FIVE FILMS FROM...1977
Kingdom of the Spiders
(Directed by John 'Bud' Cardos)
1977 was a HUGE year for animal-horror flicks. No prizes for guessing this had a lot to do with the phenomenal success of “Jaws” and the resultant nature-goes-nutzoid offerings. So these 12 months saw a lot of films like “Grizzly”, “Tentacles”, “Rattlers” and “The Food of Gods” in the Grindhouse theatres. Most were of the variety of animals-get-pissy-with-interfering-humans or science-creates-mutants. But “Kingdom” was one of the more notable and oddly effective examples of these exploitationers, and one of the first to exhibit some sense of environmentalism. It was directed by one-time stuntman Cardos, who personally persuaded the one-and-only William Shatner to headline this. He would later direct further guilty-pleasures like “The Day Time Ended” and “Mutant”. But this film became a cult favourite and stuck in people’s memories for more than just Shatner’s memorable (over)acting. After all, the fear of spiders is one of the most common shared phobias across the world, and this B-movie raked its nails over that particular blackboard with great aplomb. Set in rural Verde Valley, Arizona, it follows Shatner’s veterinarian as he realises that the isolated town is under siege from masses of Tarantulas. Refreshingly the eight-legged villains are not mutated, but have evolved a pack mentality to combat the overuse of pesticides which has all-but-eradicated their food source in the area. Unlikely – Yes. Scary – Hell, yeah!
Although the film has that TV-movie sheen that many low-budget offerings have from this period, and it uses stock music on the soundtrack, there are other reasons for “Kingdom” to be recommended. For a start, they went all-out with the Spiders. Yes, there were hundreds of rubber models used on some scenes, and the crew even drew them onto buildings for wide shots of the town (which were amusingly still visible years later). But a huge amount of live tarantulas were procured by offering Mexican spider wranglers $10 for each one they could find, which genuinely led to $50,000 of the film's minimal budget going towards just that. And because Tarantulas are fussy little buggers, they had to be kept warm and in separate trailers, err… containers, so there was no (for the time) mistreatment of the animals. Basically it captured the nightmarish aspect of every Arachnophobe’s fear, by “keeping it real”. This is something that no film has done since, with the exception of (appropriately) “Arachnophobia” in 1990. The extras REALLY earn their money here, and the extensive shots of “corpses” covered in scampering spiders, or fleeing from hordes of the little beasties, will make arachnid-hater’s spines tingle with relish. Other uncomfortable scenes include a young girl trapped on a bed by them, or a group dropping from a roof onto a victim’s head. *Brrr* All absolute nonsense of course, but it achieves exactly what it sets out to do, has the Great Shat in fine form, and also includes an excellent low-key ending on par with Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. Rumours of a sequel/remake continue to periodically surface…