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You can't spell 'spider' without 'drips'.  Remember that. Kingdom of the Spiders:
William Shatner Versus Wily Tarantulas.

Matt - 4.20.02

I mentioned this flick in the recent Tarantula Animalia article, but I thought it'd be a cold day in Hades before I ever got a chance to review it. Kingdom of the Spiders is the definite Insects Attack horror movie - a b-movie gem from the late 70s that's been heralded by fans as one of the greatest flicks of the genre. What genre, you ask? I don't know. How about the 'killer bug movies that cast people from Star Trek' genre. Whatever label you wanna give it, it's a real tough movie to find on video. Luckily for me, the last of the local mom & pop video stores is having a huge going-out-of-business sale. Their financial and emotional destruction is our gain!

I saw this one originally a long time ago - cable stations were broadcasting it pretty regularly in the 90s when Arachnophobia was hot at the theaters. I was positively TERRIFIED of the flick. They use real, live tarantulas here, and LOTS of 'em. I swear, they must've gathered around a thousand of the little bastards up for filming, and after watching it again, I'd say roughly half of them met a grim death on-camera. I guess they shot this one back in the era when animal rights activists were too busy with the damn whales.

As what I'd consider to be the largest bonus a movie could provide, Kingdom of the Spiders casts William Shatner in the lead role. Now come on - think about it for a minute - people who don't know about this movie probably spend their nights PRAYING for William Shatner to get cast in a part where he's gotta wrestle with killer spiders. But it really exists!

In the back of one of his lesser-known workbooks, Einstein once worked out a theory that's proved even more truthful and critical that his ingenious thoughts on relativity: SPIDERS + SHATNER - BUDGET = GOOD TIMES. I couldn't agree more. Now, let's move on to the review. Bear in mind that the video cassette I had to use to do this one was neither new nor healthy, so rescuing picture stills from it was no simple task. I'll let you know if I missed anything worth noting in the encoding.

Also remember that my memory doesn't extend to character names, and thus, I've renamed everyone in this movie for my own personal convenience.

Shatner plays Billy Joe, a cowboy veterinarian from a small farm town. Yes - a cowboy veterinarian. When he's not out swaggerin' around town in a ten-gallon hat and snakeskin boots, he's checking out the local dead cattle for potential foul play. In this case, Shaninquo Boog Daddy's lost his prized calf to an unknown epidemic. Boog's really upset because he spent a lot of money on the calf to enter into the county fair, (?!) and now, not only is his calf a goner - he's running the risk of having his entire farm quarantined if there's some sort of super-virus present.

What neither of our new friends know is that the stupid cow didn't die from anthrax or the flu. Any guesses? A CERTAIN ARACHNID, PERHAPS?! Oh yes, my friends - the spiders did indeed kill that poor calf. And Shaninquo Boog Daddy does INDEED have reason to worry - but it's not about any potential quarantines. It's about something far more sinister. Something Peter Parker and John Goodman know about all too well. Something icky.

Tiffany Bolling plays an attractive entomologist who's sent down to the backwoods for a little investigating. We'll call her Rebecca. See, Shatner sent some of the venom from the dead cow up to the big city folk, because they know venom better than inbred hick folk. Rebecca arrives on the scene screaming 'spiders!', but nobody's ready to believe that spiders could cause such a ruckus.

Of course, Rebecca and Shatner are gonna hook up. At first she thinks he's a scumbag, but after a little while, comparative shopping proves him to be the only man in town not over 75 who can speak something close to English. What really concerns me is Kingdom of the Spiders' incessant use of oxymorons. I can believe that ten trillion tarantulas are trying to eat a small town. But I refuse to believe that, standing right there on the screen before my very eyes, I'm looking at a Cowboy Veterinarian and an Attractive Entomologist. Christ, people slap the sci-fi tag on something and BAM, they think they can pull any bullshit.

It really pains me to introduce you to the movie's secondary characters, but I guess I have to because somehow, they become important to the storyline and I don't want to confuse anyone later when I try to transcribe virtual grief when a few nameless idiots get eaten by spiders. Rebecca decides to stay at the local hotel, which is suitably shack-ish and run-down, but run by a very nice older woman who talks tough and makes a mean pot of coffee. When Becky meets her, we get a nice pointless conversation with the woman trying to justify her upped room rates because there's a big county fair coming in a few days.

The only other people staying at the unnamed hotel are a tourist couple there to see, oh I dunno, cows.

One of my favorite parts of the movie is when everybody discovers the root of all evil: a spider hill full of giant tarantulas. I don't know what kind of budget this flick worked with, but it obviously wasn't much. Still, they didn't gyp us with the spiders: they used real live ones, and lots of 'em. It's never adequately addressed here, but tarantulas would sooner rent Mystic Pizza than chill out together on a hill. Spiders, tarantulas in particular, are almost totally solidary and can't stand each other's company unless they're having sex or eating each other.

I can overlook the factual mishap because the visual of hundreds of spiders running amuck on a little hill is pretty neat. Later in the film, more of these hills appear, and with that, more killer spiders from Hell.

From the Subplot-I'd-Rather-Die-Than-Talk-About Department, here's Shatner's dead brother's wife. In a subconscious effort to hold on to her lost husband, the girl grows pretty fond of Willy, and who wouldn't? He's got panache. Unfortunately, he's got a hotter girlfriend in Rebecca and no room for needy sister-in-laws. One of the first scenes in the movie shows Shatner throwing the girl to the ground, berating her for thinking he could replace his brother. You know, it takes a lot to piss off Shatner, but you've really gotta watch out for his buttons.

The only important thing about her character is that she's got a young daughter who must be rescued later. That, and the fact that in real life at the time, she was Willy's wife.

Shatner: Baby, I got a new role - I'm gonna be a cowboy veterinarian in a movie about killer tarantulas.
The Wife: Academy Award, here we come!
Shatner: Exactly. And guess what? I even convinced them to let you play a part!
The Wife: That's terrific! Who am I gonna be - your heroic love interest who saves you from the spiders at the movie's climax? Or maybe the lead villain?
Shatner: Nah - you're gonna be some widowed broad who's obsessed with getting my cock. I toss you aside like a bad Trek script that features Sulu.
The Wife: Hmmm. I guess work is work, right?
::Shatner throws ten live tarantulas on his wife::
The Wife: AHHHH! What are you doing?! GET THESE THINGS OFF ME!
Shatner: You've gotta get used to it - the script calls for you to be covered in like seventeen thousand of these things. Besides, you told me you were a character actor. It's time to start living the part.
The Wife: But these things are alive, it's a lot different from your stupid Tribble puppets.

Shatner kisses Rebecca, setting up their torrid love affair. Elsewhere, another cow dies.

Okay, from here on out, it's pretty much spider-mania. The movie has a pretty slow build, and the clueless watcher will probably spend the first hour of the film desperately seeking something better to watch. But believe me, the suspense really does amount into a big payoff. It's not the kind of movie you can watch if you're not in the mood for it, but spider-killer horror flicks tend to fall into that category universally. Just trust me on this one - if you give Kingdom of the Spiders a chance, it'll repay you with a serious case of skin-crawlin' willies.

Boog Daddy gets attacked by tarantulas while driving, and ends up crashing off the edge of a cliff. When Shatner and the cops find him later, he's completely covered in webs, drained of bodily fluids, and very much deceased. Again, tarantulas wouldn't do this sort of thing in real life, but Boog Daddy was such a pestilent character that I'm really glad none of the producers thought to check. I'd hate to imagine a world where Boog Daddy survived the tarantula onslaught - I don't think I could live in it quite so merrily.

It's Boog Daddy's wife who really pulls for the Pulitzer with her performance - I'm always amazed at how, in most b-movies, the actors desperately lack credibility in every facet of their emotional range except for the good old crying fit. That's the one primal, basic tool you need to make it anywhere in Hollywood. It doesn't matter that Boog Daddy's wife looks like something out of a museum exhibit about mummies - as long as she can cry on cue, she's got a bright future in the special art of making movies about insects gone bad.

Shatner and Becky aren't taking the spider threat lightly anymore, especially after they get a call from the lab: apparently, the venom of these arachnids is five times more powerful than normal. For what reason? We're not sure - maybe a tarantula got a hold of a genie lamp and pulled one of those 'good for the whole race' wishes instead of just asking to win the lottery. Either way, these aren't your everyday run-of-the-mill killer spiders - they're mega-powerful super-killer caligfragilistic spiders. And they need to be stopped!

The town's mayor sends a crop duster out to poison the little buggers, altogether ignoring the fact that we previously learned of their immunity to DDT. Now I'm not sure what they're spraying out of the plane, but do ya really think it's gonna be more powerful than DDT? Unless they're willing to take out half the town's population with Agent Orange, it's safe to say this is an exercise in futility meant to serve as nothing more than a segue into the film's one big-budget explosion.

Kabang - the poison pilot gets attacked by spider mid-flight, loses control, and crashes into a barn. Well, so much for that plan. By the way, the pilot screams like a little girl for no less than 90 seconds during this scene. The cherry on top? After his plane explodes, Shatner's gotta hold back the locals from going to rescue him, screaming that he's already dead. Shatner does that a lot in this flick, he wouldn't be a model fireman.

Next, his sister-in-law gets the ax while trying to save her daughter from a tarantula onslaught. Again, they're not faking these shots: they really covered the actors in live spiders. I don't care if tarantulas aren't really that vicious or deadly - it'd take a lot for me to allow spiders to run all over my face. Movies like this are terrific because they often have to rely on things like this to get by - they can't afford the big name actors, or effects, or advertising deals - but by God, they'll get you into the theaters by pouring spiders all over everyone. Silverstone could've totally saved Excess Baggage if she adopted the rule.

All of the remaining 'big' characters become trapped in the lodge, since the spiders have multiplied and now the streets are literally crawling with 'em. We get another nice shot of a dead guy in a spider-cocoon, which reminds me of a scene I didn't get pics from: remember Boog Daddy's resilient wife? Well, she becomes not-so-resilent when tarantulas invade her home, freaking her out to the point where she blows her own arm off with a handgun. As said, I originally saw this flick over ten years ago, and aside from the eerie ending, that's the one scene I vividly remember creeping me out. Seeing it again now doesn't have quite the same effect, but at least we take solace knowing that all Boog Daddy genetics are completely wiped out.

Shatner tries calling for help, but the operator too has been eaten by the spiders. Actually, not really eaten - just murdered. The spiders don't seem to do very much eating, it's more like they've got this sinister bloodlust. It's like they're killing people just because they can, not because they're hungry. I can dig it - the town they're attacking isn't exactly full of Harvard-level geniuses - the mass genocide is probably better in the longrun for mankind as a whole. Let's face it, the spiders are bad, but because of them, we won't have a Boog Daddy Junior. Maybe God's getting creative up there and wanted to wipe out the dead weight with something a little more interesting than a bland flood.

While our heroes do their best to survive in some admittedly suspenseful scenes in the lodge, the rest of the town gets completely swallowed up by the beasts. These sequences are nuts compared to the rest of the flick. I don't have any way of really knowing for sure, but when you're watching it, it's pretty clear that a lot of these spiders are really getting crushed by car tires and the like. Combine that with the fact that a lot of these scenes feature dozens of dayplayers running around screaming, covered in real spiders, and it makes for a pretty memorable visual.

I enjoyed Arachnophobia immensely for what it was, but there's something about this unpolished approach that really raises the scare factor. In the end, it seems like everyone out there has at least two or three live spiders crawling on 'em.

After a full night of spider battling, everything seems oddly calm at the lodge. The remaining characters all wax philosophical - are the spiders still out there? They've got the entire place boarded up, vents and all, so the only way to know for sure is by looking outside. When Shatner does, we get the shocking ending: the entire town is now covered in webs, completely taken over by the tarantulas. Roll end credits.

In actuality, it's just a bad matte painting. I wasn't sure if the spiders took over or if it just snowed. Still, it's pretty creepy that they end the movie this way - with virtually everyone in the film either dead or on their way to death. Yes, in Kingdom of the Spiders, the spiders win.

Overall: This isn't one to miss if you're a fan of the b-rate horror genre. Because it wasn't a slasher film and the gore is kept to a minimum, they've gotta scare you psychologically, and that's where the movie really succeeds. The script is dumb but you can't help feeling sympathetic towards a bunch of people waiting to get eaten by tarantulas. Plus, it's got William Shatner managing to find romance in the middle of a bug invasion. Recommended as a curiosity - it's not a great movie by any means, but it's regarded as one of the best of it's type. If you can get past the bluegrass soundtrack that sounds like something an electronic toy tractor set would churn out with the push of a button, you'll be satisfied enough to say 'hey, the movie doesn't make me want to kill anybody.' Considering some of the shit we review, that's all we can really ask for.

Check out my review of Murder By Numbers, the new Castle Rock flick about kiddie murders and malicious baboons. Includes an interview with Sandra Bullock and at least one mention of Jon Voight. Enjoy!

- Matt
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