Small, hairy creatures terrorize William Shatner, and I'm not talking about his toupees. Kingdom of the Spiders (1977), directed by stuntman/actor/director/producer John 'Bud' Cardos who later directed the miserably dismal Outlaw of Gor (1989).
The film stars William 'Mr. Tambourine Man' Shatner as Dr. Robert 'Rack' Hansen, along with once aspiring singer and fairly attractive Tiffany Bolling as entomologist Diane Ashley, and Woody Strode as Walter Colby, a small time rancher with big time problems of the hairy, creepy eight legged kind.
The movie starts of with Colby's prize calf becoming sick of 'mysterious' causes, but seeing as how the title of this feature is Kingdom of the Spiders, it's no big task for the viewer to assume the spiders got at it, but the characters aren't let in on it until a little later in the movie. Also, we are given a number of scurrying, point of view shots on the ground near the calf prior to its' becoming ill, indicating that many small, quick creatures had their way with the bovine. Dr. Robert 'Rack' Hansen, the local veterinarian, is called, and he takes some samples from the dying calf, and sends them off to the 'big city' for further analysis. Thus enters Diane Ashely, entomologist to further investigate the matter, and also to provide a rather awkward love interest subplot for Shatner's character. She informs Rack that the calf died of spider venom, to which he has a hard time believing, until Mr. Colby speaks of a giant spider mound on his property, one crawling with tarantulas up the wazoo. Diane is amazed to see such a concentration of spiders in one place, and proposes some rather lame theories to help justify the main crux of the film, namely why thousands, even millions of spiders that are about to descend on the small, Arizona town. Oh yeah, she also finds out that the spiders have venom like five times more toxic than normal.
Well, some measures, rather futile ones at that, are initiated to try and kill the wee, hairy varmints, but to no avail. I love how the character of mayor, between a rock and a hard place with concern about an upcoming fair that generates a great deal of revenue for the small town, acts in borderline criminal fashion in dealing with the spiders. The similarity between this character and that of Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) from the vastly superior Jaws (1975) is unmistakable, but while Mayor Vaughn suffered internally for his folly, the mayor in this film just meets a rather nasty end. I know it's not fair to compare these two films, as Jaws, in my opinion, is one of the best films ever made which spawned so many copycats trying to cash in on the success of a particular genre, namely man vs. nature.
Shatner hams it up a bit as you might expect, but that added to film for me, rather than detracting. There was an odd and creepy subplot involving the widowed wife of Shatner's character's brother as a potential love interest, but that was put to rest fairly quickly, to which I was thankful. The spiders are the main attraction here, and the film certainly doesn't skimp, providing, at times, hundreds of the hairy little creatures, certainly more than enough to give this viewer a serious case of the willies. I couldn't even begin to imagine having to work around so many live spiders...I give credit to the actors for this point, and it's obvious for the scenes involving a character having to suffer spiders on their person the revulsion was real. These are the kind of reactions hard to get with CGI work. My biggest problem was with the music as it didn't always fit and became fairly annoying at times. It's interesting when music works in a movie, I don't always notice its' presence, but when it doesn't, it really stands out, like it did here for me. I don't want to give too much away, but I will say the ending was typical of these types of movies throughout the 70's.
Good Times Home Video offers a reasonably good looking print in full screen format, but don't be expecting any special features as there are none, not even a trailer. For the price, I wasn't expecting a whole lot, but given the better than average quality of the picture, I was pleasantly surprised. If you're in the mood for some good, creepy crawly fun, you could certainly do a lot worse.