Tag Archives: william shatner

Kingdom of the Spiders

Kingdom of the Spiders

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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.

kingdomspiders2The 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).

kingdomspiders3The plot of Kingdom of the Spiders is summarized on IMDb as follows:

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.

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American Psycho 2

American Psycho 2

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Today’s feature is yet another reviled and unnecessary sequel: 2002’s “American Psycho 2,” starring Mila Kunis and William Shatner.

“American Psycho 2” was directed by a fellow named Morgan J. Freeman, who has most recently served as an executive producer on the reality television show “Teen Mom.” He has also had a handful of directing credits since the early 1990s, but nothing since a few television episodes in 2010.

The screenplay for “American Psycho 2” is credited to two people: Alex Sanger and Karen Craig. Craig has another writing credit for a 2005 television movie, but outside of that neither individual has credited film writing experience.

The cinematography on “American Psycho 2” was provided by Vanja Cernjul, who has worked on acclaimed television series such as “Bored to Death,” “Nurse Jackie,” “30 Rock,” and “Orange Is The New Black,” as well as a handful of films like “Wristcutters: A Love Story.”

The “American Psycho 2” score was composed by Norman Orenstein, who has worked on the music for the “Cube” sequels, George Romero’s “Diary of the Dead,” and the “Animorphs” television series.

The producing team for “American Psycho 2” features a trio of returning producers from “American Psycho,” including an eventual president of production for Lion’s Gate in Michael Paseornek. Paseornek, along with fellow producers Chris Hanley and Christian Halsey Solomon, are the only returning elements from the original film.

The cast of “American Psycho 2” is headlined by Mila Kunis, who was in the middle of her success with “That 70s Show.” Her earlier credits included a handful of child roles in films like “Santa With Muscles” and “Piranha,” and she has of course gone on to have significant success as both a live action star (“Black Swan,” “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) and a voice actor (“Family Guy”). The rest of the cast is pretty sparse on recognizable faces outside of William Shatner, who most know from his role as Captain Kirk in “Star Trek.” However, his lengthy career has also featured a couple of famous “Twilight Zone” episodes, a handful of memorable b-movies like “Kingdom of the Spiders,” and a whole lot of other television roles (like “T.J. Hooker”).

americanpsycho22The story of “American Psycho 2” centers around a young college student obsessed with becoming a professional criminal profiler, who believes that becoming a Teaching Assistant under a noted professor is the key to realizing that goal. Over the course of the film, she targets and eliminates all of the perceived obstacles and rivals that stand between her and the coveted position. The tenuous connection to “American Psycho” comes in the form of her back story, which shows that, as a child, she witnessed Patrick Bateman murder her babysitter. She then killed Bateman while he was distracted and escaped the murder scene, leaving a mystery as to how Patrick Bateman came to meet his end.

The production company behind “American Psycho 2,” Lionsgate, is now regarded as one of the top “mini-major” film studios in the business, producing blockbusters like “The Hunger Games.” However, that has only been the case since about 2012. Before that, though they co-produced some larger features with other studios (such as “Hotel Rwanda” and “The Day After Tomorrow”), they primarily dealt with upper-end b-movies and horror films: “American Psycho,” “Cube,” and “Saw,” for instance.

From what I can tell, in 2002 “American Psycho” was one of the few profitable properties Lionsgate had, and the studio needed a film that could be depended on to make some money. Apparently, the producers took a screenplay and amended it to provide a tenuous connection to “American Psycho,” and went ahead with branding it as a sequel, assuming that the name recognition would equate to profits. This predictably angered the fan base of the original film on principle alone, but the ultimate product made them exponentially more livid.

MCDAMPS EC009The notoriously fickle and ill-tempered author of “American Psycho,” Bret Easton Ellis, has of course denounced the film as an unnecessary and shameful sequel. Even Mila Kunis is reportedly ashamed of the film, though she is certainly a much bigger star now than she was in 2002, and can afford to dissociate herself from earlier embarrassing works.

“American Psycho 2” never got a theatrical release, and went straight to home video distribution. Of course, given the annoyed fan base of the original film, the sub-par script, and the cheap production, it was not received well. The film currently holds an IMDb rating of 3.9, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 11% (critics) and 18% (audience), which is abysmal by all accounts.

Given the obsession with detail featured in both the book and film of “American Psycho,” it is an extra spit in the eye that this sequel is so lax in its attention to minor (and major) details. For instance, Mila Kunis’s character is called the wrong name in displayed newspaper and book features, even after her fake identity and history is exposed.

Personally, my biggest issue with this movie is how poorly it lived up to its potential as a film. The forced changes to the script to make the film into an “American Psycho” sequel ruined what could have been an interesting young adult-focused serial killer movie with a rewrite or two. I didn’t even think the performances were completely awful, which is a major criticism I have seen of film time and time again. Shatner probably wasn’t the best casting, but I am willing to bet he was the biggest name that the production could get for the money that they paid. After all, this was movie that was engineered (poorly) to profit, which means they wanted bang for their buck. At the time, I have to assume that both Kunis and Shatner came pretty cheap, but were still recognizable enough to market. With a little more attention, money, and time, I think the nugget of a story beneath “American Psycho 2” could have been turned into something at least palatable.

americanpsycho23Overall, even if you can divorce the film from “American Psycho” to look at it on its standalone merits, you can tell that it was rushed and made for cheap. It is a film that was never allowed to properly incubate, the the consequence is a sub-par product. It should be looked at as a cautionary tale of what happens when studio interests and producers are allowed to run wild without the checks and balances of an artistic force passionate for the project. Films take a delicate mixture of elements to work, and when the balances are thrown off, things go wrong. “American Psycho 2” is on the opposite end of the spectrum of passion projects, where the artist is unchecked by reason (movies like “Slipstream,” “Glitter,” or “Battlefield: Earth”). Basically, this is an example of a “no-passion” project, where the studio and production logic went unchecked by dedication or artistic merit.

It should probably go without saying, but this isn’t a recommendation from me, outside of a quasi-academic curiosity. Unless you are a huge fan of Kunis or Shatner and want to take a trip through their respective filmographies, this is pretty skippable. If you are a fan of “American Psycho” and want to get angry enough to raise your blood pressure, give it a shot. As far as memorable moments go, there is a creative death by condom, so that may be worth giving a look.