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STUDIO: Shout! Factory
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
* Interview With William Shatner
* Jim Brockett: Spider Wrangler Featurette
* Audio Commentary
* Rare Behind-The-Scenes Footage
* Interview With Writer Stephen Lodge
* Poster Gallery
* Original Theatrical Trailer
Shatner vs Spiders. Nuff said.
William Shatner, Tiffany Bolling, Woody Strode, Lieux Dressler
Director: John ‘Bud’ Cardos
Shatner charms and chomps the scenery as a small town veterinarian forced to do battle with a legion of surly arachnids in this excellent Special Edition to the 70’s cult classic.
There is something ethereal about William Shatner, is there not? Shatner – by some otherworldly means undeniably talented and undeniably bad, charming and smarmy, vain and shameless, all simultaneously – is the glowing center of an elaborate venn diagram on entertaining. Even at his tailspin cheesiest, just when you think he’s about to crash, he pulls up (to continue my pointless plane metaphor) and turns things around and surprises you. He is both in on and oblivious to the joke. And it is for this reason that everything the Shat does – film, TV, music, ad work, slam poetry – is cult before it is even finished. On the DVD’s special features, Shatner sounds genuinely humbled and surprised that Kingdom of the Spiders developed a fan following, but watching the movie there seems little chance that it couldn’t have. Not in a world where people stomached T.J. Hooker just to get a does of the man.
Kingdom of the Spiders feels very much from 1977. Just as Die Hard left a wake of “It’s Die Hard in a ____” action films, Jaws left a wake of “It’s Jaws with ____” horror films. Here we have Jaws with spiders. Instead of a sexy swimmer getting munched by a shark, Kingdom opens with a farmer’s cow getting spidered. Then the town’s vet, Dr. Robert ‘Rack’ Hansen (Shatner) comes to investigate the cow corpse. This was no boating accident! Shocked by what he finds, he sends for a big city expert, the less beardly and less Dreyfuss-y, Diane (Tiffany Bolling). They want to postpone the town’s fair, which of course ruffles the feathers of the tourist-loving Mayor. This town needs summer dollars! All the movie needed was a grizzled spider killing expert.
Bad bug. Not like going down the pond chasin’ ladybugs and butterflies. This bug, swallow you whole.”
The other late 70’s horror trend Kingdom hopped on was the awesome eco-terror craze. Not only are spiders killing everything in sight, they’re doing so because of our lousy treatment of the environment! In particular the overuse of DDT pesticide on crops. See, with all the little bugs gone, the spiders have nothing to eat, and thus must eat us. Oh, and also they’ve become like 500 times more poisonous. And more aggressive. And started working in teams. And migrating up from Mexico. (This isn’t a snarky joke, btw. That’s the film’s story.)
Along with likely never existing outside the late 70’s, Kingdom of the Spiders also wouldn’t have been as much fun either. Now the scenes would be crawling with lame CG spiders, depriving us of both the creepy and often hilarious thrill of seeing the actors wincing through scenes covered in real tarantulas. We’ve also got PETA now. Jim Brockett, the film’s spider wrangler, claims on the DVD that they tried not to kill the spiders, but the key word here is “tried.” And while I’m not saying I condone killing spiders for the purposes of a movie, the general manhandling of the eight-leggers in the film adds to the realism. I mean, you wouldn’t be very careful with how you swatted a tarantula off your desk.
Most of the fun of the film is watching the real spiders interact with the actors. Director John ‘Bud’ Cardos, whether intentionally or by accident, stages several scenes that play up the creep factor quite well. Such as a scene where the much beleaguered cow farmer, played by the great Woody Strode (who even at 63 was in better shape than I am now), gets spidered while driving his truck. Without resorting to close ups, the first spider simply sneaks on screen in the corner of our vision – which I think amps up the willies – before the scene crescendos into appropriate gonzo territory, with Strode pulling down his sun-visor and inexplicably getting a spider to the face (how the hell did it get closed up in the sun-visor?).
Needless to say, if 50% of Kingdom’s fun is the spiders, the other 50% is Shatner. Playing his usual Kirk-esque ladies man charmer, but minus the starship captain context and high caliber scriptwork, Rack at times comes off more like everybody’s favorite rapist. Smooth talking our leading lady like the Before Guy from the sexual harassment training video you had to watch at work and delivering stellar come-ons like, “You’re kind of pretty for a girl,” Shatner gives Rack and the film an awkward and ridiculous sex tone which is pretty fabulous. I would’ve watched a whole movie about that. The army of tarantulas is just a bonus.
The film climaxes with a group of our heroes holding up in a cabin, trying (quite unsuccessfully) to stop the spiders from getting inside. The money-shot moment finally comes when the Shat gets spidered. This is a sequence that would’ve been totally different with CG. With the real spiders you can tell that while the character of Rack is desperately trying to get the spiders off of himself, Shatner the actor is trying desperately to make they all stay on. Watching Shatner here is about what I’d imagine asking Shatner to do a Shatner impression would look like. And I don’t want to spoil the ending of the film for those who haven’t seen it, but it heavily features one of the crappiest and most absurd matte paintings ever – to memorable effect.
Recommending this film is easy. You know whether or not you will like it already. And you should like it. Also, at $11.99 the DVD is a screamin’ deal (you could learn something about pricing here, Night Stalker).
Very nice transfer of the film; I can say having originally seen this bad boy on TV. A delightful slew of special features, including a fun commentary track co-moderated by Fake Shemp all-star Scott Spiegel. Of course the real prize here is the interview with an uncharacteristically not-drunk seeming Shatner. And the Shat does not disappoint. For example, on the commentary producer Igo Kantor tells the story of how romantic lead Tiffany Bolling was cast – none of the bigger name actresses auditioning were willing to touch the spiders! Now… here’s Shatner’s very Shatner version of the event:
“They had lovely young ladies come in. Brilliant actor, beautiful girl, look at those legs! Now put your hand in this box and touch the tarantula. Ah ha, you’re afraid of tarantulas aren’t you? Goodbye, my dear. Then this ugly beast would come in. Couldn’t act, ugly, short little dumpy legs. Touch the tarantula. You’re in!”