Earth vs the Spider
Title: Earth vs. The Spider
Year Of Release: 1958
Running Time: 73 minutes
DVD Released By: Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Directed By: Bert I. Gordon
Writing Credits: Bert I. Gordon (story), László Görög, George Worthing Yates
Starring: Ed Kemmer , June Kenney, Gene Persson
1. It Must Eat You to Live!
2. Bullets won't kill it! Flames can't burn it! Nothing can stop it!
3. Will eat you alive!
Earth vs. the Giant Spider
The Spider (USA) (promotional title)
Review Date: 2.24.08 (updated 1.1.10)
Shadow's Title: "One Small Town vs. The Spider"
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Mr. Kingman – Science teacher at the River Falls High School. Never doubts Mike’s story about a giant spider and is ready to head right into the cave to find it. How gullible can you be? He probably wrote a book about his experience with the beast and cashed in on the lecture circuit.
Carol Flynn – Her father was the first victim. Her insistence on looking for him leads to the discovery of the spider and the subsequent chaos. She leads Mike around like a whipped puppy, manipulating him into doing what she wants but never making it worth his while. Cute but dangerous.
Mike Simpson – The biggest fool in ten states. He brings new meaning to the term whipped. He lets Carol boss him around constantly. She leads him around like a dog on a leash throughout the entire film, and he willingly plays the part of her bitch. Why? For a shot at some tail, no doubt.
Sheriff Cagle – The candidates for Sheriff must be a total losers if this is the guy the voters put into office. He didn’t want to do a damn thing and labeled something "not my job" more than once, preferring to hang around his office playing checkers with his deputies and cracking jokes.
Mrs. Helen Kingman – Oh, my goodness. Is this woman a total babe or what? Mr. Kingman is one lucky dude. If I were one of his students, I’d be making any excuse to drop by his house just so I could drool over his wife. She's played by Sally Fraser, my favorite actress from 50’s genre films.
Joe – One of Mike and Carol’s classmates. He owns the car that Mike borrows more than once. Just look at him! There is no way in hell that he is a teenager! According to the ImdB, this guy was thirty-five years old! What was the casting agent thinking? Did he owe this actor money?
Plot Hold your cursor over an image for
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First up is the obligatory American International Picture logo and theme, then we see a spider’s web over a dark background. The music kicks in and the title appears. The title then shrinks and vanishes, as if it was running away from us…perhaps before anyone in the audience could get a chance to fully read it. Then the film takes the opportunity to tell us who is “starrring” in this film. Yes, you read that correctly, the word starring is spelled with three R’s. Who’s responsible for these titles…Tony the Tiger?
As each set of text appears on screen, we notice that we are moving closer to the center of the web, where a pulsating spider can be seen. Each block of text follows the title and zooms away from us towards that very same arachnid, as if being reeled in by some unseen fishing line. The theremin music in on overload by the time we reach the point where the credits inform us that director Bert I. Gordon is also the one to be held accountable for the film’s special FX. A few seconds later comes this funny bit:
Settings of the world famous Carlsbad Caverns, Carlsbad, Mew Mexico by courtesy of The Department of the Interior National Park Service.
Ha! This would make one think that the film crew actually traveled there and filmed part of the movie, but after seeing this film in its entirety, I’m sure you’ll agree that the credit should read: Photographs of the world famous Carlsbad Caverns, Carlsbad, Mew Mexico by courtesy of The Department of the Interior National Park Service. Soon enough, we have zoomed in on that pulsating spider to the point where it fills the screen. This coincides with the director’s name, so now it is time to fade out on the web…
…And fade in on a lonely road at night. A pick up truck journeys down the winding road and at the wheel is Mr. Jack Flynn, who is about to have the shortest role in the film. As he drives along he smiles and admires a small box in his hand. Inside is some sort of jewelry and a note that reads, “To Carol with love – Dad.” So apparently he has procured this bit of bling for his daughter. He returns the box to the seat next to him and no sooner has he done that, than he notices something in the road ahead. He frowns, but the frown soon turns to a horrified scream. Something long and thin impacts the truck across the windshield. Then we get a close up of his face as he screams. There is the sound of breaking glass and blood seems to be sprayed on his face from something. Then we fade out again. The poor schmuck didn’t even get a single word of dialog. That is, if you don’t count “Yeeaaaaaargh!"
Now we fade in on the town of River Falls in the daytime. Carol Flynn is walking down the street when a voice calls to her to wait up. It’s coming from Mike Simpson, the town pushover. I don’t know if he really is the designated wuss for the entire town, but he sure is whipped going by his actions in this flick. He produces a small package and hands it over to Carol, wishing her a happy birthday. She absent-mindedly says thanks, takes the present and keeps walking. He wonders if she is going to open it, but she says she will do so later. Right now she is worried about her father, who did not come home the previous night. Gee, I wonder why. Mike tells her not to be too worried and adds, “you know how he is.”
Bad move, dude. Bad move. Calling into question the reputation of a girl’s father is not exactly the best way to earn points with a girl, which is exactly what Mike’s little present was supposed to do. Oh, I know this is the 50’s and we’re supposed to believe that he just wants her to like him and that he might be hoping for a chaste kiss and a date at most. Yeah right. We know that deep down, what Mike really wants is dirty, steamy monkey sex with Carol and he wants to do it in at least five different positions and in at least three different locations. Don’t tell me that all he wants is a kiss. Well, right now the only way he is going to get some lovin’ is with a jar of Vaseline and a nudie magazine. Carol just looks at him and when he tries to stammer out an explanation for his words, she just walks off across the street.
Mike now hastens to catch up with her, incurring the wrath of the driver of the car he just darted in front of, who honks his horn at him as if he were in the midst of a seizure. Mike then catches up with Carol, puts his arm around her and stares into her eyes for a second. This boy must have some wicked mind control/hypnotic powers, as Carol instantly forgets why she was mad at him and then smiles. Mike now asks from where it was her father did not return. She says that he had gone to Springdale to buy her a present and had told her he’d be back by dinner. Mike now says that it doesn’t really mean a thing, as it “isn’t the first time.”
This dork is just determined to stick his foot into his mouth at every opportunity, isn’t he? Maybe he just read a book called How NOT to pick up Women and he is trying it out. Could it really be that this moron is just that clueless about females? I know that I and every other male on the planet do not truly understand the opposite sex…and really, how can we when you ladies fail to appreciate the complexities of social satire inherent in shows like Family Guy or South Park, or insist on solving problems by talking about them?!! Still, most of us have a general understanding that serves us well enough to get through most days without winding up on the couch at night (I did say most days). Yet, Mike here shows a blatant naivete about the opposite sex that is only getting him deeper and deeper into trouble. Then again, he is young and inexperienced, so I guess we can cut him some slack.
Anyway, seeing as how they have arrived at the High School, Carol calls him “mean” and informs Mike that she doesn’t want his “silly present.” She then thrusts the box back into his hands and storms up the front steps and into the school. Wow, how restrained. In my day, a girl would have called you a “stupid motherf*cker” and then kicked you square in the balls before dropping the present on you as you writhed on the ground in smashed-testicle agony, maybe even kicking you once or twice more for good measure. I don’t even want to know what chicks nowadays would do!
We now jump to science class, taught by Mr. Kingman. He is talking about electricity and is demonstrating by having an arc of electricity jump from one electrode to another with some doohickey he has with him. As he rattles on, we see Mike hand Carol a handwritten note. When she unfolds it and reads it, we see that it says still mad at me? She smiles at him and then shakes her head no. Mike then hands her the present he got for her. She hides it and then writes a note back to him. It should be noted that we see her writing three lines of text (she returns to the left-hand margin and begins writing three times), yet after she hands it to Mike and he opens it, we see only two lines of words which read: “I want to look for dad – can you borrow Joe’s car?”
Mike then leans forward to the guy at the desk in front of him. This must be Joe. Joe must be a real idiot of epic proportions. I mean anyone who has been in school for as long as this guy must either be the world’s biggest moron or live in the deep South. Why do I say this? Because rather than look seventeen or eighteen, Joe looks like he is well over thirty! I’ve heard of the five year plan, but Joe here must be on the fifteen year plan. Anyway, Mike asks Joe if he can borrow his car and gets a yes for an answer. Then he looks back at Carol and nods. She smiles. Mr. Kingman now announces that it is time for their next experiment, that is if Mike, Carol and Joe are done with their business. Carol and Mike look rather sheepish, the latter sinking as far down into his seat as physically possible.
Next up we see Mike and Carol in Joe’s hotrod, driving down a dirt road somewhere out of town. Then through the miracle of rear screen projection, they seem to be navigating a windy, but paved road. Carol is going on about how she should not be surprised by people’s reactions to her missing father. Even her mother thinks that the old man ran into some of his cronies and decided to stay in Springdale…especially since he had his paycheck with him. Carol feels that something is wrong and since he had promised to be home, she is sure that he was prevented from returning through no fault of his own. I don’t know about you, but this movie isn’t exactly painting a glowing portrait of Carol’s dad. It seems no one is shocked to hear the old guy failed to return home. The fact that he had his paycheck with him makes it even worse. Apparently the guy was rather unreliable and had a predilection for wasting his money on something, whether it be gambling, booze, women or collecting comic books. Okay, so that last one was only my problem.
Mike thinks that Carol’s dad may have run out of gas, but soon spots something up ahead. He stops the car and the two get out. When Carol opens the car door, look closely and you can see the film crew reflected on the shiny black paint. Strung across the road between two trees, they find a long rope-like object made from some sticky material. Mike notes how it looks like there was an accident at the scene and points to some broken glass on the ground. He theorizes that Carol’s dad probably hit the strange rope thingie and is even now at some garage, waiting for a fender to get fixed. Carols spots something on the side of the road and runs over to it. It turns out to be a small box and inside is the note and present we saw earlier in her father’s hand.
Seeing the look on Carol’s face, Mike suggests that perhaps her father dropped it there after the accident. She thinks he would not have just let it go and is sure that if he had car trouble and was at a garage, he would have called home by now. Then she spots something off in the trees beside the road: an old pick up truck. The same kind that her dad was driving. The two of them hike down to the vehicle and upon closer inspection, Carol confirms that it is her father’s truck. She begins calling out to him, thinking he may be nearby and hurt, but it is soon obvious that he is not around.
I know this one is pushing the bounds of being overly critical, but when Carol’s father first spots the spider web in the very beginning, it was immediately after making a left turn, as we can see the road curving away behind him to the right. Just now, when Mike and Carol come looking for him in Joe’s car, Mike spots the web while making a right turn, as the road is now curving to the left behind them. Was it too difficult to synchronize the rear screen footage being projected behind them on these two occasions? Sheesh.
Mike now suggests that he may have gone into “the cave.” The film shows us a cave entrance at this point, so we know just what he is talking about. Carol says that he would not go in there, but Mike suggests that he did not believe the stories about the cave and entered in order to seek warmth during the night.
They approach the cave and pretty much ignore the big Danger No Trespassing Do Not Enter sign posted at the entrance. Mike finds the tattered remains of a hat, but hides it from Carol. She is about to enter the cave, but he says that she had better wait while he takes a look. She wants him to make sure he does not go in very far, as people have been known to enter the cave and never come out again. He proceeds, but has barely gone twenty feet when she runs to join him, claiming that she is scared to be left alone. Not finding anything near the opening to the cave, they decide to delve deeper into the subterranean domain.
They now begin walking through some photographs. What I mean is, the producers have taken photos of Carlsbad Cavern in New Mexico and superimposed Mike and Carol over sections of the image (and under others) to make it appear as if they really are in that location. Mike notices that they have yet to find any sign of her father. She doesn’t want to give up yet, but he assures her that they are just getting started, adding that the cave is supposed to go back into the mountain “forever.” So they press on.
They walk through a few more photos, Carol calling out “Dad” all the way. She keeps calling out for her father, getting louder and louder with each cry. All this manages to do is loosen one of the stalactites above them. It comes hurtling down and Mike grabs Carol and moves her out of the way in the nick of time. They wander around some more, Carol calling out, but more quietly this time. Then she spots something that makes her scream: skeletons!
Spotting these bony remains, she thinks the time has come to get out. He agrees, but then she says that she cannot leave without the old man, so he reluctantly agrees to look around a little more. They walk on, and Carol claims that she cannot see. Well, she must be blind as a bat, because the audience can clearly see the ledge she and Mike are about to step off, like a pair of oversized lemmings. Sure enough, two missteps later and the two of them have plunged over the side to land on…a giant web strung across the bottom of the chasm.
They both seem to be ok, but are finding it difficult to move on the sticky web, though they have yet to realize exactly what it is upon which they have landed. Neither can work themselves loose and Mike realizes that it’s just like the rope-like stuff they found up on the road. The theremin music has kicked in by now, so you know the producers are wanting to convey an eerie, unsettling atmosphere.
Long about now they hear an odd sound. To my ears, it sounded just like the noise my grandmother used to make when she tried to stand up after sitting in her favorite chair for too long. Sort of a dry wheezing. Mike and Carol look at each other in confusion. The sound continues and begins to get louder, heralding the approach of something. Something that sounds like a fat guy trying to climb thirty flights of steps after smoking an entire pack of cigarettes. Alas, it is no asthmatic fat guy that comes lumbering down the cavern, but a tarantula the size of a double decker bus.
Naturally, Carol starts to scream. Mike struggles and frees himself from the web, dropping all of three feet or so to the floor. And here I thought they were suspended over some bottomless pit. The web is low enough to the floor that Mike can stand and help pull Carol down. Once free, both of them run like hell for the cave’s entrance, passing through all those same photographs of Carlsbad Caverns again. The colossal Spider pursues them through the same photos, but then reaches a point where it cannot squeeze its bulk between two large stalagmites. It is forced to retreat back into the depths of the cave while Mike and Carol haul ass outside. Question: if the Spider could not pass through this area just now, then how in the hell did it leave the cave earlier in order to snare Carol's father?
The next thing we know, Mike and Carol are telling the story to his dad as well as Mr. and Mrs. Kingman. The science teacher admits that the rope-like thing they have brought him looks a lot like natural silk, but his wife says that even if that is so, it still doesn’t mean there is a giant spider on the loose. Mr. Simpson says that his son is not in the habit of lying. Ha! All parents think that about their offspring. Mr. Kingman says they should go see the Sheriff, but Mike says that they did. Apparently the Sheriff didn’t believe their tale.
Kingman now calls down to the Sheriff’s office where the man in question is playing checkers with his deputy. Sheriff Cagle answers the phone, but tells his deputy not to worry, as it’s just a schoolteacher on the other end. Cagle and Kingman discuss Mike and Carol’s story briefly, and giant spider or not, Kingman points out that Carol’s father is still missing. Cagle says that has a search party forming as they speak, then covers the phone and tells the deputy to round up a few guys and bring them down to the office so he can swear them in! You just gotta love how the local law is on top of matters. That’s just where I would want my local authorities to be if I had a loved one missing: playing checkers.
Cagle tells Kingman that he will need Mike and Carol to join the search party in order to point things out. He also invites Kingman to come along and assures him that they will have rifles with them in case they run into “that spider.” Kingman questions if rifles are the best weapons, saying that insects have very simple nervous systems. One could put holes in one all day and never hit a vital spot. He convinces the Sheriff to call the pest control people in Springdale and send out all the DDT they can find. Cagle laughs after hanging up the phone and says, “A giant spider. What next?” Oh, I don’t know…how about an officer that performs his duty?
And yes, Mr. Kingman the science teacher just referred to the spider as an insect and not an arachnid. Moron.
Later, out at the cave site, Cagle and his search party await the arrival of the pest control guy. They all seem to be smiling and laughing. No doubt they are still deriving great pleasure from ridiculing the notion of a giant spider inhabiting the nearby caves. The pest control guys then roll up in a big tanker truck and one of them wants to know what they are going to be using the DDT on, as he has to mix it according to whatever it is that Cagle wants killed. The Sheriff says spiders, to which the pest guy says that a two to four percent solution is the usual dose for arachnids. Kingman walks up and tells the guy to make it a fifty percent solution. As the two pest guys make their preparations, the Sheriff leads the way to the cave.
Everyone marches single file, the pest guys bringing up the rear. It must be noted that everyone has to hike down from the road through the trees before they reach the cave. Then the cave entrance itself is pretty big, so in order to get deep within the cave, one must walk quite some ways. The funny thing is, the pest guys are pulling a hose from their truck this whole way! That thing must be a couple thousand feet long, at least!
They all enter the cave and make their way through the same photos from earlier. At one point they pause and Cagle asks Kingman if they will find Carol’s father alive. Kingman says they might and explains that spiders will often stun their prey with venom and store them in a silk bag until they are ready to feed upon them. I’d just like to go on record as saying that any spider the size that Mike and Carol reported would be carrying enough venom to not only kill a man outright, but paralyze his next of kin as well. Kingman also explains the way spiders feed: by draining the bodies of their prey of all liquids and leaving dried out husks behind. The Sheriff seems unnerved by that and tells everyone to stay within sight of one another.
They press on, but just a moment later the Sheriff calls everyone to a halt. He thinks they are engaged in a waste of time. He hasn’t seen a spider yet and does not think that they will. Mike assures him that they will see the spider…if it is still there. Cagle then cracks a joke about the beast having moved to the next county. Kingman now points out that they very well may encounter something, as the cave is obviously home to some life form. He notes how most caves would have bats, rats, mice and other such animals living within it, but this cave is free of such critters. He theorizes that something has frightened them away. No sooner has he said that than a rubber bat on a wire comes swinging into view. Cagle takes aim with his rifle and kills the innocent creature. He picks it up and questions Kingman’s idea that the cave held no animals. Kingman tells the Sheriff to be careful when handling the dead bat, as it may have had rabies. Cagle promptly drops the body.
A few feet away, Mike and Carol move on by themselves. They find the spot where the skeletons are draped over the rocks and while looking around, Carol spots something and moves off screen. Back with Cagle and the others, the Sheriff has buried the dead bat and one smart ass in the search party wonders if the Sheriff wants to say some words over it. Everyone laughs, but Carol screaming up ahead cuts the humor short. They all are go running and find Mike consoling a sobbing Carol. Mike says that they found Carol’s father. Cagle follows his gaze over to a corpse laid out a few feet away. It looks all dried and shriveled up, with wispy white hair. So apparently, having all the liquids in your body removed will not only be murder on your skin, but also it will turn your hair white.
A short time later, two guys are carrying the body away. Cagle stops them and tells them that when they get back to town, they need to make out a coroner's report. They are to just put down the deceased’s name – Jack Flynn – and as for the cause of death, to list it as unknown. Kingman says it was the spider that killed him, by draining all the liquids from the body, but the Sheriff wants the coroner to worry about such details. Cagle tells Kingman that that is the problem with “Eggheads” like him: they jump to conclusions. Cagle says that he sees a dead man all right, but no giant spider.
Kingman says they can do something about that and fetches Mike. He asks the teen where the web was located. Mike points through some rocks and says, “right through there.” The Sheriff walks over and is about to march on in, but Mike says he can’t just walk right in without knowing what he’s doing. Cagle, obviously still dubious of the whole giant spider story, wonders why not, laughs and then proceeds to head onward, with Kingman following. Sure as it rains in Indianapolis in the summer time, they spy the opening to the web chamber and then see the web beyond. Cagle then hurries back to the others and when someone asks him if he saw a big spider, the Sheriff tells him to shut up and get that DDT in here fast. I guess he is now a believer.
Speaking of webs, it is pretty obvious by looking at the spider in the film that it is a tarantula – a species of arachnids that DO NOT spin webs. So apparently, some unknown magical force has not only supersized this particular specimen to freakish proportions, but has also endowed it with characteristics and abilities unique to other spider breeds. Thank goodness it didn’t inherit anything from the Crack Cocaine Spider. Of course, in the 50’s, movie makers were lazy and didn’t give a rat’s ass about being scientifically accurate, figuring the audience was comprised of morons who would not know the difference. The same was still true twenty years later it seems.
The pest guys arrive, still pulling their mile-long hose. They pass out gas masks to everyone and Kingman suggests they spray the entire cavern containing the web so that when the spider comes back, it will fall victim to the poison. Cagle leads the way into the web chamber, his portly deputy Sanders behind him by about four people, helping to pull the DDT hose. Yet when we see them enter the web chamber, Sanders is right behind Cagle and is no longer holding the hose. The Sheriff now motions for Sanders and one of the pest guys to climb down onto the web. This they do and soon the pest guy is spraying the DDT all over the place. It is not very long before the wheezing of the Spider can be heard. They look up and there the big arachnid is, bearing down on them.
Everyone with a gun now opens fire on the monster – the deputy from the web and the Sheriff from the ledge above - but it doesn’t even slow the beast down. Somehow, during the mayhem, the deputy on the web has gotten himself stuck and is unable to free himself. He cries out in terror for someone to help him, but it’s too late…the Spider walks up and bitch slaps the guy. A few more shots are fired then the Spider backs away, turning over and laying still with all eight feet in the air. It seems they got it. Whether it was the bullets, the DDT or the bad acting that did it in, is still unknown at this point.
Kingman climbs down onto the web to check on Sanders, the poor fool that got struck by the spider. He turns the guy over, takes one look at the guy’s bloody face, then turns back to the others and shakes his head no. His meaning is clear: the man is dead. WTF? All it takes is a look to determine this? No checking to see if the poor slob is breathing or has a pulse? Nope! Just a quick look and it’s obvious the guy has bought the farm.
Later, we see the exterior of the cave opening. The pest guys are transferring their equipment back to their truck. They each seem to be carrying a length of hose. So I suppose the one from the truck required some extensions in order to reach all the way into the cavern. So instead of being two thousand feet long, it was merely one thousand and nine hundred feet long, as those extensions don’t look to be any longer than fifty feet each.
Following close behind them are Mike and Carol, the latter being supported by the former. It seems she is still in a state of shock at having located her dried up daddy. Mr. Kingman comes running up and asks her if he should talk to her mother first, but she says that she is up to the task of telling poor mom that her husband is dead. Then she realizes that the box with the bracelet her father bought for her is no longer in her possession. She must have dropped it in the caves somewhere, but cannot return to look, as the place is full of gas. What has the sheriff and his gang been eating chili or something? Oh, right...the DDT! Mike promises her that they will return another time to retrieve it. Then the two teens walk off.
The rest of the group exits the cave, two guys carrying the guy who got bitch slapped by a spider. Bringing up the rear is Sheriff Cagle, who tells one of the guys to talk to somebody named “Old Warren” when he gets back to town. The Sheriff wants this Warren guy to get out to the cave and board the entrance up ASAP. Kingman says that he might as well put a big door in the barrier, as people are going to want to see the big spider. Cagle thinks Kingman is suggesting they charge people admission to see the body, but the science teacher has something else in mind.
It’s time to begin the requisite 50’s paranoia speech. Most flicks from this time period had at least one such speech and they spoke to the audience about the dangers of runaway science, our failure to truly understand nature and man’s place in an uncaring universe. Kingman launches into a soliloquy about how in the interests of science and humanity, the big spider must be studied, even though it is quite dead. In needs to be determined why it grew so large, so that the process can be halted in other spiders or animals. Such oversized monsters could easily overrun Humanity and supplant us as the dominant life form on the planet. Being taken down a notch or two on the food chain is not a desirable fate by any means, and even now, giant spiders could be hatching from eggs hidden away from the prying eyes of men.
Cagle asks Kingman what the River Falls Sheriff’s department is supposed to do about the situation. Kingman says that the spider should be brought up into the daylight where it can be studied. Cagle then tells him that if Kingman wants this to happen, he needs to do it himself. Cagle wants nothing to do with it as he claims that it is not his job. With that, he walks away. I’m getting the idea than the good Sheriff really doesn’t want to do anything but play checkers. He certainly seems averse to engaging in any activity remotely resembling actual work.
The next thing you know, the giant spider is seen stretched out in the high school gym. A group of people are gawking at it and taking pictures. Amongst them are Mr. Kingman and Mr. Fraser, who is another teacher at the school. Kingman notes how in such a small, isolated community such as River Falls, there is no barrage of reporters to get in the way of things (all those people taking photos are members of the camra club). He snaps some pictures and plans on sending them to some big shot named Bergen at the State University. Kingman says that he will be relieved when the university takes the body off his hands, as no doubt they will want the remains in order to run tests. Kingman notes how it took half his savings to get a mover to transport the spider to the gym and he is eager to not only get his money returned, but get the school board off his back. Watch closely during this scene and you’ll note how individuals in the crowd seem to constantly be changing their position within the group.
I'd like to point out something at this juncture. Mr. Kingman believes the DDT killed the spider and has it brought to the high school auditorium to be viewed by other scientists. The spider is clearly sprawled out. In real life, spiders killed by sprays curl up rather than sprawling out.
Kingman then mutters something about how man had better find out how and why this spider grew so large or we’ll all be in some serious trouble…and I don’t think he was referring to the possibility of a sequel. Then he and Fraser cross over the rope barrier separating everyone from the spider’s body and take a closer look. Kingman talks more about nature and mutations. Perhaps sensing a need to put an end to this seemingly endless science talk, the spider’s body twitches. One leg swings over and nails Fraser, who is thrown to the floor. Hahaha! Even when it is dead, it is bitch slapping people! Fraser wants to know if it is really deceased and Kingman says yes, and that it was just a muscular contraction that caused the leg to move. Fraser notes that if it could do that when dead, he’d sure hate to run into it when it was alive. Just you wait, pal. Just you wait.
Over at the Flynn house, Carol is curled up on the couch, sobbing. Her mom walks in and tells her “don’t.” I am assuming she means don’t cry. Carol says that she cannot help it and her mother says that she feels the same way, as she loved Jack, too. Yeah, I can really see how much you loved him lady, by the way you’re crying your eyes out. Wait! She isn’t doing that! She’s just carrying on as if nothing has happened. Carol thinks her father’s death is her fault, as he never would have died if he had not gone to get her a present. Now she is upset because she has lost the present. Her mother tells her to forget it and reminds her that she has homework than needs to be done. WTF?! The poor girl’s daddy was sucked dry by a giant spider and this woman is more concerned with Carol getting her homework done rather than let the girl grieve properly! Geez, Carol’s mom is the coldest, most ice-hearted woman I have ever seen that wasn’t running for President of the United States. Carol’s mom leaves the room but before going she tells her daughter than Mike had called and said he would be at his father’s theater.
Carol picks up the phone and makes the call. Down at the local movie theater (owned by Mike's dad, apparently), Mike is outside changing light bulbs in the Marquee when his dad approaches and tells him that he is wanted on the phone. Take note that the film posters seen in this shot are advertising another of Bert I. Gordon’s films, namely the previous year’s The Amazing Colossal Man. Mike walks inside, grabs the phone and talks to Carol. Behind him are some lobby cards advertising what is currently playing and we see that two more Gordon films being pimped out here: the double feature of War of the Colossal Beast and Attack of the Puppet People. Wait! So which Colossal Man movie is playing, the first one or the second one? Could this movie be occurring in some weird temporal hotspot where it is both 1957 and 1958 at the same time? Oh, who cares, right?
Carol reminds Mike that he promised to take her out to the cave to look for the bracelet from her father. He is unsure and says that his dad just got in a new movie that he has not seen yet. Something about “Puppet People” and which sounds “pretty wild.” What’s funny about this is that actress June Kenney, who is playing Carol in this film, was also in Attack of the Puppet People as Sally Reynolds. Carol pleads with Mike, so Mr. Backbone figures he can borrow Joe’s car again. Carol doesn’t want her mother to know that she going back out to the cave, so they make plans to meet at the corner in fifteen minutes. Mike runs out, yelling out to his father that he’s got a date now. His father wants to know where Mike will be, but gets no answer. His son is already gone.
Down at the high school we see a group of guys entering through the front doors. Amongst them is 35 year old Joe the high school student. Mike and Carol walk up and it is at this point that I realized that there are an awful lot of kids here for after school hours. After all, Carol was already at home and Mike was down at his dad’s movie theater. Why are all these other kids here? To gawk at the spider? Or are they just devoted students. HAHAHAHA! Yeah right. Don’t make me laugh.
Mike now approaches Joe and reminds him of the five bucks he let him borrow once. Joe points out that he has since paid it back, but figures Mike wants to now borrow five dollars from him. Mike says that he wants to borrow his “wagon” for a couple of hours. Joe tries to get them to come to “the rehearsal” but Mike gets a little pushy and pretty much berates Joe into letting him borrow the car. As Mike and Carol head off to use the vehicle, Joe joins some other guys that are trying to get into the recreation room, but the door is locked. Apparently there is a school dance scheduled for the following night and this collection of losers comprise the band that will be playing. Things will suck if they don’t get to rehearse so that they can “swing solid” come dance time. Joe figures they can get the janitor to unlock the place for them, so they all start calling out for Hugo the janitor.
Hugo shows up and wonders what the fuss is about. Joe says that they need in, but Hugo says that they will have to use the auditorium since the gym is occupied by old eight legs. Joe says that the drama club is currently using the auditorium. After some more pointless banter, they convince Hugo to unlock the room for them. They all enter and take a look at the bid dead spider. One guy suggests seeing if the drama class has vacated the auditorium, since the oversized spider corpse gives him the creeps. Joe convinces them all to stay, so the group jumps up on stage where all the instruments are and begin warming up. Before they can start, some screams break the silence. A group of students have entered the room and are gazing at the dead spider. Joe tells them to come in if they are going to stay, then the band strikes up their first tune. This prompts the group of newcomers to stay and start dancing.
Things seem to be fine. The band is playing…well, everyone except Joe. He seems to be the bandleader and pretty much does nothing other than wave a conductor’s stick around in the air while jumping around like a man with fire ants in his underwear. The other kids are dancing and everyone is having a blast. Until…
You guessed it, the spider begins to move. Naturally, nobody notices this at first, as they are all so into their dancing and playing. This is especially pathetic since the band’s drummer is facing in the direction of the spider. Why he cannot see it moving is beyond me. I get that the other musicians have their eyes closed or are moving around, but this guy is pretty still. Finally, someone notices that the Spider is alive and a scream rips through the air. Before you can yell “Free records and root beer” these teens are bolting for the door. The band members drop their instruments and run like hell. Well, all of them except for the guy playing the bass. He has his eyes shut and is so into the music that he cannot even notice that not only are there people screaming, but he is now the only one still playing. Someone grabs him and he opens his eyes to see the spider. This gets him to run with the others and in short order the room is clear of people. Watch this scene closely and you’ll see the drummer take off running in one shot, and in the next shot he’s back at his drums. Now that is a dedicated musician!
As the flood of panicked teens haul ass out of there, Hugo the janitor wants to know what has gotten into them. One kid warns him to “beat it, it’s alive!” Hugo opens the door to the gym and peers in. We don’t see what he sees, but the Spider lets out one of those loud dry wheezing sounds. Hugo slams the door shut and locks it. Then he rushes to a nearby pay phone and begins making a call. Behind him, the wall to the gym is shaking, as the big Spider is trying to get out. The phone rings at the Kingman residence and when Mr. Kingman answers the phone, it coincides with the Spider knocking through the wall behind Hugo. The poor old janitor yells into the phone something about “the spider,” but it is too late for him. He backs into a corner and screams as the big arachnid closes in on him in view shot from the spider’s perspective. Whether it drained him of his fluids or bitch slapped him to death is left unknown. Whatever fate befell him, the dumbass had it coming, as there was a door right at his back that he could have easily opened and run through in order to escape. That’s like standing three feet from a swimming pool while on fire and not moving a muscle.
Kingman now calls down to Sheriff Cagle’s office, where the good sheriff is heading out to attend Sanders’ funeral. Remember that Sanders was the poor guy who was bitch slapped by the spider in the cave. Cagle tells the new deputy that the late Pete Sanders was a hell of a guy and that he has a lot to live up to. Talk about pressure! Not only is this latest Deputy new to the department, but he’ll always be compared to the dead guy he replaced! When the phone rings Cagle answers it, gets the message from Kingman that the spider is alive and makes plans to meet the teacher at the school. Mr. Kingman then leaves his house, telling his wife to stay inside the house with their baby no matter what.
Now we jump out to the hills where Mike and Carol are heading back to the cave in Joe’s hotrod. We see them park, walk to the cave and enter.
Back in town, Sheriff Cagle and Mr. Kingman rendezvous at the high school where they find people running and screaming. This of course, is nothing new. People did that when I went to high school and the local nerds were trying to score dates for the dance, and I’m sure they do it still when the next generation of nerds attempt the same thing. Alas, in this case, it isn’t a horde of socially inept dorks with glasses that they are trying to avoid, but a gigantic spider! Cagle and Kingman watch as the monster emerges from around the side of the building, wheezing at it slowly makes its way down the street, Cagle fires off his pistol, but this accomplishes nothing.
Cagle then tries to hide in a mattress warehouse, but cannot get the doors open. Meanwhile, Kingman has jumped in his car, which ever so conveniently is not starting up. Eventually he gets it running and is able to back up to Cagle’s position, allowing the portly Sheriff to jump in and for them both to escape the spider.
Now we hear the air raid sirens going off in town. People on the street stop and look around in confusion. A minor fender bender occurs and while everyone is standing around, the giant spider comes barreling down the street. It has gotten quite big by now. Just a few minutes ago the thing was small enough to take up one corner of the high school gym, but now the beast is bigger than the two-story buildings in town. People panic and run when they spy the creature. One lady tries to flee her car (the one involved in the fender bender), but gets her dress caught in the door. Another Spider-Cam shot closes in on her as she struggles and screams up a storm. Again, her fate is left open. Did the spider pass her by? Did it suck her dry? Did it bitch slap her? Swallow her whole? Stomp her flat? What?!! By the way, when we see that fender bender occur, it was a man driving the car, but shortly after that, it was this broad that was caught in the door. Continuity? Never heard of the word.
It's long about now that I have a question concerning the spider's size. What made the spider so big? Radiation? Scientific experimentation? Acromegalia? Funky minerals in the cavern rocks? Illegal steroids? Your guess is as good as mine. While the movie never explains what initially made the spider grow so large, there seems to be some sort of strange confluence of variables that contributed to the spider’s increased size later in the film. When it was first brought into the high school gym, it was pretty sizable. While large – maybe comparable to a big rig truck – it still fits easily within the building. However, later when it is rampaging through town, it is freakin’ huge, bigger than some of the two-story buildings. What made it grow so much larger? My theory is that the unusual DDT mixture combined with the sonic reverberations from the rock ‘n’ roll music to somehow further enlarge the creature. I also theorize that a related effect is produced when smoking pot at a rock concert and the band suddenly seems ten feet tall.
Speaking of the spider’s size, how in hell did the thing even manage to stay alive anyway? It was pretty big and would have to feed off some sizable organisms in order to derive the sufficient amount of nutrients in order to survive. Whatever small rodents and other animals once inhabited the cave could hardly be called a light snack, let alone a full meal, so it would have had to look elsewhere for sustenance. As mentioned earlier, it could not have been preying on vehicles on the road prior to snatching up Jack Flynn, or else all the missing people and cars would be reported. Even roaming the countryside in search of cattle or other farm animals would alert people to its presence. Yet, we saw discarded skeletons near its web, hinting at earlier victims. Carol even mentions at one point how people have gone into the caves and never returned, again implying that the spider got them. Just how long had it been there? I would think it was not all that old, having just recently grown to that size. Otherwise, the ecosystem just could not support a predator of its size for very long without drawing attention. Okay, back to the movie...
From inside the Sheriff’s office, Mr. Kingman yells for people to get inside and take cover. Meanwhile, Cagle is making a call to the state capital, no doubt in order to get some state troops in to help kill the monster. Either that or he is already brainstorming on how he is going to manage re-election after this whole giant spider fiasco. However, the long distance lines are down and the call cannot be put through. Deputy Dave – the new guy – says that his motorcycle is out back and that he can ride to Springdale in an hour or less. Cagle tells him to go and get the Governor on the line. He is to tell him that they need troops in River Falls. Also, they need flamer throwers and artillery. Hell, why not just ask for a freakin’ nuke while your at it! Cagle contemplates asking for more DDT, but Kingman says it won’t do any good, as it only stunned the monster previously. Yeah, but that was with a fifty percent solution! Why no go both barrels and spray that sucker with a full on, one hundred percent solution? You wanna know why? This is why:
Monster Death Trap Proviso (n): This stipulates that any stratagem to destroy a monster, once it has failed, may not be attempted again, even if it only failed because of some bizarre fluke. Nor can the same plan be refined and tried again. Instead, a completely other plan must be formulated. Thanks to the Awesome Ken Begg at Jabootu.com and Jabootu.net for this information which can be found here and here.
Long about now that familiar dry wheezing is heard and everyone looks outside to see the spider strolling down the street in front of the Sheriff’s office. As it passes by, Cagle tells Deputy Dave to go ahead. Dave runs out back, hops on his motorcycle and tears off down the street, bound for Springdale. The next shot shows us the destruction left in the spider’s wake. A car with a just married sign on it lays overturned in the street, blood splashed all over the hood. Nearby a dead guy lies still, though he doesn’t show signs of having been smashed or sucked dry. I’m guessing it was a fatal bitch slap that did him in. The camera pans down the street, showing all the debris littering the ground and more wrecked vehicles. Then we see a toddler sitting in the street and crying. He stands up but there is no one around to pick him up as he continues to cry (and no doubt poop in his pants). How he got in the street or where his parents are at is unknown.
Back at the Sheriff’s office, Cagle is checking his watch. He is accompanied by Mr. Kingman and Mr. Simpson, Mike’s father. Kingman points out that it is still too soon for any state troops to have arrived. Then a car rolls by with some old coot named Jake, who says that he is evacuating town. The last he saw the spider, it was heading towards Maple street. Upon hearing this, Kingman gets worried, as that is where he lives. As Jake drives away, Kingman runs off as well.
Over on Maple Street, we see Mrs. Kingman feeding their baby. Unbeknownst to her, the neighborhood has a new eight-legged visitor, which is currently sauntering down the street in her general direction. As she feeds the baby, the big spider can be spied through the window behind her. She cannot see it, but the baby does and lets out a cry. She turns around, spots the monster and lets out a scream herself. Grabbing the baby, she tries to run out the front door, but a big spider leg prevents her from doing so.
Her husband rolls up about now in his car and sees the spider draped over half his house. Using his vehicle as a weapon, he drives right at the beast, hitting it and drawing its attention. Then he turns around and floors it, heading in the opposite direction. The spider wastes no time in pursuing him. He drives out of town, the arachnid hot on his tail. In the twisting roads near the beast’s cave, he manages to elude the spider and watches as it goes by, the beast unaware that he is hiding around a turn. With the creature gone, he hightails it back to town. He returns home to find the house in shambles, but his family ok. Then he calls the Sheriff and informs him that the Spider is heading south out of town, along the old Higgins road.
Returning now to dumb and dumber…er…Carol and Mike, we see them deep in the cave, looking in the chamber holding the spider’s web. They are having no luck in finding the present from her father. Mike mutters something about buying her a new bracelet, but she says it would not be the same. He adds that he is broke anyway. Then why suggest it, loser? He asks her when was the last time she remembers having the present. She thinks and says it was right before they fell into the web, so it should be around there somewhere. Looking around, they find a passage that leads to another cavern below the one they are currently occupying. They explore this new cave and eventually find Carol’s present. Happy that their quest is over, they head for the cave’s entrance.
Now we see that guy named Jake who was leaving town earlier. It is now night and he slows his car to a stop when he sees the spider re-entering its cave. Oh no! Mike and Carol are in there! Jake then flips a U-turn and heads back to town.
In town, the Sheriff and his deputized gang are in his office. One guy is playing with a tarantula, but Cagle comes over, pushes the critter into the floor and stomps on it. I don’t see this guy winning any awards from PETA any time soon. Plus, the spider he just squished was a pretty sizable one, not just your garden variety arachnid. This thing had to have left quite the sticky smear on the floor when he stomped it. Cagle says something about help getting there soon and then calls the telephone operator to learn how much longer it will be until the long distance lines are fixed. His answer: maybe two hours. There is a knock at the door and when Mike’s dad heads over to open it, we see through the window that it is a bright, sunny day outside. WTF? A few seconds ago that old fart Jake was driving at night and now it’s day? What goes on here?
Anyway, Kingman now enters, carrying something over his shoulder. He walks over and flops it down on a desk. Everyone gathers around and looks at it. Why, it’s the desiccated corpse of Deputy Dave! The poor bastard didn’t even last one day on the job! Kingman says that he found the body at the corner of Maple and Horton. It seems that the poor bastard never even made it out of town, let alone all the way to Springdale. They’ve all been waiting for help that is not going to arrive! One guy mutters something about the only thing they can do is wait for the monster to return and finish them all off. Cagle mentions how he wanted to seal the cave off earlier, but Kingman was against it. A new voice breaks in and says that they can seal the cave right now if they so wish.
Everyone looks up and sees old Jake entering. He tells them that the monster has returned to the cave. Mr. Simpson says they need to board the place up as soon as possible, but Kingman says that wood alone is not going to do it. He looks at one of the other guys named Haskel, who he refers to as the road foreman. He asks Haskel if he has enough dynamite to collapse the cave entrance. Haskel confirms that he has enough of the stuff to blow up half the hill if they wanted him to. Cagle then sends Haskel to retrieve the stuff, leaves Simpson to look after the office (and to call the coroner) and then takes everyone else with him.
When everyone has filed out, the phone rings. Mr. Simpson answers it and hears Joe on the other end. Joe tells him that Mike and Carol borrowed his car and have yet to return it. Mr. Simpson has heard nothing from them, either. Joe doesn’t know where they might have gone. Simpson thanks him for the information and then calls Mrs. Flynn, no doubt to see if she knows where their kids have gone.
Now we see a small convoy of vehicles heading out to the Spider’s cave. It is now dark again, so one must assume the background images used in the preceding scene at the sheriff’s office were not made in night time versions.
Deep in the cave somewhere, Mike and Carol have managed to get themselves good and lost. They wander around but cannot find a way out. They reach what appears to be a dead end and while looking for further points of egress, find some writing on the wall. It just says George Weston lost April 9, 1902. Dumbass Mike takes this as a good sign, saying that this means people have been through there before. However, the skeleton Carol spots on the floor below the writing is testament enough that poor old Mr. Weston never made it out of these caves. Things take a gloomy turn and the two discuss how their parents will react to the news of their disappearance. Mike suddenly feels hungry (men usually are) and remembers that he has a candy bar. He produces it, tears it in two and then gives one half to Carol. The two of them bite into the measly portions of sweets with all the gusto of a cannibal in a Ruggero Deodato or Umberto Lenzi movie. As they consume the meager meal, they hear the recognizable wheezing sounds of the Spider. Wasting no time, they begin to run. Where, I don’t know, since they are lost, but run is what they do.
Outside, the Sheriff’s group has arrived at the cave and begins unloading the dynamite. Then we see Mr. Simpson and Mrs. Flynn barreling down the road in his car. She is talking about how Carol always lets her know where she isn’t coming home. She mentions how Carol attached too much importance to the bracelet from her father and hopes aloud that the two of them have not gone back to that cave.
Speaking of the moron duo, we seem them running through the cave. They finally reach a point that Mike recognizes. She is worried about the Spider, but he says they need to keep moving. They enter the web chamber and begin climbing through it in order to get out. I will give you one guess as to what happens next. Yep, you got it…Carol gets stuck. Mike struggles to free her as the sounds of the Spider draw closer. As they struggle within the cave, the final preparations are made outside to blow up the entrance.
Mr. Simpson and Mrs. Flynn now arrive and spot Joe’s car. This confirms to them that Mike and Carol are in the cave. Too late! The dynamite is detonated and the entrance collapses. The tremors from the explosion send rocks raining down on Mike and Carol as they struggle in the spider’s web. We then fade out on those two without knowing if they got crushed by rocks, bitch slapped by the spider or what.
Note - It is at this point that the movie enters its final segment, so if any of you really feel the need to watch this film and not know the ending ahead of time, skip the rest of this section.
Outside, Mr. Simpson and Mrs. Flynn are talking to Cagle wanting to know what he plans to do. The sheriff says they will start clearing the entrance again, but Haskel says that it is a job easier said that done. It could take days, maybe even a week. Kingman points out that Mike and Carol do not have that long. If the Spider doesn’t get them, the bad air will. Cagle wants to bring in a bulldozer from town, but Kingman suggests digging down into the cave from a small plateau higher up on the hill. Haskel thinks this could very easily work, so his crew breaks out their shovels and picks and go to work.
Why didn’t Cagle, Kingman and the others spot Joe’s car when they went to blow up the cave entrance with dynamite, thus alerting them of somebody’s presence within the cave? When we see Mike and Carol arrive earlier in Joe’s car, they park in what seems like a small field or patch of dirt. The Sheriff and company, on the other hand, park on the roadway itself, so I guess a claim could be made that they never saw the other vehicle before detonating the explosives. Still, the cave is situated off a winding, two-lane road. There could not have been all that many places to park within walking distance. Joe’s car should have been easily spotted.
Mrs. Flynn starts to cry, and in his bumbling fashion, Sheriff Cagle tries to comfort her. Mr. Simpson points out that even if they do gain entrance to the cave again, there is nothing to prevent the Spider from getting at them. Cagle turns to Kingman for ideas on how to kill the monster. I’m thinking that the beast may just curl up and die when exposed to this guy’s smell. Cagle isn’t exactly slim and he has been sweating up a storm all through the movie. Kingman thinks a bit and then spots a power line. He proposes that they run a cable off it in order to electrocute the beast.
Cagle, Kingman and Simpson then head over to where Haskel’s crew is busy digging their way to China. The Sheriff asks him if he knows where they can get a quarter mile length of insulated copper cable this side of Springdale. Haskel thinks and says something that is not very clear. Cagle sends Simpson to go after it, figuring that he won’t waste any time accomplishing the task while his son is in danger. Kingman asks how the digging is going and Haskel replies that it is going well, but they have a ways to go still.
Far below them in the cave, the dust has settled from the earlier explosion. Covered in dirt and gravel, Mike and Carol regain consciousness on the Spider’s web. She wonders where it is, but the critter is not in sight. They decide to get up and get moving, not noticing a big spider leg protruding from the rubble. It seems the Spider was also buried in the collapse.
Outside, the digging crew has struck granite. Haskel climbs down and places some dynamite in the pit. He lights the fuse and then climbs out as quick as he can.
Below, Mike and Carol have found the collapsed entrance to the cave and realize that they are stuck. Then they hear the distant sound of a blast. Mike figures that someone knows they are trapped in the cave and is attempting to free them. They both start calling for help but nothing happens. Mike thinks that if they get closer to where the rescue effort is being made, they can be better heard. Meanwhile, the Spider is extracting itself from the rubble. Mike and carol continue to yell and scream for help. Above, the others can finally hear them. Kingman calls back down that they can hear them and are trying to get them out. All seems well! Suddenly big, ugly and wheezy is back! No, I don’t mean Steven Seagal. It’s the Spider! The two teens now going running pell mell through the caves, trying to evade the beast.
Above, Cagle brings the power line foreman to talk to Kingman, since Kingman knows what the plan is. The science teacher outlines his plan to tie into the power line, drop two electrodes into the cave, get the spider between them and then turn on the juice. Well, was that all? And here I thought it was going to be something hard. The power line foreman says he is ready to go, all he needs is the gear. Cagle notes a vehicle arriving and says that it may be Simpson with the stuff they need.
Below in the caves, Mike and Carol are still running around trying to evade the Spider, which is wheezing up a storm. They eventually reach the end of one passage that opens up onto a huge chasm with big, sharp stalagmites at the bottom. Noticing a ledge that extends along the chasm wall, Mike advocates walking out on it, hoping to get beyond the Spider’s reach. The two slowly make their way out onto the ledge and there is that predictable moment when their weight causes part of the ledge to fall out from under them. In this case it’s Carol that almost plunges to a sticky end below. Mike pulls her back just in time then the two continue on. Finally, they arrive at the end of the ledge. With no further place to step, they have gone as far as they can go. Carol moans that they cannot get back, perhaps thinking of the section that collapsed under them and which would make for quite the obstacle in returning the way they came.
Elsewhere, Haskel finally breaks through from above into the cavern. Both he and one of the other workers exit the pit they have dug and quickly ascend the ladder back to the surface. There, Kingman prepares to descend into the caves. Then we see a ladder being lowered into the cave. We don’t see who is lowering it, we just see the ladder bottom as it drops into view. Then we return to the surface where Kingman climbs into the pit and then climbs further down into the caves. Hold the phone! Haskel and the other worker just vacated the pit. Before we see anyone else enter it, Kingman climbs down into it the and then into the caves. Somehow, after the first two guys exited the pit and before Kingman climbed down, some mysterious force lowered a ladder from the bottom of the pit down into the caves. Kingman tells the others to drop the cable and electrodes to him as soon as they can. Sheriff Cagle follows Kingman and tells them to descend when the equipment is brought down.
Once in the cave, Kingman starts calling out to Mike and Carol. The two lost teens hear them and call back, but the echo makes it difficult for the rescuers to determine exactly where they are. Kingman suggests splitting up. The Sheriff then walks off and has to be reminded to take his rifle with him! Can this guy really be that dense? I wouldn’t let the thing out of my sight if I was in such a place, but this fool is ready to traipse off into a possible encounter with a giant spider without so much as peashooter. Moron.
As Mike and Carol wait on their ledge, Mike spots the Spider. It is descending the wall nearby. All the ruckus alerts Kingman to their location and he calls to Cagle to haul ass. The two men now emerge onto the opposite end of the ledge, the enormous arachnid suspended by webbing between them and the two teens. Quickly Cagle swings over one of the electrodes to Mike, who manages to catch it on the first pass. Kingman then instructs Mike to put on the attached rubber glove then extends his own electrode. The call for power is relayed up to the surface and soon ZAP, a huge arc of electricity is coursing between the two electrodes…and right through the spider’s body.
The seconds tick by and eventually, the wheezing monster falls from the wall into the chasm depths below. The call to turn off the power is then made and when it is safe, Kingman and Cagle work to get the kids off the ledge.
The next thing you know, Carol’s mom and Mike’s dad are descending the ladder into the caves. The two parents are glad to see their kids and the group heads back up the ladder. Um…why couldn’t the two adults just wait at the top for the teens to come up? Why did they have to go down to see them? Who knows.
All the equipment is then removed from the cave and the rescuers head up to the surface. Kingman is the last one up and Cagle asks if there is anything left behind. “Nothing but a dead spider,” the teacher answers. “Well this time, he’s going to stay dead,” the Sheriff proclaims. “Dead and buried.” Then he produces a few sticks of dynamite that are bundled together. He strikes a match and lights the fuse. Kingman notes that this will be the case until some “egghead” comes along and digs it up again. Then he runs like hell, along with the Sheriff, who has dropped the dynamite into the hole they so recently dug.
BOOM! The newly created entrance is destroyed as more of the cave collapses below. At the bottom of the chasm, the spider’s body can be seen impaled on some huge stalagmites.
Did we ever find out what Mike bought Carol for her birthday? Nope! She makes such a big deal about the present from her father, yet she doesn’t seem to think twice about what Mike got for her. Sure, she attached sentimental value to her father's gift because he was dead and it represented the last piece of him that she could hold on to, bit c’mon! He’s dead. Mike is alive. At least she could open the poor sap’s gift and provide for him the illusion that she gave a crap about him and his feelings, but she doesn’t even do that! I’m sure that years later, after having used and discarded dozens of men, she was cleaning out an old box and found Mike’s gift…still unopened. Laughing, she probably threw it in the trash…still unopened. And living somewhere in a cardboard box behind a third-rate Chinese restaurant, praying for sweet death to relieve him of his misery is Mike, who stares into the distance muttering one word over and over: “unopened.”
Born on September 24, 1922, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Bert I. Gordon was originally a producer of television commercials who later broke into filmmaking as a producer and cinematographer. His first film was the adventure flick Serpent Island in 1954. His wife, Flora often assisted him on his film projects, most notably with the low cost special effects that instilled so many of them with their enduring charm. It was in 1957 that Gordon began his association with American International Pictures.
American International Pictures began as the brainchild of James H. Nicholson, a sales manager for the RealArt Production Company, and Hollywood lawyer Samuel Z. Arkoff. They were among the first to truly realize the ticket buying power of the teenage movie-going audience. In 1954 they formed the American Releasing Corporation in order to cater to that market. Two years later the name was changed to American International Pictures, but the focus on youth-oriented action, comedy and horror films remained. Thus began thirty years of AIP films, categorized by low budgets and quick shooting schedules – the epitome of the “B” movie.
Nicholson and Arkoff also began to target what they saw as a hole in the movie market: second-run movie theaters and drive-ins that were unable to afford first-run Hollywood blockbusters, and thus losing their audiences. Realizing that if they were able to fill that widening hole with inexpensive films sold to exhibitors at lower costs, they could turn a tidy profit. Because it was the exhibitors who bought the films, AIP made sure to appeal to them first and foremost. This was accomplished, not by showing them completed films, but by devising titles for potential movies and having a poster commissioned to reflect the name and basic idea. These posters would be shown to the exhibitors and if there was a favorable response, the film was quickly greenlit and just as quickly shot and in the can. However, if the response was none too flattering, the concept was dropped and quickly forgotten. In this way they only financed films that they knew would sell and in turn began giving the larger studios a run for their money with their sudden success.
Most of Bert I. Gordon's work in genre films had centered on giant monsters of some sort. He had already established this with his films King Dinosaur (1955), Beginning of the End (1957) and The Cyclops (1957). When AIP took note of Universal’s success with The Incredible Shrinking Man in 1957, Arkoff recalled that they, “decided to turn the binoculars the other direction, building a story around a pitiful character that experienced the world’s most terrifying growth spurt.” The man brought in to helm this project was Gordon and the film became the profitable The Amazing Colossal Man (1957). Gordon would go on to work on several more films for AIP over the next two decades, including Earth vs. The Spider, an obvious attempt to cash in on the giant bug craze of the 50’s, even though a similar monster was seen three years earlier in Universal’s Tarantula with John Agar. Relying on rear screen projection to create the giant monster special effects, he cemented his place in B-Movie history with some of the less convincing, but still a lot of fun, monsters.
By the late 50’s, giant monsters were starting to wear out their welcome on movie screens and the age of atomic and radiation inspired fears was gradually giving way to the coming social anxieties of the 60’s and the new kind of monsters that came with it. While the silver screen still saw its fair share of enormous monsters, more often than not, these films were fueled by smaller budgets, even the releases from big studios.
Despite the low budget, cheap FX and several moments of questionable acting, Earth vs. The Spider is a lot of fun for those of us who appreciate the era in which it was made. The movie is damn near the epitome of the B-Movie, rolling out all the requisite ingredients: a rampaging monster, less than stellar visual effects, characters that don’t seem to make the wisest decisions and little room for much else. The movie also has a good pace and a great sense of fun. Personally, I find it to be much more engaging that many other films from the same time period. Whereas other low cost projects from the 50’s often suffer from slow, plodding plot lines and boring characters, this film zips along at a good pace and at least has memorable people in it, even if they push the bounds of believability at times with their behavior.
However, the broad strokes seem to paint a different film. I suppose the reason for this is the scope of the story. Despite the grandiose title, the film’s events do not play out on a global setting, but center on one small isolated mountain community. So many of the giant monster films from the 50’s play out on a grand scale, with the fate of entire nations or the whole world hanging in the balance. A hideous amount of ordnance is expended in countering the threats and the depths of man’s understanding of science are often examined to produce a viable way to kill the beast in question. Often a veritable army of characters inhabits these films, representing many walks of life and areas of expertise. With a completely different world view at play in this film, the character motivations are much different and the threat is both presented and perceived in a different light. This in turn gives the movie a differing feel and atmosphere than its many cousins.
One of the better elements to the story is it pacing. Even though the title monster doesn’t appear on screen until nearly the fifteen minute mark, it seems much quicker than that (at least to me, others may find it an interminable wait). Things proceed rather quickly after that. No sooner has the monster been revealed than the townsfolk are marching into the cave to kill it. It doesn’t seem like very long after that the revived beast is on the loose. I think that the movie’s smaller scale helps this pacing. One would expect things in a small community to happen faster than in the beauraucratic red taped halls of big government and so the film moves at just the right speed. The high points of the film are reached in steady order, with the more subdued moments in between filled with characters that, while not exactly jumping off the page of originality, at least are interesting enough to make the narrative less taxing. Let’s look at them next.
As for Mike Simpson, there is a word for him: whipped. Throw this guy in a room full of snakes and he’d still be the one with the least amount of backbone. He tries on occasion to stand up for himself, but all it takes is a little plaintive whining on Carol’s part and he capitulates to her desires. The poor guy is obviously operating under the misguided notion that the two of them have some sort of romantic relationship and that their future holds things like kinky all night boom-boom sessions, but I don’t think Carol looks at him in that way. I think she sees him as more a friend and someone to use and then discard when another guy comes along… probably some leather clad bad boy on a motorcycle. Then good boy Mike will get kicked to the curb and develop a burning, bitter resentment towards women in general. Maybe I’m being too hard on the guy. He did come across as a pretty decent young kid, even if he was being led around by the balls. One can only hope he saw through Carol’s exterior to the real woman beneath before she concocted some scheme that got the poor schlub killed. I have to wonder if teens back in the 50’s identified with this guy, or just saw him as some pathetic loser.
Next up is Mr. Kingman, the River Falls High School science teacher. Now I don’t know about you, but when I think of studly heroes, science teachers at the high school level are pretty much at the bottom of the list. Yeah, I know Indiana Jones was an archaeology professor, but that was at the university level. Plus, he did cool things like shoot people, swing from his bullwhip and combat weird supernatural shit. This guy just runs around talking about spiders and getting half of his facts wrong. The biggest move he made was ramming the giant spider with his car. Of course he only did that to save his family, so if it had been the annoying neighbors that the spider was attacking, he may have settled for honking his horn incessantly and bombarding the monster with some harsh language. However, despite all his lacking in the dashing hero department, the guy obviously has something about him that helped him score such a hot wife. For that alone, I can accept him as the nominal hero of this film…cuz let’s face it, Mike wasn’t going to fill the role.
Now we come to Sheriff Cagle. My goodness, what a clown. How this guy got elected is beyond me. I’m thinking he bribed some people or fixed the voting process in some way. If there was one word to describe him, it would be incompetent. Through the course of the film, he gets two of his deputies killed. Hell, I think they were his only official deputies. Everyone else he was ordering around were townsfolk he had sworn in on the fly. He had no idea how to combat the big spider and this is proven in how he turned to Mr. Kingman – a high school science teacher – for ideas and help. The moron was even about to go barreling into the spider’s cave without his rifle at one point before someone reminded him to take the bloody thing. Then there was his steadfast refusal to even get involved with certain aspects of dealing with the threat that really made him look like a slacker. When push came to shove, instead of getting out and about in town, helping people, he cowered in his office and tried to call the state police. Combine all this with his habit of making jokes at inappropriate moments (like minutes after carol finds her father’s body) and his somewhat poor social skills, and I’m betting that not only was he not re-elected into the Sheriff’s office, but was probably run out of town by a mob of angry townsfolk.
Finally there are the supporting characters. First up is Joe. This guy is supposed to be a high school classmate to Mike and Carol, but looks like he could be their dad instead. No wonder, since the actor was pushing thirty-five years of age when the film was made. Joe has no real important role in this film, it’s just that his obvious age makes his inclusion as a teen all the more funny. Then there is Helen Kingman, played by Sally Fraser. She has an even smaller role to play, showing up in just a couple of instances. Her main reason to be in the movie is to be menaced by the spider, allowing her husband the opportunity to play hero for a few moments. It’s a pity she was not in the film more, as she is really, really hot. Other characters like Mike’s dad or Hugo the janitor don’t really add a whole lot, though the latter is memorable for his untimely exit from the film. The only other character to take note of is the spider itself, which we will get to next.
Most of the visual FX here (and I personally use that term to refer to anything that doesn’t include the monster) is pretty cheap. While we live in a day of computer generated backgrounds and settings that can put the actors anywhere you want, in this film they had to rely on a much more basic method: photographs. I don’t really know if the photographs of Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico were taken purposefully for this film or whether they were just hauled out of some dusty vault somewhere, but since the filmmakers didn’t have the budget to transport the entire production to the real location, they opted to utilize these still images instead. For the most part it works well enough to suspend one’s disbelief. The actors are filmed on a set and this small portion of live action is then superimposed over sections of the photos, with further features being laid over the live action. This gives the impression that the characters are walking inside the cave and are moving both in front of and behind natural rock formations. Call this technique the forerunner to the blue/green screen method of placing people in fabricated settings. Some of these shots look pretty good, while in others it is apparent where the real footage ends and the photo begins.
As for the spider itself, it is brought to life with a combination of real life arachnids and the method outlined above. In most cases, whether the creature is stomping through its caves or lumbering through town, it does so against the backdrop of a photograph representing the landscape. Often these shots will be combined with footage of live actors to make it appear as if the people and the monster are in the same frame. This looks fair most of the time, but it is still obvious where the photo ends and the “real” world begins. There are also a couple of shots where the spider has been superimposed directly into frame, with no attempt at merging false background with real ones. This comes off a little less well, and the spider at times is transparent in spots. Finally, there is a life-sized spider leg that is hauled out for the actors to interact with, but it is rather cheap looking and doesn’t really resemble a real spider’s appendage except in the most basic sense. Overall, the monster here is not the best looking creature brought to life for the big screen, but it is by no means the worst.
While the FX may at times not seem up to the challenge of the script, the producers take care not to get carried away with their giant spider scenarios, crafting scenes that a low budget can (mostly) succeed in executing. Yes, things still look cheezy, but I think we can cut the film some slack. If there is one thing I wish they had included more of, it’s the element of horror. Maybe showing more people being attacked directly by the spider or having more dried up corpses littering the streets would help in this regard. I suppose they couldn’t get away with too much given the era, but a little more would have been nice. The horror of meeting a ghastly demise at the hungry end of giant spider really needed to be emphasized more in my opinion.
As for the sound work, I have to lodge a major complaint concerning one element: the spider itself. Whoever decided that a giant arachnid needed to sound like a wheezing, winded chain smoker after a full night of boozing needed to be taken out and shot. Well, shot with BB gun…and in the ass. The sound of that monster as it crawled around was just flat out ridiculous. The only worse sounding monster that I can recall is the Gargan thingie (lobster) from Teenagers From Outer Space (1959). Finally, when it comes to camera work, I’d say that this film is rather static. There are but a handful of tracking shots and even fewer wide shots. Most of the time the action is centered in the screen and does not move from that spot, meaning the camera has no choice but to stay still. Of course, the heavy use of still photos as backgrounds requires this method, so it should be somewhat expected.
Dancing – At one point a bunch of teens decide to start shaking and grooving when the band is practicing for the school dance. Then the giant spider joins in on the fun.
Giant Bugs – One giant arachnid, a tarantula. The science expert wrongly calls it an insect and the producers imply that it spins webs. Also, tarantulas don’t sound like winded drunks.
Hotrods – Only one car qualifies and that's Joe’s car that Mike borrows twice. There's no drag racing or any other fast driving, so the car goes to waste in the film. Kind of like Sally Fraser.
Rock n Roll – Ugh. Plenty of this at the band rehearsal. Bad enough to cause a giant thought-to-be-dead spider to return to life and flee. You know your music sucks when it can do that.
Romance – The film doesn't really imply a romantic relationship between Mike and Carol. However, I'm a guy and I know damn well what he was after. Let’s just use this icon to sum it up.
Science – Here science is used to kill the beast, and I don’t mean a boring lecture from some stuffy old professor…though that would still do the trick quite adequately.
Underground Hijinks – Lots of running around in caves and other underground locations. I had never really realized that luminous algae was so damn bright! Who needs light bulbs?
Violence – Lots of people get killed by the spider here through various means: the squish treatment, sucked dry of liquids, bitch slapped to death and others. Most occur offscreen.
Desiccated Corpses: 2
People bitch slapped by spider: 2
Rubber bats on strings: 1
Total shots fired at spider: 22
Total shots fired at rubber bat: 3
Photos used as backgrounds: 25
Number of times Carol screams: 11
Instances of rear screen projection: 3
Dynamite explosions: 3
Decidedly 30+ year old teenagers: 1
Mins - Ask Dr. Stupid!
Shadow's Drinking Game: Every time you here the theremin in the background music, take a drink.
for larger image
“Here, see? I’ve been keeping track of
every time someone calls me
anal-retentive. So far today there
were five times in the teacher’s
lounge, three times at the staff
meeting, twice in the men’s room,
six times during passing periods
and three times in the cafeteria.
Oh, and the one time when I went home
at lunch for a nooner
with the wife.”
Carol talks about her missing father.
“I can’t blame people for what they think. Even mother says
that he must have run into some of his old cronies and stayed in town.
He had his paycheck with him. I know it isn’t true, not this time.
He promised he’d be back. I know something’s happened to
Shadow’s Comment: Of course something happened to him! Let loose in another town with his buddies and his paycheck? The guy no doubt had the time of his life and is still sleeping off a night of booze and hookers.
Sheriff Cagle requests help.
Cagle: “Go ahead, and get the Governor on the phone. Tell him we’ve got to have troops from Fort Brown. Also flame throwers and artillery.”
Comment: Why not ask for an entire battalion why you’re
at it? And some fighter jets. And maybe an atomic bomb or two. You know…just
to have all the bases covered.
Film & Me
This film represents some of my earliest memories. Not just early movie memories, but earliest memories period. By the time I was five, I had seen this film so many times, all it took was a brief second or two of exposure and I would recognize the movie. This was verified one night when my parents and I were watching TV. Dad was flipping through the channels and came across a black and white shot of a truck driving down a winding road in the hills. All it took was that split second of footage and I knew what it was. “Oh, Earth vs. the Spider,” I cried excitedly out in my (no doubt) shrill and annoying voice. My dad was dubious, doubting that a five-year-old could recognize a movie from about two seconds of footage. He thought I was wrong, but I told him that in just seconds, the driver of that truck was going to be attacked by a giant spider. Sure enough, an instant later Carol’s dad met his sticky end. My dad was amazed at how easily I recognized the film, and would cite this incident for years to come. The movie was in the regular rotation of genre flicks the local stations aired, so I saw it numerous more times over the next few years, but as with many films from this era, it started showing up less and less often, until by the time the 80’s rolled around, the film disappeared from the local airwaves. I never managed to see the film again until it arrived on DVD a couple years back. The intervening years did not alter my memories too much, though in the back of my mind, I thought that the big spider had been shown during that opening scene with Carol’s dad. My imagination conjured up a shot of the spider jumping out from a behind a boulder, like a colossal trap door spider, to grab the truck. After reflecting on this false memory, I must conclude that at some point in the distant past, I dreamt that shot and the long years convinced me that it was actually part of the movie. Also, as a kid, I remember marveling at how real that giant spider looked as it marched down the street. As an adult, I can recognize the cheap methods used to make a real tarantula appear gigantic. Still, there is something about this film that I love and I can watch it over and over again.
Shadow's rating: Six Tombstones
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