Sunday, February 17, 2013

Kingdom of the Shatner

Before it became a treasure chest of cleverly themed Law & Order: SVU marathons, the USA Network was a haven of sorts for random genre films. Chief among that rotation was today's short-astic AND Shat-astic creature feature, Kingdom of the Spiders.

Quick Plot: A quiet farm town in Arizona struggled through 50 weeks of the calendar in order to reap the benefits of the fortnight long country fair. Nothing can possibly stop this national attraction from bringing wealth to everyone, right?

Oh you silly post-Jaws movie characters. Haven't you learned anything?

As a local farmer's prized calf falls victim to mysteriously deadly spider venom, a no-nonsense entymologist is brought in to diagnose the problem. Keeping her comfortable is the town stud/veterinarian Rack, played by William Shatner as if he were trying to convince viewers that he is indeed William Shatner. The Shat is in his ladies' man prime here, giving us the kind of southwestern charm that would melt any female scientist's icy heart. Seriously, what woman could resist a line like "You're kind of pretty for a girl?" 

Apparently, negative amounts of women. Shat is so Shat that he has not one but TWO women pining for his affections, one being the aforementioned city gal scientist and the other, the wife of his late little brother. This leads to all sorts of weird sexual innuendos about how Shat would like to milk his brother's widow, though she only wants him to do so with war hands, but ACTUALLY he wants nothing sexy of her because she's his little brother's widow. I realize this sounds confusing, but I offer no apologies: how do you think I felt watching it?

Anyway, Shat gets a girl (or two) as the mysteriously venomous spiders start building terrifyingly giant hills and biting locals, be they the long-suffering farmers or a cocky crop-dusting pilot with the greatest girl scream in cinema history. At a certain point, the mayor doesn't even bother showing up to remind us that the film is retreading Jaws territory because EVERYONE IS BEING EATEN BY TARANTULAS.

It's kind of a thing of beauty.

For a girl.

Kingdom of the Spiders is one of the better known titles from that wonderfully rich subgenre of Nature Strikes Back. Like so many of those films, it crams in some social commentary about man's disruption of the animal world through pollution. The adorable thing about Kingdom of the Spiders, however, is just how quickly it abandons that theme when the spider action hits. A heated debate about spraying DDT ensues, but once the pilot administering it is (hilariously) killed, it's straight on to tarantula porn from that point on. Shat and his scientist girlfriend never offer any reasonable action towards eliminating the threat of man-eating tarantulas, and our final act is left to an alternatively funny/creepy siege as the arachnids pound on glass windows to eat our last heroes.

You think I'm kidding, but among the other things Kingdom of the Spiders taught me is the fact that a bunch of tarantulas sticking to a glass window will eventually cause it to shatter. My dream MythBusters experiment to test this theory would of course be to find as many of those suction cap handed Garfields as possible and see how long before they come to life, morph into one all-powerful Critters 2-like being, and eat people. 

That might be testing a different theory. 

High Points
Look, only the freakishly brave/possibly cyborg people are not disturbed by the fuzzy grandeur of tarantulas, and Kingdom of the Spiders utilizes this life fact to pretty skin-crawling degree

Low Points
Sadly, much of this was accomplished in the kind of pre-90s manner that killed a good deal of the stunt spiders used in filming

Lessons Learned
Shooting your hand off doesn’t hurt too much

In some parts of the country, a dog that is visibly breathing is considered dead

If it ain’t Arizona, it’s all the same

Just because it only takes a handful of abnormally venomous tarantulas to take down a cow does not mean it takes five times that amount to take down the Shat

It is impossible to dodge tarantulas without looking as though you are skipping down the Yellow Brick Road

This wouldn’t be the first horror film to teach it, but reinforcement is always educational: if planning on ever being stuck in your location as human-eating zombies/demons/spiders abound, always be sure to stock up on wooden furniture

Fun Fact
Ve Neill, best known to modern day audiences as the kickass judge of SyFy’s Face Off (and my dream aunt to drink mimosas with at family reunions) worked as a makeup artist for the film

Kingdom of the Spiders is a worthy cult classic that should certainly be seen by any genre fan. The recent special edition DVD release is loaded with goodies, including a commentary track and terrifying hands-on demonstration with a famed spider wrangler who knows no fear. So throw down a few bucks and get your own copy. Where else can you find so many musical cues borrowed directly from the Twilight Zone library? Where else can you find William Shatner heroically hurling his toddler niece only the hard wooden floor covered by toddler-eating tarantulas? What other films end on such glorious matte paintings? All of these things and more make Kingdom of the Spiders something truly special.


  1. this totally scared me as a kid.

    oh, Shatner is a pimp and this movie proves it once and for all!

    Also, fuck tarantulas. Seriously.

  2. Seriously on all three accounts!

  3. Hmm, good job! This is really something!