From the DVD case: A giant spider goes on a rampage through a small town. Can anyone stop it before it takes over the world? (1958, b&w)
Mark says: If director Bert I. Gordon’s name (Beginning of the End, Empire of the Ants) doesn’t tip you off as to what type of movie this is, the misspelling of “starring” in the title credits should (they add an extra R: “starrring”).
Like a lot of Gordon’s films, Earth vs The Spider has a promising start. Jack Flynn (Merritt Stone) is driving home to surprise his daughter with a locket for her birthday. Jack suddenly sees something stretched across the highway, and before he can stop, he collides with a cable (it’s supposed to be the strand of a giant spiderweb) which slashes through his face in a rather gruesome and bloody manner. That’s where the excitement ends.
Mr. Flynn’s high school daughter, Carol (June Kenney; Attack of the Puppet People), is upset when her father does not return home. Amusingly, most people, even Carol’s mother (June Jocelyn; The Amazing Colossal Man), assume that Jack is on an all-night bender. Carol insists that her father didn’t get drunk “this time” and enlists her boyfriend, Mike Simpson (Gene Persson; Bloodlust!), to help search for him.
To make a long, and not very interesting, story short: Carol and Mike find her father’s truck crashed near a cave. Upon exploring the cave, they find some skeletons, a giant spiderweb (obviously a common net), and a gargantuan spider-beast that almost devours them.
No adults will believe their story except for friendly Science teacher, Mr. Kingman, played by Ed Kemmer (Giant from the Unknown). Mr. Kingman convinces Sheriff Cagle (Gene Roth; Tormented, Attack of the Giant Leeches) to investigate the situation. Wisely, they bring with them an exterminator and a tanker full of DDT. The sheriff loses a deputy, but they kill the spider (or they think they do) with the DDT.
Mr. Kingman thinks it would be a grand idea to keep the dead arachnid in the high school gymnasium while he tries to figure out what to do with it. Seems logical.
Unfortunately, a band of jive-talkin’ rock n’ rollers awaken the monster during their rehearsal, and the beast goes on a rampage through town before heading back to its cave.
The remainder of the film involves tireless trips back and forth to and from the caverns. Any momentum built within the first half of the movie disintegrates during the final half. Camp value will only carry a film so far, and this movie peters out long before the finale.
The special effects are the standard Bert I. Gordon variety, fun but atrocious. You can get a feel for his technique by studying the image I’ve posted above. Mr. Gordon also had a single, mechanical spider leg constructed to use during scenes where he wanted the spider to appear in the same shot as the actors. The leg is obviously too thin to match the fat, furry legs of the real spider, and thus the effect is reduced to schlock cinema. Adding to the absurdity, the spider shrieks and roars in a manner that sounds suspiciously human.
Another facet of this film that strikes me as rather silly, is that most of the high school “kids” are conspicuously older than they should be. In fact, Mike and Carol’s friend, Joe, is played by Troy Patterson, who was 34 when the film was shot! It’s not too often you’ll see a teenager with 5 o’clock shadow.
Earth vs The Spider is filled with B-movie veterans. Besides the actors listed above: Hal Torey (Invisible Invaders) plays Mike’s father; Sally Fraser (War of the Colossal Beast, It Conquered the World) is Mrs. Helen Kingman, and Hank Patterson (Monster on the Campus, Beginning of the End) plays Hugo, the janitor. Hank Patterson is also a character in a movie this film tries to rip off, Tarantula.
Adding insult to injury, Bert Gordon promotes two of his other movies in the course of the film. While talking to Carol on the phone, we clearly see a poster advertising The Amazing Colossal Man behind Mike. Mike then makes a reference to Attack of the Puppet People, which he says “sounds pretty wild.” There’s nothing quite like shameless self-promotion.
Earth vs The Spider is campy enough to be fun, but the story becomes tiresome early on. We lose interest in the characters so quickly that by the final rescue scene we simply do not care if they are devoured or not. The spider is scary, not because of its enormous size, but because all spiders are inherently frightening, at least in my book.
This movie was produced by Samuel Z. Arkoff, Bert I. Gordon, and James H. Nicholson.
Scene to watch for: Carol’s mother wants her to stop grieving her father and finish her homework. After all, it has been hours since Carol discovered her dad’s dead and shriveled body.
Line to listen for: “You know what we eggheads are like, sheriff. We want to know why this, how come that? What about the other? It’s a matter of scientific interest to find out what made that creature tick.”
Trivia: The title of the film, Earth vs the Spider, was used to ride the success of an earlier film, Earth vs the Flying Saucers. However, before release, another more successful film, The Fly, was raking it in at the box office. So in all of the promotional materials, the movie was advertised as The Spider, even though the main title on the film was never changed.
Mark’s Rating: ! ! ½ out of 5.