in Shocktober

Kingdom Of The Spiders (1977)

This may sound crazy, but I was pretty disappointed by this movie.  I know, I know.  How could I possibly have any sort of high hopes for a post-Star Trek William Shatner in a B-movie in which he fends off an army of tarantulas?  Well, I think that premise sums it up pretty well, but basically I thought the combination of Shatner’s histrionics with such inherent trash would make for a campy good time.  But instead this movie is pretty unsatisfying, pretty melodramatic (in all the worst ways), and doesn’t feature nearly enough Shatner-rage.

William Shatner plays a veterinarian/cowboy living in rural Arizona when a local farmer’s cow gets sick after being attacked by a bunch of unseen tarantulas.  A boring blonde arachnologist (Tiffany Bolling) then arrives in town to investigate the animals that’ve been attacked by the spiders, while Shatner begins to fall in love with the arachnologist while Shatner’s dead brother’s wife becomes jealous of them because she has feelings for Shatner for some reason.  I don’t know who thought this storyline was a good idea for an arachnid creature feature, but that’s pretty much what the first half of the movie focuses on.  Meanwhile, all the spider attacks are purely incidental, and tend to take place in the background of this sweepingly dull romance.  Which I guess I should’ve known we were headed for when the first scene of the movie features Shatner roping cattle with his dead brother’s wife (which we know nothing about at the time), before fooling around with her and then regretfully declaring, “I may be a lot of things to a lot of people, but I’m not my brother!”


Anyways, after about a half hour of Shatner and boring blonde lady putting on a display of some of the worst romantic chemistry I’ve ever seen in a movie, the spiders finally start showing up.  And watching this, I realized that tarantulas, though they may seem fairly terrifying in real life, are not very scary when you compare them to the high bar that has been set for movie monsters.  Kingdom Of The Spiders is somewhat infamous for being filmed before a lot of animal cruelty laws on film productions were put in place, and thus features a fair amount of real spiders getting squashed.  And yet, I feel like not nearly enough spiders get squashed in this movie.  I mean, that’s all you have to do to kill a tarantula.  Yet very few people try to squash these little pests, or find any sort of creative way of killing tarantulas (though there are a few characters that open fire on a couple of spideys).

As for the Shatman, he sadly gives an uncharacteristically subdued performance.  I don’t know if this was his reaction to people saying he tended to ham it up on Star Trek, or he just really didn’t give a shit about this movie.  But apart from a scene where he’s covered in spiders and forced to climb a set of stairs (in which he was actually bitten several times on set), Shatner never gets particularly mad or frustrated.  He just kinda goes with it.  While at the same time, he gives what is probably the best performance in the entire movie, basically by default.  Every other actor in this is terrible.  I know that might not be fair, since it feels like a lot of the cast might be composed of semi-professionals, but you’d think they’d be able to give a decent scared reaction to these tarantulas considering they’re completely real and crawling all over them.

Kingdom Of The Spiders has been described as somewhat of a Jaws ripoff due to its small town setting, as well as its extensive use of POV shots.  But I was probably most reminded of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, since KOS features a swarm of critters rather than one big one, and also because the film’s “dark” ending — which uses a really crapping-looking matte painting — feels a lot like The Birds’s ending.  Though if there’s one thing Kingdom Of The Spiders learned from Jaws, it was how to not give the audience what they want until the very end of the movie.  Except Jaws had great characters and an iconic score to hold it all together.  Kingdom of The Spiders has William Shatner awkwardly pining for some boring blonde lady and a lot of bafflingly terrible musical cues, which are demonstrated pretty clearly in the film’s opening seconds.  Just click here to see what I’m talking about.  Though don’t continue to watch the rest of the movie.  As I said, it’s not very good.


“I could easily squash all these spiders.  And I’m five.  What’s your excuse, Captain Kirk?”