freaking me out? So i kept very quiet. On top of that, every time either Jim or Rawshark said anything, I also flinched and didn’t quite know how to react to real human beings speaking to me any more. At this point, the only ones who had any chance of making any sense were the characters in the spider movie. But even they didn’t make any sense. I don’t think I missed much with this one. It had a really cool looking big spider in it, which I only just saw out of my piss-holes. Apart from that, it looked like complete rubbish.

"Can I go to bed now please?"

Rawshark
It’s strange the way your mind can conveniently forget things as if to protect you from revisiting all your bad memories. Spiders is the sort of film you see as a poster at the back of a trade magazine at film fairs, desperately looking for some mad fool to distribute it. I honestly don’t have a clue how the guys behind this movie managed to close a deal, other than the fact the film was called Spiders and someone guessed that somewhere there’d be people mad enough to pay to see it.

Futuristic-blah, a not-very-attractive babe, something about Spiders... Yeah whatever. I, like the others, remember very little about this home video, but for some strange reason I felt that we simply HAD to watch this utter dross right to the very end, as if watching five Spider movies in one night was going to achieve something, as if it really meant something, and insisted on Jim and Zomblee to tough it out to the end too. Looking back on it now, we could have probably got away with watching this film on fast-forward, enjoyed it twice as much and got some much-needed sleep 45 minutes earlier.

Oh, and sorry about the lemon sherbets.

Spiders

Director
Gary Jones

Cast
Lana Parrilla
Josh Green
Oliver Macready
Nick Swarts
Mark Phelan
David Carpenter
Leslie Harter Zemeckis
Mark Totty
Andrew Stoddard

Rating
Jim
Zomblee
Rawshark

Runtime
95 mins

Available From

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Conclusion
As you’ve probably guessed by now if you’ve read this entire Zombie Club entry, we bit off more spider pie than we could chew. It all seemed like such a good idea and, up until the (very dark) end of The Giant Spider Invasion, everything was still making relative sense. Unfortunately the final two films acted as the last two screws in the special spider coffin, giving way to uncontrollable flinching and indisputable personal fear for sanity.

Tarantulas - The Deadly Cargo’s admirable achievement was to surprise the hell out of all three of us. Let’s just say that we weren’t expecting much from this one, but this modest little made-for TV flick delivered more than a few surprises – it also delivered Tom Atkins as a pilot, another pilot who “isn’t Tom Atkins”, a load of dodgy coffee laced with hairy beasts, and the standard 70’s spider movie small town setting, complete with worried Mayor and over-worked telephone operator.

The Shatnerfest otherwise known as Kingdom of the Spiders was highlight of the night – it’s a great little film that does exactly what it says on the tin. Worth seeing for Shatner alone.

Sadly, it all started to go down the spider hill from there. I’m biased towards The Giant Spider Invasion – it’s an old favourite of mine even though I’m totally aware of its shortcomings, of which there are plenty, believe me. But it’s worth seeing for Alan Hale Jr. as the sheriff. On the phone. Besides, any film with a line like “we don’t have any geigers around here, never did have!” has got to be worth a look.

During the final two films I was having some sort of personal crisis. I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Too…many… spider…films… Not…a…good…idea… Don’t try this at home, kids.


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