From the Vault: Giant Spiders (Mania.com)

By:Tim Janson
Date: Sunday, November 04, 2012
Source: Mania.com

I confess that I hate spiders.  They give me the creeps.  But at the same time they fascinate me.  Outside of the office where I work we have a bush where a spider had built an elaborate web.  This was the largest spider I had ever seen outside of on TV or a pet store.  This spider was about 2” long and was orange brown with black stripes.  A storm washed him out but the resourceful little devil was back and rebuilding the web a couple of days later.

Of course the spiders of this week’s From the Vault are just a BIT bigger.  At the height of the giant bug craze of the 1950s which started with “Them” in 1954, we got two films featuring giant arachnids terrorizing small towns.  This week we take a look at “Tarantula” and “Earth Vs, The Spider”

Tarantula
Universal 1955
Cast: John Agar, Leo G. Carroll
Running Time: 81 Minutes
Grade: B+

 

Tarantula has always been one of my favorites in the Giant Monster genre of films and I rank it right up there (almost) with "Them".

Professor Deemer is working on an experimental nutrient to solve the worlds hunger problem. During a fight with an assistant, a Tarantula that had been injected with the experimental formula escapes and begins to mutate, growing large and larger. Soon the giant arachnid is out feeding on livestock, ranchers, and just about anything else that gets in its way. A local doctor played by the great John Agar eventually is able to determine that white stuff found at the site of the attacks is spider venom. Soon the local police and residents take on the giant spider but bullets and even dynamite don't slow it down. Finally, the Air Force is called in to drop napalm on the spider killing it.  In a bit of trivia we get a brief glimpse of Clint Eastwood in an early, uncredited role as an air force pilot. 

 
Sure the special effects may be cheesy by today's CGI standards, but for the period they were actually pretty good.  Rather than construct puppets or models of the spider, they instead used an actual tarantula with models of buildings to give  it the appearance of being gigantic.  This is still a great movie and wonderful fun. The type you want to watch on a summer night at the drive in with a big bowl of popcorn.

 

 

Earth Vs. The Spider
American International Pictures 1958
Cast: Ed Kemmer, June Kenney
Running Time: 73 Minutes
Grade: C+
 
Earth Vs. the Spider…and you've got to love the dramatic sound of that title even if it isn't remotely accurate…came out in 1958 on the downside of the giant bug craze that began with "Them" in 1954. The film was directed by legendary B movie director Bert I. Gordon who directed such bad movie classics as "The Amazing Colossal Man", "War of the Colossal Beast" and "Picture Mommy Dead".
 
This is yet another mutated by radiation giant bug movie that is inferior to 1955's Tarantula in every way but still kind of a fun film, if for nothing else than the sheer ridiculousness of the whole thing. A couple of teenagers are out searching for one's missing father and come upon a cave which is the lair of a giant spider. The kids escape and return with local law enforcement officers as well as a teacher and spray it with DDT, apparently killing it. But the monster is just unconscious and it's put on display in the high school gym. While practicing for a school dance a band's rock music awakens the spider from its slumber and of course it goes on a rampage before it's eventually cornered and destroyed back in its cave lair.

 

OK, it's pretty lame in terms of effects...bad models, and trick photography of real tarantulas which are obviously very different in appearance. Plus bad perspective of the spider as it seems to change size from shot to shot. But part of that is the charm of Bert I. Gordon. The acting is of course horrible by the mostly no-name cast. One side note is that the school janitor is played by Hank Patterson who went on to play Fred Ziffel in Green Acres as well as having a recurring role for several years in Gunsmoke.

 



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