Earlier this month I reviewed the 1990 movie “Arachnophobia”, in which I commented that no other animal scares me more than spiders, and it’s a common fear that many people have, which is why there so prominent in horror movies. Spiders have been recognizable movie monsters sense the 1950’s, in which tarantulas would be featured as giant monsters that rampage across the country side. In 2002 there was a movie called “Eight Legged Freaks”, which brought giant sized spiders back to the big screen, in that good old B movie fashion. Personally, the concept of giant spiders always came off as the wrong idea, because spiders are always scarier when their small, and harder to notice. It’s their ability to sneak in and out of our comfortable living areas that make them so creepy. So let’s instead look back at a B movie from the 1970’s, in which spiders are still their proper size, but still just as menacing and destructive as any giant monster. As I said in an earlier review, in the 1970’s, horror movies themed around nature attacking were very popular, becoming its own horror subgenera, and complete with films like “The Birds”, “Killer Bee’s”, “Frogs”, “Night of the Lepus” and of course “Jaws”. The 1977 movie titled “Kingdome of the Spiders” is one of the more memorable “nature on the rampage” movies that came out during the time, and became a cult classic among killer animal horror film buffs, but let’s see how much of it still holds up.
Our story is set in an isolated small town in the country side of Arizona, it’s one of those small communities where every inhabitant knows every single neighbor. Among them is a veterinarian played by good old William Shatner, and he’s got his hands full dealing with live stock, pet dogs and cows that are randomly dying do to a mysterious ailment. Fearing it might be a plague of sorts, he joins forces with an attractive young entomologist played by Tiffany Bolling, who confirms that the animals are dying after being pumped with several gallons of spider venom. It doesn’t take long for them to realize that a massive swarm of enraged tarantulas is migrating across the country side, and their town is right smack dab in the middle of it. Soon the spiders spread like wild fire, and a massive epidemic of these killer tarantulas is under way, with our two hero’s trying desperately to keep the spider population under control.
Before I go into all the lovely details of the spider apocalypse, let’s first talk about William Shatner in the lead role. Of course we all remember Shatner the best for playing Captain Kirk on “Star Trek”, but some may also remember him for staring in a long list of really crappy movies, mostly genera films like this one. As you’d expect, this film doesn’t help his resume of campy and silly movies, but he does prove once again to carry a film like this with ease. His performance is actually very restrained by Shatner standards, but all his familiar tropes are featured. He’s an alcoholic, and he wastes no time hitting on woman he doesn’t know, heck the movie actually begins with him chasing down a cow girl and trapping her in a lasso. The girl in question was actually Shatner’s “then” wife Marcy Lafferty in the role of a sister-in-law. The remaining characters in this movie all act like idiots, there’s a little girl who’s completely oblivious to a huge swam of spiders crawling under her while sitting on a swing, and there’s this one woman who actually shoots her own hand off when a tarantula gently crawls on her wrist. There are several moments in which the spiders clearly aren’t even doing anything threatening, but the people still over react to them. The performances and reactions are all extremely over the top, exaggerated and silly, making Shatner look Oscar worth by comparison.
The spiders are genuinely creepy, and there’s plenty moments that might make your skin crawl. We have a scene with the tarantulas swarming a bed with a little girl on it, and there are lots of nasty shots of dead bodies all covered with spiders. Every spider victim gets wrapped up in a cocoon, almost like in “Alien”. For little creatures that can fit in the palm of your hand, these tarantulas tend do a lot of damage. They sneak up on a guy driving a car, forcing him to drive off a cliff side. There’s a scene when they swarm a pilot, forcing his air plane to crash and explode into a building. There’s another scene in which they cause a vehicle to crash into and bring down a big water tower. We do reach a point in the film when the spider epidemic goes critical, and we see mobs of people running around in the streets, lots of carnage, and it’s all so over the top that it becomes unintentionally funny at times.
It should be noted that this movie used real tarantulas, which is something that I have mixed feelings toured. On the one hand, it is a lot scarier seeing real spiders crawling all over these actors, as opposed to a bunch of fake looking CGI creatures like what we see today, but it’s also kind on alienating to think of how many got harmed during the making of this movie. Many of the spiders died during filming, and others were presumably tortured in order to walk and crawl in certain directions, which really bothered animal rights organizations. I freely admit that I can’t stand spiders, and have an instinct to kill them if I see one in my house, but I also hate to think of animals being killed and tortured for the sake of cheap entertainment, especially in a movie like this. Animal cruelty in general sickens me, and it always ruins a movie when I know what went on behind the scenes, even if the victims were a bunch of creepy spiders.
Now let’s talk about the ending, I don’t think anyone cares, but I might as well issue a spoiler warning. Our hero’s barricade themselves in a cabin, while the spiders relentlessly attack outside. Some of them take out the power, forcing Shatner to go down to the basement, in which he gets swarmed by spiders. This whole climax is spent with Shatner just covered in tarantulas, which must have been a living hell for the actor. Much like Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”, we have an ending in which nature wins and the humans are all trampled underfoot, except this time it’s even worse as we never see our hero’s escape. The spiders basically turn the entire town into one giant cocoon, and we hear someone on the radio who’s completely oblivious to the whole epidemic, emphasizing that it was an isolated incident with no hope of anyone coming to the rescue. Some may say that this ends the movie on a chilling high note, while others may feel like they wasted there time with a movie that doesn’t bring any resolution to its crises. Personally, I think the ending is a little to abrupt for its own good, and while that final image of the town covered in a giant web is kind of a cool visual, it’s also really silly.
Overall, “Kingdome of the Spiders” is a pretty typical genera flick, not a good movie by any means, but I’ve definitely seen worse. If you’re a fan of these “man versus nature” movies, you’ll get your fair dose of animal attacks, ma ham, as well as sloppy acting and some really bad dialogue. In comparison to the last spider themed horror movie I reviewed, I’d personally recommend watching the 1990 movie “Arachnophobia” instead. While that movie wasn’t a masterpiece, it was still a fun film and very self away of what kind of movie it was. It had fun with itself, and managed a perfect balance of scares and laughs. “Kingdome of the Spiders” on the other hand seems to take itself too seriously, like it’s trying to be on par with “The Birds” or “Jaws”, but failing to reach the heights of those films. This movie at least has its creepy moments that make my skin crawl, and plenty of memorable scenes, but nothing that special either. It’s not as fun as some of the other killer animal movies I’ve reviewed this month, but it really isn’t awful like several others I know off, it falls somewhere in the middle.
I give “Kingdome of the Spiders” 2 stars out of 5.