Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Giant Spider Invasion (1975) review


Steve Brodie (Dr. J.R. Vance), Barbara Hale (Dr. Jenny Langer), Robert Easton (Kester), Leslie Parrish (Ev), Alan Hale Jr. (The Sheriff), Bill Williams (Dutch), Kevin Brodie (Dave Perkins), Dianne Lee Hart (Terry), Tain Bodkin (Preacher), Paul Bentzen (Billy), Christiana Schmidtmer (Helga)

Directed by Bill Rebane

The Short Version: 15 years before ARACHNOPHOBIA (1990) merged spider horror and humor, this example of low budget, multi-legged mayhem did it first. The 50s throwback plot has geodes inside a meteorite crash into a field where these Gagbury Scream Eggs crack open to reveal a creepy spider center. With laughs of both the intentional and unintentional variety, Bill Rebane's creature feature showcases crane-operated, and Volkswagen-powered giant spiders making meals out of the residents of Gleason and Merrill, Wisconsin. A bad movie done good, and looking stunning in this blu-ray restoration, the cult following for THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION (1975) may find itself growing as well.

A black hole opens a gateway to a parallel universe releasing a meteorite that crashes into the Earth. A horrifying species of space spider encased within geodes are scattered all over rural Wisconsin. Once they hatch, the creepy crawlers begin feasting on the local livestock before moving on to human prey. Growing to enormous size, a number of the townspeople are killed before two scientists discover a way to kill the interstellar arachnids.

Wisconsin is known for Ed Gein, its cheese, and this here movie about a giant spider made out of a Volkswagen and steel tubing that terrorizes a small town. The most well known movie of the Latvian born Bill Rebane, it's a campy, pseudo-send up of 50s 'Big Bug' flicks. There was a resurgence of those movies in the 1970s, but they traded the atomic and alien invasion elements for an environmentally created threat as the backdrop. Rebane's movie is a throwback to the 50s style and imitates it well even if the special effects aren't very convincing; ambitious in design and execution, the money just wasn't there to make them more believable.

The script by Robert Easton and Richard L. Huff was a clash of ideas; the former wanted a jokier tone while the latter wanted to play it entirely straight. Easton thought the movie would be more palatable if camp was injected into it. According to him, some of his lighter moments didn't make the final cut. As schlocky as THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION is, its combination of horror and humor occasionally works; the latter being both intentional and unintentionally so.

One of the blackest of these comical moments is when the alcohol sponge Ev (played by former Hollywood model, actress, activist Leslie Parrish) thinks she's drinking a Bloody Mary and after taking a sip discovers its a Bloody Spider she's mixed in her blender.

Despite the budgetary shortcomings, there are instances of seriousness that imbues a few scenes with a creepy ambiance. Some of this is due to the scenes of tarantulas crawling all over everything leaving lots of webs behind. Elsewhere, there's the kooky preacher's proclamations of fire and brimstone intercut with Easton's sleazy character collecting as many of the interplanetary geodes as he can find--oblivious to their contents.

According to Rebane, the film originally didn't feature giant spiders at all. Distributor Brandon L.Chase, then President of Group 1 (later producer of movies like ALLIGATOR and THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER), wanted giant spiders to compete with a certain 25ft great white shark that was starring in a movie filmed on the east coast. So with only $10,000 available for special effects, Rebane's SPX man Bob Millay (who also performed the film's stunts) got local welders to build two gigantic spiders to his design. The one getting the most screentime was built using steel beams and tubing, and wire built around a Volkswagen chassis covered in black fur taken from fake fur coats.

The eight-legged, interplanetary monster was brought to life with the aid of seven local teens inside maneuvering the legs and fangs. Looking like any of your finer local parade floats, the performers operating it do a good job while the camera captures some great shots of it both at ground level and in aerial views.

The shots of the spider devouring people and some of the makeup effects of half-eaten victims are gruesome and surprisingly effective, too. The attack scenes are filmed enthusiastically and Rebane doesn't shy away from showing his monsters despite their lack of realism.

The other big spider was made specifically to be operated by a crane and is used a few times; most memorably during an attack on a house in a scene that recalls Mara Corday being menaced by the TARANTULA (1955); and again in a scene where a victim is attacked after driving through the alien beasts web on a country highway resulting in a car crash and explosion.

Surprisingly gory for a PG rating, there's even some brief nudity that makes one wonder what the ratings board was doing during the screening. Akin to other independent efforts like THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK (1972), SPIDER was another regional success, racking up approximately $25 million and making Variety's list of top 50 movies of the year.

Other than Barbara Hale (PERRY MASON [1957--1966]) and Leslie Parrish (LIL ABNER [1959]; THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE [1962]), the film's other big star was Alan Hale, Jr., the skipper from GILLIGAN'S ISLAND (1964--1967). He's the first actor you see and his first line of dialog, "Hi, little buddy", sets the tone right off the bat. Hale literally phones it in, spending most of his scenes on the phone and uttering comical lines and, at one point, breaks the fourth wall.

Robert Easton appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows; and was famous for being a dialog coach and a master of accents. If you're a GUNSMOKE (1955--1975) fan, you'll know him as Chester's brother, the "uncivilized" Magnus (he also voiced the character in the radio version a year earlier) who comes to Dodge for Christmas in the season one episode that aired December 24th, 1955. In what would seem like the earliest known precursor to slasher tropes, a crazy old preacher man warns them not to hold a Christmas dance lest they all want to die. By the end, Magnus shows Chester he's far more learned than he ever knew and saves everyone from being shotgunned to death by a murderous old man.

THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION (1975) had its network television debut on February 8th, 1977 as the ABC Tuesday Late Movie airing from 11:30pm to 1:10am (in some markets it aired from 12:00am to 1:40am). As Judith Crist put it in her brief summation, "The title tells all." The first time I saw it was in the mid 1980s on local channel 48; a favorite for monster kids with its frequent airings of genre fare. Being nine or ten at the time, it was a shock to see the network let the nude scene slip by; and especially during an afternoon airing.

Filmed in rural Gleason and in the city of Merrill, Wisconsin, locals were up to the task in giving this INVASION some lasting appeal. Its cult status is strong in America's Dairyland, with the film occasionally playing at local festivals and DVD releases keeping it alive. SPIDER will continue to have legs with this stunning new blu-ray release; the movie looking like it was made yesterday due to this eye-opening restoration.

If you're a fan of the type of low budget, regional, independently produced horror and SciFi fare like PSYCHO FROM TEXAS (1975/1981), THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN (1977), THE CRATER LAKE MONSTER (1977), NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1980) and THE AFTERMATH (1982), then THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION (1975) is in the same league. There's modestly amusing humor; a capable cast of old pros; spirited, if fake-looking monster sequences; and just the right amount of exploitation for those seeking an old-fashioned, Drive-in styled entertainment.

This review is representative of the Dark Force Entertainment blu-ray. Specs and extras: New 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen HD transfer from the original 35mm negative; 2014 Bill Rebane interview; Robert Easton interview (last one before his death); Giant Spider music video; running time: 01:19:46
Related Posts with Thumbnails


copyright 2013. All text is the property of and should not be reproduced in whole, or in part, without permission from the author. All images, unless otherwise noted, are the property of their respective copyright owners.