Peter’s Retro Reviews: Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)

July 21, 2011

by Peter Nielsen

A Living, Crawling Hell on Earth”

As a teen I used to pass this movie many, many times in the horror section. I’d pick it up, read the back, look at the photos and then put it back on the shelf, not having the nerve to actually rent the damn thing. I was always very fascinated by that VHS-cover though, and c’mon people, be honest… weren’t the covers on the movies much cooler back in the days of the VHS-tape, than they are now? It’s like they put a little more time and effort into it. Not like today’s DVD-covers, that seem almost… well, boring by comparison. But, wait a minute… Don’t send hate-mail just yet! I’m not saying that that’s the case with every cover, but many are a bit boring. A cover should say: C’mon, man! Pick me up! Buy me! Right?

But I digress!

Let’s get back to my movie of the week. The one I didn’t dare to rent and I know what you’re thinking. You wuss! And when it comes to spiders or in this case, thousands of the damned things, yes… you’re right! I am a wuss! Big-time arachnophobe! And you know what? I never rented it and that particular rental store closed down. (Not because of that, of course.) The movie sort of drifted out of my mind until a couple of years back, when I read an article about it and decided to track it down. I now have it on my shelf and I’ve seen it a couple of times. It still creeps me out though!

The damned things are everywhere!

The damned things are everywhere!

The movie starts out on the farm belonging to Walter and Birch Colby, played by Woody Strode (The Professionals, Once Upon A Time In The West) and Altovise Davis. There’s two weeks ‘til the town-fair and they’re hoping that their two year old calf will win first prize and the money that goes with it. Money is scarce and much needed!

But when it suddenly gets unexplainably ill and dies, the Colbys are devastated and afraid that the local vet will quarantine them. It would spell doom for the farm and should word of a possible disease and quarantine get out, the town-fair and the much needed tourist-money would be jeopardized. The mayor of Verde Valley is of course worried. To call off the town-fair is out of the question! Does this sound familiar? Call off the fair/close the beach… Tourists gone… Jaws, anyone?

The vet, Dr. “Rack” Hansen takes some blood and urine samples from the calf and sends them to the nearby lab to find out what killed it. The lab sends scientist Diane Ashley to check out the farm, because what killed the calf, was a massive dose of spider-venom. This seems unbelievable until they find the first spider hill.

Rack working his charm...

Rack working his charm…

This is, according to Diane, a scientific abnormality, because tarantulas are mainly cannibalistic loners, but here there are literally hundreds of them and they’re not fighting amongst each other. They decide to burn the hill because most of these large species of spiders tend to be immune to pesticides. Hey, I never claimed this to be scientifically accurate. What they don’t know is that there are hundreds of these spider hills in the vicinity.

Diane Ashley is played by Tiffany Bolling (The Candy Snatchers) and Dr. Robert “Rack” Hansen is played by an actor who doesn’t really need an introduction… Captain James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise himself, Mr. William Shatner.

Kingdom of the Spiders follows the usual formula of this type of movie. Livestock or pets turn up dead, the authorities are baffled, people turn up dead and then…  all hell breaks loose, and let me tell you this, I haven’t seen this many live tarantulas in any other movie before or since. They are literally everywhere!

Agonizing climb...

Agonizing climb…

Rack, his niece Linda and Diane take shelter in a hotel together with the owner Emma and two other guests. They work the whole night trying to keep the spiders out and when morning finally arrives and they peek out, they find that the disaster is of almost apocalyptic proportions…

The movie is set in Arizona and the beautiful scenery that you recognize from every western-movie you’ve ever seen, and you can’t help but like the “town-folk” here. The one who steals every scene though, is Mr. Shatner. That boyish glint in his eyes and the little smirk on his face is absolutely perfect here and this is William Shatner at his best.

The other scene-stealers are of course the spiders. The thousands and thousands of spiders, and I get itchy all over just by thinking about them. Creeping! Crawling! Yuck!!

The movie starts and ends very peacefully and fittingly with the rather catchy country-tune “Peaceful Verde Valley” sung by Dorsey Burnette, and on that note, I’ll just quietly exit stage left.

Until next time, my friends…

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