Written by Fido
From the very opening of the movie and the immediately out-of-place title music, it’s hard not to get wrapped up into Kingdom Of The Spiders right off the bat. Slow moving spiders beating up even slower reacting people – sign me up. It brings back fond memories of lazy Sunday early evenings in Southern California watching Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, on Channel 9 while settling into an amazingly cheeseball, but fun movie.
It’s always good to see William Shatner in any role outside of Captain Kirk, or a character alluding to Kirk. And in this flick, he delivers an oddly "dramedic" (drama + comedy) performance under the moniker Arizona’s own Dr. Robert “Rack” Hansen. Now I won’t spoil the story behind the catchy spy-guy nickname, but instead I will whole-heartedly recommend that any fan of horror or ‘70s movies in general grab this puppy up as soon as they can.
Alongside Shatner is Tiffany Bolling playing the alluring female lead. From her very first zero reaction to finding a giant tarantula in a vanity drawer for no reason, her performance falls right in line with what you expect (and want) from the role.
How many William Shatner films can you see where Shatner is the most under-control actor (well, at least until his attack scene that he mysteriously survives when others were knocked off with one nibble)?
It has all of the hallmarks of a good ‘70s horror romp – the overacting; the grainy, gritty film feel; the low budget stretched to the Nth degree; the appropriate yet still completely abrupt ending; and a ton of other entirely endearing qualities that make the ‘70s era of horror (and film in general) one of the most interesting and now influential eras in film history.
The opening scene in which a prize show-cow is assaulted by one of the offending beasties is shot from the spiders’ point of view. Call me crazy (as many have before and will again) but I love when older horror movies take a P.O.V. shot from a bug and treat it as high drama – which this movie does do not once, but a couple times. It’s this kind of sensibility in these films that I find so magnetic. Simple little devices used in unintentionally funny ways that draw you into even the worst of films are few and far between nowadays. Kingdom Of The Spiders finds a way to be unintentionally funny without being thoroughly terrible or unentertaining.
There’s also this wonderfully blurry line between TV movies of the era and movies of the same time period. This one has the same “could’ve been an ABC Sunday Night Movie” feel, but it doesn’t take anything away from the fun.
One of my favorite aspects of the movie is that 90% of the music is a lifted score from The Twilight Zone. And it’s not only used once or twice; it’s the dramatic underscore for a vast majority of the movie. Although it’s recognizable, it does nothing but add to the heaping amount of chuckles. When it’s not The Twilight Zone as the backbone of the musical drama, it’s a melodramatic score that overplays even the smallest of incidents, but again, that’s not a bad thing in this case.
As far as the special features go on the DVD, there’s a couple damn interesting nuggets. The first and best one is a rare behind-the-scenes film shot during the making of the movie. There aren’t many movies of that era with the foresight to archive some of the making of the movie and there are less DVD-authoring companies that will go the extra mile to find stuff like this. For that alone it’s worth getting the DVD. But there are other features: one on the spider wrangler for the movie, an interview with the venerable William Shatner, and an interview with the writer of the film. And though all the features (including the original trailer which is an ass-kicker) are sweet, it’s that behind-the-scenes one that really grabs you.
On top of that Shout has done something wonderful that may be of little note or care to others, but to me it’s the way these kinds of movies (or actually any movie on DVD to that end) should always be released – they used the original theatrical poster as the cover for the DVD – awesome!
As a totally related Trek side note – if you like this, go treat yourself to the giant rabbit invasion that is Night Of The Lepus (hopefully Shout will release that one with the same care they released this gem. It stars DeForest Kelley (Dr. McCoy) and is equally if not more entertaining in every wrong way possible.
Anyway, aside from any kind of hoity-toity film analysis, Kingdom Of The Spiders is an unabashedly entertaining fun example of a filmmaking sensibility that has sadly gone by. You go watch now.