Ahhhhhhhhhhh. You hear that? That's the sweet sweet sound of a sweet sweet sigh of sweet sweet satisfaction. Sweet sweet, I say, for lo...I have seen Kingdom of the Spiders (1977), and lo...it was goooooood. In fact, I enjoyed this flick more than just about any other I've seen in this wonderful little subgenre- yeah, it was that good.
Right from the get-go, we've got one of the most bizarre-yet-fucking-awesome movie theme songs ever: country crooner Dorsey Burnette's "Peaceful Verde Valley". The lyrics are completely inappropriate for the flick that's about to unfold, but it matters not: it's the 70s, every movie must have a theme song, and this one was rad.
Poor Arizona. Having barely survived the giant rampaging bunnies of 1972, the state finds itself fending off hordes of angry tarantulas a mere five years later. It all begins on the farm owned by Walter Colby and his wife Birch (Woody Strode and Altovise Davis), where we watch their cow get attacked by...hmm...things that are awfully low to the ground. People, I am not even lying when I say that the cow gives one hell of a performance. It turns its head and looks at the camera, it stops chewing on cue as if it's just heard a noise...I'm telling you, watch this and you will believe a cow can act! Most horror movie actors can only dream of putting in performances like this.
The calf soon dies and local veterinarian "Rack" Hansen (a surprisingly restrained William Shatner) is stumped. He sends some blood samples to the University for analysis, and soon enough the sexy city-slicker entomologist Diane Ashley (Tiffany Bolling) is on the scene. I mean, really, can you stand the hotness?
The hair! The dazzling smile! The sunglasses! The neckerchief! GOD, I LOVE 1977!
Anyway, Ashley quickly figures out that the calf died from a massive dose of spider venom, an idea which Rack dismisses- a spider couldn't kill a cow! Silly, silly woman. As more and more animals go missing or turn up dead, however, it seems that Ashley is right- and Verde Valley has got itself a nasty spider problem; that goes double for poor Farmer Colby. The spiders have built themselves a nice big hill on his land, and this Spider HQ is home to thousands of the critters. Our team decides to burn the mound to the ground to stave off the threat...the problem is, another 20 or so mounds are discovered.
The hothead Mayor (Roy Engel) wants to douse the countryside in DDT, but Ashley warns him that it's pesticides that have made the tarantulas act so aggressive in the first place. The Verde Valley County Fair is coming up, though, and far be it from a public official to listen to reason when money's on the line. He orders the crop duster to take to the sky; unfortunately for the pilot, a few spiders have come along for the ride. The pilot screams like a little girl when he's attacked (I'm not kidding, he really does and it's awesome), the plane goes down, and we chalk up a victory for the spiders.
From this point on, Kingdom of the Spiders really kicks things into high gear. The spiders go on an all-out assault, turning the town to complete chaos. Farmer Colby drives off a cliff; his wife shoots herself in the hand because there's a spider on it; townspeople are getting cocooned left and right- the spiders are storing people as food for later- the webbing, like Tupperware, seals in the freshness.
Rack, Ashley, and a few other survivors are holed up in a lodge against the onslaught. Can they fend off the threat and survive?
Well, they survive the night, anyway. But Kingdom of the Spiders won my heart when it didn't pussy out at the end- as our plucky survivors wake to the dawn of a new day (and the strains of "Peaceful Verde Valley" once again), they look outside to see...the entire town has been cocooned in the night. The spiders have won, people; the spiders have won. Yes, the last shot of the film is side-splittingly, hilariously bad (we see the newly cocooned town, sure, but umm...it's a painting), but it doesn't matter. Any movie that has the balls to kill off mankind is fine by moi.
I think that's why I like these Animals Run Amok movies so much- most of the time, it's a disaster that man has brought onto himself through hubris or reckless disregard. As wanton hair spray use leads to a half-naked Leslie Nielsen wrestling a bear, so wanton pesticide use leads to William Shatner fending off bloodthirsty tarantulas. These flicks, like disaster movies with all-star casts, are reminders to mankind not to be so cocky because Mother Nature can kick our asses any time she damn well pleases.
I will admit, though, that Kingdom of the Spiders is a bit tough to watch at times- not only because it's a major heebie-jeebie inducer, but also because the thousands of spiders featured are 100% real. This flick is like the ASPCA's worst nightmare come to life as tarantulas are run over, set on fire, squished, and dispatched in many various ways- what can I say, I'm a gentle, loving soul and it bothered me. What? I am.
But it didn't bother me so much that I didn't love this movie! There's rumors of a deluxe-edition DVD hitting shelves sometime in the not-so distant future...I'll buy three copies: one to watch, one to put under my pillow when I sleep, and one to put down my pants. That's how much I loved this movie! I give it 8 out of 10 I thought it was a nice unexpected twist when the hot entomologist finds a spider in a drawer and, instead of shrieking, calmly picks it up and puts it ouside...then again, she was an entomologist, so I guess she wouldn't flip out because she saw a spider. Never minds.