Saturday, November 15, 2008

#49: Kingdom of the Spiders (John "Bud" Cardos, 1977)

You would think a movie about killer tarantulas starring William Shatner as a cowboy veterinarian named Rack Hansen would be an unintentionally funny piece of Z-grade camp. Surprisingly, this is not the case. Kingdom of the Spiders is a taut, effective B-movie with tons of atmosphere, an interesting and unusual location, and strong performances, including Shatner (!), who dials it way, way down from his usual Shatnerian Shatneritude. That said, there are still a few unintentionally hilarious moments, including a twisting, leaping, balletish Shatner dodging a shitload of killer tarantulas on the ground, and the following exchange of dialogue that had me howling with laughter:

Shatner, to a sexy scientist from Arizona State: You expect me to believe that a spider could kill a dog, much less a full-grown steer?
Sexy scientist: Not one spider. Several hundred.
Rancher, whose dog and cattle were killed: Well, that would explain Spider Hill.

Yes, that certainly would explain Spider Hill. Kingdom of the Spiders opens like a Western, with a scenic view of the Arizona desert and a country music soundtrack by Dorsey Burnette. Next, we meet rancher Woody Strode, his wife, and a prize calf, nearly full grown, who ends up being spider meat. We see this slaughter through a tarantula's-eye-view, a technique that is repeated a few other times in the course of the film. Next, we meet Shatner, as Rack Hansen, the cowboy vet, and his widowed sister-in-law. They have a sexually tense, not quite romantic relationship. When Shatner sends a blood sample of the slaughtered calf to Tempe, sexy scientist Tiffany Bolling heads to the small Arizona town to investigate the test results. Why did the calf die from spider venom? She's sexy enough to get involved in a not quite love triangle with Shatner and sis-in-law. Shatner initiates things by nearly running Bolling off the road, then taking her to dinner. The ladies love that, let me tell you. Meanwhile, the county fair is coming up, and the mayor is none too pleased about Spider Hill. He demands either a massive pesticide drop or a cover-up. Unfortunately, the spiders are attacking animals, and soon humans, because overuse of pesticides has depleted their food supply. In addition, those wacky tarantulas have evolved, and their venom is now five times more powerful. What will happen? Probably spider mayhem, but I'll leave that for you to discover.

Kingdom of the Spiders is quality drive-in fare. The character actors are interesting and convincing, the rural Arizona locations are easy on the eye and have been underused by Hollywood, giving the setting a freshness lacking in most Hollywood tripe, and the people behind the camera clearly know what they're doing. IMDB describes director John "Bud" Cardos as a B-movie Renaissance man, and they're not lying. Retired now, he enjoyed simultaneous careers as a director, actor, producer, stuntman, assistant director, and production manager. Not to mention the rare job as a special effects man, production designer, driver for the transportation department, and, for Hitchcock's Psycho, bird handler. He covered the waterfront of 1960s to early 1990s B-movie genres, working on horror films, westerns, biker movies, drag racing movies, sword and sorcery, blaxploitation, family movies, sexploitation, and comedies. Where is the John "Bud" Cardos of today? Where?

In conclusion, Kingdom of the Spiders is worth seeing. Peace out, jerks.

No comments: