While William Shatner is an actor everyone is familiar with, his career is denoted by his role as Captain James T. Kirk and a number of TV series. Not counting any of the Star Trek movies, you’d be hard pressed to name a feature film in which he starred. For myself Kingdom of the Spiders immediately comes to mind.
Released two years after Jaws, I suspect this film was partly aiming to tap into that “natural animal gone amok” theme, immediately opening with a similar prey Point of View killing shot where we have a spider walking a beeline towards a cow and then hearing its last panicked Moo. OK, it doesn’t have quite the same dramatic effect as a Shark swimming in for a kill, but this was but one of many thinly veiled swipes from Jaws. As the troublesome taratula carnage spreads just before the town’s highly anticipated County Fair is about to begin the Sheriff wants to make sure that the nearby ranch (which we are supposed to believe is a large tourist draw) is not going to be closed down and put into quarantine. Sound familiar?
But let’s get back to The Shat in the role of Rack Hansen (how’s that for a character name) who plays a doctor ‘playing doctor’ if you get my drift. Well a veterinarian anyhow whose lotharian longings are directed towards both his brother’s widow and Diane (Tiffany Bolling) the big city arachnologist who comes to help when the local tarantulas begin grouping in the hundreds and start killing large prey including people. Rack is the one who sent in a dead calf’s blood for analysis prompting Diane to arrive with the distressing and unbelievable news that the venom found in the blood sample was hundreds of times more potent than normal tarantula bites. With Rack’s eyes are on her as much as the spiders I suspect that he too wished he had eight eyes so he could scope in more than one woman at a time. In typical Shat fashion he is literally all over the women, rolling on the ground with his sister-in-law after a horse ride in which he lassos her and then proposing Diane at every opportunity.
But the spiders are the draw of the movie and you won’t be disappointed in that regard. Numbering in the hundreds for many shots, I suspect many were fake replicas. But the close up scenes used the real buggers and I have to give credit to the cast as most of the actors had them crawling over them at some point and quite a few even handle a bunch of the eight legged crawlers in their hands.
The story sums up the reason for the invasion as DDT killing the spider’s sources of food leading them to be more aggressive and seek out new subsistence supplies. But who cares, right? We came for The Shat who gets to entertain us in a scene which he gets to overact while seemingly in his death throes. Now for real acting the movie does deliver with the roles of the rancher couple that are the initial hosts of the spiders, played by the great Woody Strode and Altovise Davis, Sammy Davis Jr’s wife, in what turned out to be her most memorable role.
As was the case for the movie Squirm, all I could get my hands on was the novelization of the movie to read. Why was it so hard for me to watch all these bug movies? Perhaps that is why I appreciate them so much today? In any case if you do have a chance to watch this one be sure to stick around until the very last frame for a monumental matte painting shot that’ll be sure to give you the creeps.