Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)

Sometimes one has to wonder.

This one came out a few months after Empire of the Ants and it’s hard to miss a certain family resemblance between the names.  According to Stephen Lodge, who co-wrote the original spec script, it was originally called “The Spiders.”  So, did they rename this one to cash in on the other film’s success?

I wouldn’t want to bet against it.

But let’s pretend that we don’t notice that it’s the same basic plot as the later Arachnophobia.  After all, no one would dare sue Steven Spielberg

At any rate, there were quite a few films in the Seventies which portrayed nature turning against man — a theme represented on this site by such films as Chosen Survivors, The Swarm and the decidedly odd documentary-disguised-as-an-SF-film, The Hellstrom Chronicle.

But they didn’t have William Shatner.

Here, the use of pesticides, which have devastated not only harmful insect species, but beneficial predators like spiders as well, has driven those cannibalistic loners out of their normal habitats, and they’ve adapted by learning how to work together (and not eat each other while they’re at it).

This leads to millions of spiders marching through a small town in Arizona,

The notion is intriguing, and perhaps ahead of its time:  a few years back, I read an article about how a species of bird had shocked the scientific community by suddenly changing its migration patterns, something which previously had been thought the result of a long, evolutionary process.  But the idea of spiders forming giant colonies, creating giant “spider hills”, and making coordinated attacks on human beings is a lot harder to accept.  Certainly it’s a lot more complex a change of behavior than taking a left turn at Albuquerque.

The film builds nicely, gradually introducing the threat, before all hell lets loose and the spiders attack the town, trapping the main characters inside the local Inn.  It’s all quite nicely done, with Shatner his larger than life self as the town vet, and lots of victims who have been webbed over (and have the difficult job of playing dead with dozens of spiders crawling all over them!).  It’s a remarkably solid B-monster movie, with enough genuine scares for the monster movie fan — despite the fact that these are not giant monster spiders, just the everyday model gone bad.

Its final image will linger long after you’ve forgotten the rest of the film, particularly because we’re expecting something quite different when Shatner peers out through that window…

There have been various rumored attempts to make a sequel.  William Shatner almost got one made, based on his story proposal, which he would have directed and starred in.

Unfortunately, he had it all lined up at Cannon films, who then went bankrupt and closed down.

But at least they did it without his help.

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