The Giant Spider Invasion (1975)

This is a seriously flawed movie.  I’ll admit that.

But we already knew that because it appeared on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

I suspect that The Giant Spider Invasion was an attempt to make a Fifties creature feature in the Seventies.  Admittedly, it reminds one more of the worst and silliest Fifties monster movies, but it still retains much of the naive charm of the era.  Certainly, its learned mumbo jumbo about black holes, doorways to alternate universes, and energy signatures is as shaggy a scientific dog as you’d find in any Fifties Sci Fi epic – even if the scientific concepts were just a tad newer.

The spiders here are mostly pet store tarantulas, although once we start seeing the big ones (I think the first sighting is the tangle of black fuzzy legs which explode out of a dresser drawer) they start looking decidedly unreal.  By far the “best” of these is the monster spider, which has huge, glowing, comic eyes and lots and lots of legs.  I’m not sure they kept it down to eight.  Or maybe it’s just that it is hard to tell the upper leg from the lower when they all seem to be the same diameter throughout, like the Jolly Green Giant’s pipecleaners.  I’ve heard that they mounted the big spider on a Volkswagen:  what is certainly true is that, when you see it in the middle of a crowd, with its legs bobbing up and down seemingly at random, it moves faster- and more smoothly – than you’d expect from a giant spider prop.

What is strange, however, is that this absurdly low budget film starred a raft of interesting TV and B-movie stars, including Alan (“The Skipper”) Hale, Barbara (Della Street) Hale and B-movie heavy, Steve Brodie.  I’ve found that a lot of the low budget films that chose to hire TV and B-movie talent tend to be far more satisfying.  They might not have been big stars – or in the more prestigious movie industry, but they all seem to give excellent performances.  That isn’t always true of the name brand actor in the same sort of role as far too many of them think this sort of thing is beneath their dignity.

Funny, you’d think giving a bad performance in a bad film would be even more undignified.  Oh, well.

What is far stranger, however, is that this was one of the Fifty highest grossing movies of 1975.  That is much harder to explain, unless you are willing to give into the charms of this silly little monster flick – and yes, they are very real.

We get a whole raft of interlocking plots, an assortment of oddball characters, a revivalist preacher who is heard throughout the film, and a gradually building threat.  It may start with a bang and a strange meteorite, but before long, it switches to a slow-burn build up that only ratchets up the tension a little at the time, starting with people complaining about all the cobwebs, and wondering where those spiders came from.  They came from geode-like “eggs,” which are lined with diamonds.  Yes, diamonds.  Maybe they’re just industrial quality (although the guy who assesses them is hardly reliable), but still, diamonds.

And that just adds another complication to the story – which, naturally, gets a few more people killed.

Wisconsin filmmaker Bill Rebane made it in the studio he set up on his own ranch – and for all its many technical flaws, it is a surprisingly effective film.  He made better films later, but I doubt if there are many films as good that were made for $325,000, with a drunken special effects man.

Oddly, there is a instantaneous flash of nudity and a lot of bare female flesh in the scene that follows.   While it got a “PG” back in the more permissive Seventies, that would probably be enough to earn it an “R” rating today.  It does leave you you wondering why they didn’t show either more or less.  And it seems even more out of place when you realize that it was shown on a double bill with Godzilla Versus Megalon.

That sounds like a night at the Drive-In my Dad would have wanted to go to.

And that, I think, is the spirit you need to watch this one in, as a wild romp of a giant monster movie whose very flaws are part of the fun.

And we don’t need Crow, Servo or Mike Nelson for that.

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