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Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)

Shout! Factory
DVD Released: 1/19/2010

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/12/2010

The mid 1970s saw a shift in horror films. Not only did the success of The Exorcist and The Omen spurn a move towards religious films, Jaws changed the landscape as well. While animal attacks had been featured in plenty of movies over the years, and Hitchcock's The Birds set the stage for the "animals amok" movie, Jaws sent a message to producers that audience would line up to see wildlife go all wacky. We saw dogs, bears, bees, and all manner of animals go nuts and get their revenge on humans for whatever reason. Of course, no list of scary animal movies would be complete with spiders, and one of the odd gems of this cycle is 1977's Kingdom of the Spiders.

William Shatner (yes, William Shatner) stars in Kingdom of the Spiders as "Rack" Hansen, a livestock veterinarian in the small Arizona town of Verde Valley. When one of Walter Cobyís (Woody Strode) calves dies mysteriously, Rack sends a blood sample for analysis. This causes Diane Ashley (Tiffany Bolling) to immediately come to town to inform Rack that it was spider venom which killed the calf. Soon, Coby find a huge spider nest, covered in tarantulas, on his property. Rack and Diane investigate this, and Diane finds that the venom in these spiders is five times stronger than normal. Despite the fact that this nest is burned, more spiders appear and soon overrun the town. How can the citizens of Verde Valley survive this onslaught.

Kingdom of the Spiders is an interesting mixture of the old and the new. The movie was directed by John ďBudĒ Cardos, a journeyman who had been an actor and stuntman in Hollywood for years. (He also directed stinkers like Mutant.) A few movie veterans worked on the script as well. This old Hollywood view (most notably from a Western perspective) can be seen in the first hour of the film. This portion of the movie is very loosely paced, as we meet the characters and learn the situations. Despite the fact that the spiders do appear (they arenít meant to be menacing at first), the movie spends more time focusing on things like how Rack is a truly macho guy who doesnít let women boss him around. The movie explores the relationship between Rack and Diane (despite the fact that they just met), and thereís an oddly melodramatic subplot concerning the wife of Rackís dead brother (played by Marcy Lafferty, Shatnerís real-life wife at the time) and how she has feelings for Rack. (We canít tell if heís repulsed by this or simply feels a sense of loyalty to his deceased sibling.) Thereís even a piece lifted from Jaws, as the town is preparing for a big festival and the Mayor doesnít want news of the spiders getting out.

But, then the last 30 minutes of the film become something quite different. As the spiders begin to attack the town en masse, the movieís tone changes and it becomes much more brutal. The movie is never gory, but when we see the first victim which has been cocooned in spider webbing, it is shocking. From there, the pacing certainly picks up and every few minutes, we see someone covered in spiders. Even if you donít have arachnophobia, there scenes are creepy, as real spiders were used for the film and we often see them crawling over the actors. There are some suspenseful moments, especially when Rack has to venture into a dark cellar to change a fuse. The last act of the movie becomes a siege film, which seems somewhat hokey -- why would the people be afraid of spiders outside? But, the movie makes this work and for a low-budget film, the final act is effective. The filmís major drawback is the last shot. In lieu of a true special effects shot, we get a drawing/painting of some sort which does a terrible job of conveying a pretty cool idea.

Today, animals on the loose movies are still popular. (Come on, how many times did you watch the Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus trailer?) However, they donít make them like Kingdom of the Spiders anymore. The movieís languid, almost hypnotic opening leads to some truly creepy scenes (how about the crop-duster?). The fact that 5000 real spiders were used and that many of them were killed is something which could never happen today. And while Iím certainly not advocating spider-abuse, knowing that the actors have real spiders on them adds a sense of urgency to the film. The movie isnít on par with Jaws, but for a little movie from the 70s, it still holds up well today.

Kingdom of the Spiders drives your car whether you want it to or not on DVD courtesy of Shout! Factory. (This DVD replaces the lackluster 2002 release from Goodtimes.) The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Given the filmís age and relative obscurity, the image is sharp and clear, showing some grain, but only a small amount of defects from the source material (lines and black spots). The image is slightly washed-out, but the colors still look pretty good. More importantly, the picture is never too dark (as older films can sometimes be) and the action is always visible. The DVD contains a digital mono audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. There are a few pops here, but no hissing. The in-film music sounds fine and the sound effects never over-power the dialogue.

The Kingdom of the Spiders DVD has a surprising amount of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY with Director John "Bud" Cardos, Producer Igo Kantor, Spider Wranger Jim Brockett, and Cinematographer John Morrill, which is moderated by Lee Christian and Scott Spiegel. "Interview with William Shatner" (17 minutes) offers the star to talk about his experiences on the film in a modern-day sit-down. He is very candid in his comments and we certainly learn a lot about the movie. "Jim Brockett - Spider Wrangler" (12 minutes) allows the arachnid expert to show off various tarantulas and explain how they were or weren't used in the film. "Rare Behind-the-Scenes Footage" (17 minutes) is simply home-movies from the set, with sound, which shows the cast and crew at work. "Interview with Writer Steve Lodge" (5 minutes) allows the screenwriter to talk about where the ideas came from and how the film got made. The extras are rounded out by a "Poster Gallery" and the ORIGINAL THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2010 by Mike Long