Today’s feature is Kingdom of the Spiders, a sci-fi b-movie classic starring William Shatner.
The screenplay for Kingdom of the Spiders was written by Alan Caillou (The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Evel Knievel) and Richard Robinson (Piranha), with story credit going to producer Jeffrey Sneller and costumer Stephen Lodge.
Kingdom of the Spiders was directed by John Cardos, whose other credits include similar b-movies like The Day Time Ended, Night Shadows, Act of Piracy, and Gor II.
The cinematographer for the film was John Arthur Morrill, who shot the post-apocalyptic cult classic A Boy And His Dog and John Cardos’s later film, The Day Time Ended.
Kingdom of the Spiders had two credited editors: Steven Zaillian, who later found success writing movies like American Gangster, Gangs of New York, Moneyball, and Schindler’s List, and Igo Kantor, who was a music editor on The Monkees, Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!, Beyond The Valley of the Dolls, and The Kentucky Fried Movie.
The effects work for Kingdom of the Spiders was done by a team that included Kathy Agron (Dallas), Ve Neill (Death to Smoochy, Laserblast), Greg Auer (Carrie, The Hills Have Eyes), and Cy Didjurgis (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Trek: The Motion Picture).
The cast of the movie is led by William Shatner (American Psycho 2, Visiting Hours, Star Trek), along with his then wife and frequent co-star, Marcy Lafferty, along with bit players like Hoke Howell (Grand Theft Auto, Humanoids From The Deep) and Woody Strode (Spartacus, The Quick And The Dead).
Investigating the mysterious deaths of a number of farm animals, vet Rack Hansen discovers that his town lies in the path of hoards of migrating tarantulas. Before he can take action, the streets are overrun by killer spiders, trapping a small group of towns folk in a remote hotel.
Reportedly, the production budget allotted $50,000 to the acquisition of live spiders, which were bought at $10 each. In addition to these actual spiders, optical illusions were used to give the impression of there being even more of them on screen during some sequences, including the crew painting spiders directly onto walls of local buildings.
The spiders themselves proved to be huge problems for the production: not only did they not cooperate easily on screen (preferring to run and hide from the actors than feign attacks), but it took significant maintenance just to keep the animals alive throughout filming. Unfortunately, many of the spiders didn’t survive, due to the fluctuating environmental conditions of the filming location. More controversially, however, is that a number of sequences that made it into the final cut of the movie included the outright killing the animals, as opposed to the use of mock-ups.
The budget for Kingdom of the Spiders was so low that the score had to be made up almost entirely of previously recorded stock music, mostly picked up from television series like The Twilight Zone and The Fugitive.
Kingdom of the Spiders currently holds a 5.9 user rating on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 44% from critics and 38% from audiences. Regardless of the negative reception, the movie made a significant profit on its low budget: roughly $17 million in grosses on a budget of $1 million.
Reports of a planned sequel to Kingdom of the Spiders have swirled since the late 1980s, when William Shatner himself announced that the b-movie outfit Cannon Films would produce Kingdom of the Spiders 2 with him in the director’s role. However, the fall of Cannon in the early 1990s put an end to this attempt.
The fact that many people are terrified of spiders means that Kingdom of the Spiders didn’t have to do a whole lot of work to scare a significant number of audience members. Personally, though, I found the tarantulas in the movie kind of cute, and incredibly far from menacing. It just seemed clear to me that the production was trying really hard to make these tiny fluff-balls intimidating, and the result is way more like Frogs or Night of the Lepus than Jaws or Willard. Beyond the obvious ethical issues of using actual spiders for this movie, I also think it was a bad decision for exactly the reason mentioned above: tarantulas are way more terrifying in people’s heads than they are in reality. If the movie could have put together some sort of Ed Wood-style spider costume or some goofy looking puppets (a la The Killer Shrews), the result wouldn’t have been great, but the larger-than-life effect would almost certainly been better than the fluffy reality of tarantulas.
William Shatner, who is often subject to criticism for his acting style, is in top form in Kingdom of the Spiders if you ask me. He seems to be in his element as a pseudo-cowboy, where he relies on his natural charm to enhance his dialogue and interact with the other cast members. I’m sure there are plenty who would disagree, but I think he is the sole saving grace of this movie, and makes it watchable through his powers alone, for better or worse.
Kingdom of the Spiders is a solid creature feature b-movie, and is far from the worst of the bunch out there. The behind the scenes trivia and the presence of Shatner make it more notable than it might have been otherwise. However, the screenplay is far more dramatic than other films like this, focusing a lot on tense inter-personal relationships, so it may just have stood out in the genre no matter what.
For bad movie fans, Kingdom of the Spider is worth your time to check out. It isn’t quite hilariously terrible, but it is a solid little b-movie with enough up-sides to enjoy.