From the DVD case: William Shatner stars as veterinarian “Rack” Hanson in this cult classic about an Arizona town infested with eight-legged killers, which turn on the humans whose insecticides have depleted their normal food supply. Woody Strode is Rack’s friend, rancher Walter Colby, whose livestock first fall victim to the angry arachnids. Entomologist Diane Ashley (Tiffany Bolling) arrives and tries to help Rack deal with the crisis, but with the big county fair fast approaching, Mayor Connors (Roy Engel) refuses to let them quarantine Colby’s ranch. Soon, the remaining residents are barricaded at Emma Washburn’s (Lieux Dressler) lodge, fighting for their very lives, in this skin-crawling chiller featuring Shatner’s then-wife, Marcy Lafferty, as his sister-in-law, Terry. (1977, color)
Mark says: It would be easy to dismiss Kingdom of the Spiders as another schlocky 70’s B-movie, except for the fact that so many of the scenes are genuinely creepy. Viewers ultimately find themselves laughing and cringing throughout the picture. Though the acting is what you’d expect from a low-budget production, I have to give the cast credit: almost all of those spiders crawling on them are real tarantulas. Reportedly, 5,000 of the creatures were wrangled for the film.
Kingdom of the Spiders features a strange love triangle between “Rack” Hansen (William Shatner), his late brother’s wife, Terry Hansen (Marcy Lafferty), and entomologist, Diane Ashley (Tiffany Bolling). Though Shatner is supposed to be a macho, witty, irresistible, down-home fellow, he comes off as rather lecherous. Rack’s amorous interludes with his sister-in-law are particularly disturbing. If I were an actress, I think I’d prefer to have the spiders crawling on me.
Another oddity regarding Kingdom of the Spiders is the unusual choice of theme song. Country singer Dorsey Burnette croons these strangely inappropriate lyrics during the (supposedly) horrific conclusion of the film: “Will tomorrow bring the love we need to last forever more? Or could it bring the unknown that we’ve never seen before?” It’s such a curious juxtaposition of visual and song that you could almost mistake it for avant-garde cinema. Of course, we know better.
The true stars of this picture, though, are the tarantulas. Unlike Tarantula or Earth vs The Spider, these arachnids don’t grow to gigantic proportions; their numbers and natural bulk are enough to provide the menace. They seem to be endowed with an unnatural sense of intelligence. For example, they know they have to band together if they are going to conquer the human population. They are also smart enough to attack a crop-duster (in mid-flight!) as he sprays the area with DDT. And just in case you didn’t catch it the first time: they’re real!
Though Kingdom of the Spiders is an awkward blend of romance, spiders, and music, it does hold enough suspense and entertainment value to keep your attention. It’s especially fun to watch with an arachnophobic friend.
Watch for Roy Engel (Not of this Earth, The Man from Planet X) as Mayor Connors and Woody Strode (Bride of the Gorilla) as Walter Colby.
Directed by John ‘Bud’ Cardos.
Scene to watch for: A living mass of spiders crawl and writhe beneath a little girl (Natasha Ryan) as she swings just inches above them.
Line to listen for: “You don’t quit pestering me, one of these mornings I’m gonna show up and start milking that cow.”
Trivia: The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) would never approve this film today. Many of the 5,000 tarantulas are squashed, sprayed with fire extinguishers, and/or otherwise brought to their demise onscreen.
Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! out of 5.