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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)

There’s always been an intriguing element to a small town in jeopardy that never fails to entertain me. It could be because I read too many Stephen King novels as a child; which has instilled that love of small town terror deep within my subconscious, or maybe it’s the fact that I live in a small-ish city in a small country within Britain (Wales) which helps add to the ‘small town America’ vibe? All I know is its infectious; even the worst of the ‘small town in terror’ films can bring a smile to my face – especially when it’s the mayor’s fault for all the ensuing carnage! Those fucking Mayors’ ruin everything!

Back in the 70’s, small towns weren’t safe from anything; sharks, bears, frogs, rabbits, bees… Worms! Anything exploitation masterminds deemed worthy would get a shot a crushing a town. Kingdom of the Spiders carries on with this tradition and gives Spidy a shot at causing some chaos – a good decade before Arachnophobia scared the pants off of us too I may add. If the thought of tarantulas ruining a small town wasn’t appetite whetting enough, they only went and cast William Shatner as the hero of the piece! Dig it.

A slight warning to lovers of the eight legged blighters, this film should probably be avoided!

Verde Valley, Arizona is a rural town that survives off of agriculture, when veterinarian ‘Rack’ Hansen (Shats) receives a call from a local farmer whose prize calf has fallen mysteriously ill. Blood samples sent to a near-by university state that the calf perished as a result of spider venom, but what spider could bring down a calf? Diane Ashley (the lovely Tiffany Bolling) is sent in to help establish what is going on and prove to everyone that a spider was behind the murder of the animal. She is met with much scepticism, until they discover a huge spider hill containing hundreds of tarantulas not too far from the farm. An annual fare is approaching and the mayor (Roy Engel) arranges for a plane full of pesticide to spray the land believing it will kill the spiders, Diane protests but she is denied and chaos inevitably ensues!

It transpires that chemical pesticides have evolved the species from a cannibalistic arachnid into a carnivorous predator of men, women, children, cattle and dogs! This is where the fun comes in, watching as tarantulas lazily bumble towards their intended prey and watching as actors are covered in live spiders; that roam freely over their bodies! It’s enough to give any arachnophobe the willies. It may not be original, but god damn it’s a lot of fun! First of all, for a PG rated film, this has some pretty horrific moments on offer – one including a woman who shoots a tarantula off her hand only to have the bullet rip threw the beast and plough through her hand, taking off multiple fingers… nice!

For a low budget ‘nature amok’ film, this is quality stuff. It’s utter exploitation in execution and that’s the reason I had a warm reaction to it, it knows what it is, what it has to deliver and sets out to deliver - in spades. The acting is hammy in a 70’s soap opera kinda way which is becoming more and more endearing as these films age I find, so judging on your tolerance for ‘good’ bad acting then you may have a hoot with this element too. The biggest joy however is from the spiders, those evil, evil tarantulas that can bring down anything they apply themselves upon, even aeroplanes!
It’s hard to find a flaw in Kingdom of the Spiders when viewed through B-movie goggles, those looking for them may want to seek Xanax and mellow out. Yes it’s cheesy, yes the country singing intro sucks, yes that is library music, yes that’s William Shatner in a fetching salmon pink shirt and yes, those spiders are being run over by a police cruiser! The death of all those arachnids is deplorable, unless you have that certain phobia of course, but this was made in different times and the fun of the premise overrides the horrors of squished spiders; hell, I’m sure most viewers will be more concerned – hopefully - by the fact that children get covered in live tarantulas.

This is a mean spirited little film, made all the more remarkable for the fact it was granted a PG certificate! How far we’ve come aye? Few films truly earn ‘Cult’ status these days, but Kingdom of the Spiders makes it look effortless, it’s a one-of-a-kind film that could never be made today and for that reason alone it deserves a place on any horror, sci-fi and exploitation collectors shelving. Not sure how the film would go down with the BBFC these days, do they care about spiders getting killed onscreen? Or must the animal be fluffy and have a tail before such footage is removed? I hope we get the chance of finding out one day if a company is willing to take the risk on this fun, trashy, exceptionally entertaining little title that comes highly recommended.

Purchase the DVD here.

Stay tuned for more nature amok film reviews, coming soooon...

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