Monday, December 1, 2014

Monster Serial: KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS, 1977


William Shatner is Dr. Rack Hanson in a life and death battle against an invasion of extra deadly tarantulas!

Well, I think that does it. Enjoy the movie.

Still here? Well, my friend, just let these words tenderly caress your eyeballs once more.

Dr. Rack Hanson.

Life and death.


Extra. Deadly. Tarantulas.

William. Goddamn. Shatner.

Does a movie need anything more? Can any film boast of such an explosive combination of Primal Elements of Entertainment?

We all know the answer.

KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS is the alpha and omega of cinematic possibilities and perhaps art, itself.

No. Not art.

Great Art.

It came out in that magical summer of 1977. I was six, and that finally put me into the PG zone in my father’s eyes. (I still remember the high stakes discussion he had with my mother over whether or not I was ready to handle AIRPORT ’77.) Admission to the forbidden world of the PG was soon unlocked with the agreed upon incantation of, “Okay, but only if we don’t tell your mother.”

That’s a good dad. I felt bad for him when I cringed in my seat or yelped or something during KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS. I’ll never forget his defeated mumble of, “I knew it was a mistake to see this.”
I didn’t see it as a rebuke or a challenge. I found it funny. I genuinely felt sorry for him. That pulled me about four or five years ahead in maturity in less than a second. It didn’t make the film any less terrifying, though.

But we had to see it. We both knew that. STAR TREK was our weekly ritual going back to his first days of neo-bachelordom, two years before. That was my first introduction to the very idea that there were actors whose names were worth memorizing. Before any useless academic facts crowded my mind with nonsense, my father ensured that I had carefully memorized the fact that Burt Ward was Robin, Adam West was Batman, Leonard Nimoy was Spock, and, most importantly, William Shatner was the titanic, supreme, all-knowing pinnacle of manhood, heroism, speechmaking, and flying-leap ass-kicking: James T. Kirk.

This was my first chance to see The Shat on the big screen, and there was no way I was going to miss it. Not even if I had to traverse the very KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS, itself. And lo, it came to pass. I saw it all. Shat riding a horse. Shat pumping gas. Shat drinking a lot of Miller Beer. And Shat, covered in spiders that are biting his face, of which I was and am terrified.

Of spiders, not his face.

But there was more. So much more.

Okay, plot. Spiders invade the sleepy town of Verde Valley, Arizona. Shatner is the vet standing in their way. Sammy’s lovely wife, Altovese, and Woody Strode are his close allies. But even they can’t stop the onslaught as the spiders build organized hills and relentlessly kill cow after cow until moving on to the deadliest animal of all: man. The mayor, channeling Murray Hamilton, insists that there’s no problem, and that the fair will go on. It’s tourist season, after all. Why not just spray the town with insecticide? After all, they have a biplane just sitting there. But the spiders are too clever. Not long after taking flight, the once-fearless pilot finds that the plane is full of spiders! Everywhere! And then there’s a big crash and an explosion.

Enraged by this airborne attempt on their lives and incensed that Shat had the temerity to set their precious spider hill ablaze, the spiders mount an organized invasion of the town during the fair. Chaos reigns supreme. They kill and beweb people everywhere. Shatner takes refuge in a tourist lodge with a beautiful scientist (the model in all ways for Veronica Corningstone), the inventor of the porta-potty (no, I’m not kidding), and a lucky few others. So, seal the cracks, right? Not when the spiders can break windows. Yes. They can break windows. Not when they can disable fuses. Yes, they can disable fuses. Not when they can (temporarily) take down the Very Shat Himself. In the words of Michael York, “There is no sanctuary!”

This column is among those featured in
 BRIDE OF MONSTER SERIAL, a collection of 
horror essays written by contributors to 
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Following this is the kind of satisfying-but-downer ending that no one (save Frank Darabont) can pull off these days. It’s actually one of the great moments in horror, and I won’t give it away. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, you have a gasp coming.

It would be twenty years until I would see KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS again. My friends and I became obsessed. The camp was ripe, but the film had a straightforward integrity that makes those moments endearing rather than ridiculous. By God, it’s about the Kingdom of the Spiders, and it’s not going to mug. And it won’t let you, either, as tempted as you might be. There are crazy images, wild action, genuinely disturbing moments, Shat showing his sense of humor years before the hilarity of STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, and a brief-but-memorable glimpse of our loyal friend, the noble side-boob. In other words, the Ultimate Trip.

My only question is this; did something just brush against your ankle?

PATRICK McCRAY is a comic book author who resides in Knoxville, Tenn., where he's been a drama coach and general nuisance since 1997. He has a MFA in Directing and worked at Revolutionary Comics and on the early days of BABYLON 5, and is a frequent contributor to The Collinsport Historical Society. You can find him at The Collins Foundation.

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