One of the more fondly remembered killer bug movies of the 70’s, Kingdom Of The Spiders is a film that, much like its eight legged antagonists, walks a gossamer thin line when presenting its beautifully pulpy premise. A rare entry into the genre that decided against super-sizing the spiders that turn on mankind, it’s somewhat stuck between the mountain of unintentional, camp guffaws born from its 70’s nature and some legitimately creepy moments that’ll give anyone with even a mild case of arachnophobia a massive attack of the heebie jeebies.
On top of everything else, we even get Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner in a leading role to boost the camp levels of the flick into the stratosphere and the result is flawed and tangled web that nevertheless manages to bust out some of the most skin crawling, killer bug imagery seen in a movie this side of Frank Marshall’s Arachnophobia.
Welcome to Verde Valley, Arizona, a dust ball filled to the brim with good natured rednecks, tobacco chewing good ol’ boys and an absolute shit-ton of fuzzy-legged tarantulas that have renounced their cannibalistic ways due to the amounts of pesticides eradicating their food supply. Hanging together to reassess their rung on the food chain, the spiders have started to bring down the cattle from a farm owned by Walter Colby but at first, no one, including town veterinarian Dr. Robert “Rack” Hansen is willing to believe that spiders are the culprit, but that changes when arachnologist Diane Ashley arrives due to the blood samples sent to her.
Discovering a large spider mound near Colby’s farm that’s a regular Tarantula-pooza for the mean little fuckers, Ashley discovers that not only have all these species banded together, but their venom is now five times more potent than it was before and they’ve got the little spider-balls to start crawling their way up the food chain and as the arachnologist correctly points out, if they’re willing to chance their eight little arms while willing to take down a bull, what’s to stop them targeting humans.
However, two things slow down a swift and sensible resolution to matters with the first being the mayor reading from the Jaws playbook and getting cold feet from stopping the county fair. The other curiously is Rack’s libido as he and Diane’s burgeoning relationship lead them to burn the spider mound and call it a day.
Weirdly for an arachnologist, Diane fails to account for the spiders having a back door and before you can say “Kingdom Of The Spiders”, the pissed off arachnids make their big push and crash the fair like an army of little, venomous jerks. Can Rack stop thinking with his dick for two seconds to figure things out, or will the spiders turn Verde Valley into a giant, literal “web site”?
Kingdom Of The Spiders isn’t what you’d call a great movie; I mean there’s nothing here in it’s drive-in, TV movie production values that kind hold a candle to Jaws or even Arachnophobia, the Mount Everest of killer bug movies, and yet there’s enough here to make it quite an endearing watch, its 70’s demeanor making it cheesier than a Parmesan snowstorm while the spider stuff amply taking care of giving you the willies.
Firstly, for a genre usually obsessed with size, Kingdom Of The Spiders interestingly decides to take a more realistic approach to its crawling critters (or at least a helluva lot more realistic than hilariously crappy The Giant Spider Invasion), keeping them Tarantula-sized and even nerfing their venom to the point where a human would need at least a dozen bites in order to kill them outright. However, this also means that the spiders essentially have to gang-rush their victims and if the idea of one toxic tarantula crawling up your arm is enough to turn your sphincter as loose as sock hanging on a washing line, imagine having twenty scurrying all over you like a screaming climbing frame. The images of corpses strewn about the town, dotted with bites and coated in a burrial shroud of webs are literally squirm-worthy, as are shots of abandoned dolls and windows coated in the poisonous buggers.
Thwarting the chills a little, however, is the cast, who is lead by the master of the melodramatic line read, Mr. William Shatner and anyone who’s seen his infamous Twilight Zone episode, “Nightmare At 20,000 Feet” knows that witnessing T.J. Hooker in a horror movie situation is an experience like no other. Striding around, knocking back beers at midday despite being on call and wearing a fucking belt buckle the size of a fucking dinner plate, he’s the very model of a 70’s, alpha male, leading man who just has to be the sun all the other plot thread revolve around even though the movie is about killer spiders. Confirmed ladies man Rack (so called, I’m assuming because that’s first thing he notices when he meets a woman) not only is perfectly placed to be in the middle of this mess, but he’s also got numerous other plot threads spinning out all over the place. Do we really need the self-serving melodrama between Rack and his incredibly thirsty sister in law who’s had goo-goo eyes for him since he takes care of her and her daughter after his brother died in Vietnam or are these subplots around merely to give Shatner an ego boost?
Of course, the real enjoyment on the movie is obviously when the spiders make their big push on people and get their fangs dirty and its remarkable how both funny and creepy these scenes are staged watching it these days. Take the show stopping death of the pilot of the local crop duster as the spiders launch their ambush after he’s already taken off and the scenes of him shrieking like a 6 year old girl as spiders crawl all over his face while his plane careens across the sky bullseyes the sweet spot between genuine creeps and spit-take hilarity. Also bizarrely memorable is the moment when a woman, firing wildly with a revolver at the army of bugs advancing on her takes aim at the tarantula perched on her hand and only succeeds in blowing two of her fingers off. Of course the pinicle of these attacks come in the later scene where Rack, his niece, Diane and a bunch of other of survivors the script hasn’t bothered to flesh out have taken refuge in a lodge only for Rack to get spider-mugged in the basement while he struggles to get the power back on. Here we’re treated to big Bill “Shatting” his heart out as he screams, waves his arms and carries on like a Karren losing her shit over a parking place; but all the giggles give way to Kingdom Of The Spider’s final shot which shifts the camp chaos into the realms of some George Romero style nihilism as the survivors peek out the window to see spider webs coating everything and a pull back reveals the sobering sight of the entire town cocooned as far as can see set to the dulcet, country and western warbling of Dursey Burnett. It’s quite possibly the greatest ending in killer bug movie history and is likely to give even non-arachnophobes a sense of being crawled on even if the events leading up to it are admittedly a little arach-naff.