It’s probably difficult to imagine in our climate-hysterical modern days but the ’70s had it all over us in the “nature gone amok” genre. In classic pagan tradition, nature was just a generally malicious thing whether it was killer bees or earthquakes—but one way or another she was pissed and we were gonna pay. If the $15M box office for this $300K movie is accurate, Bill Rebane’s Wisconsin-based magnum opus finished ahead of The French Connection II and The Eiger Sanction but behind the Bronson/Ireland thriller Breakout and the Burt Reynold’s comedy W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen The Giant Spider Invasion. It was a staple of late night T.V. when I was growing up. It’s weird and funny and kind of amazing that it achieved what it did at the budget it had—on an apparently disastrous shoot where spiders didn’t work and guys hiding in VW vans were suffocating while trying to move spider arms, and things weren’t breaking down or blowing up when they should, only when they might actually hurt someone.
Alan Hale (Jr.) plays a small town sheriff who barely leaves his office (classic low budget trick) and Barbara Hale (no relation) plays a scientist who comes with a fellow scientist (longtime TV actor Steve Brodie) to discover what fell from the sky into a pasture in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, it fell in the farm of (veteran character actor) Robert Eaton and (TV legend) Leslie Parrish, the former of whom is a jerk and the town whore’s #1 customer, and the latter of whom is an alcoholic (and not precisely a prostitute but certainly a cheap date). The meteor-ish object that hits the ground is full of geodes that may or may not be diamonds—movie characters repeatedly say they’re not but also demonstrate complete unreliability.
It’s the sort of plot that would lead to murder and mayhem in most circumstances, but here it all just leads to spiders. Lots and lots of spiders. (Oh, and there’s a preacher who interacts with literally none of the movie’s characters, though the characters do reference him a lot.)
And these are some gorgeous spiders, too. I actually felt a little bad for them, being in this movie. Tarantulas are not really show-biz people, and they get buffeted around and dropped onto people and I think it was a good edit, but it looks like one gets squashed with an iron. The girl in her underwear squashing the tarantula with the iron was usually the scene they’d show when this movie was going to be on “The Late, Late Show” or whatever.
But the fake spiders are great, too. Cars in tarantula costumes. Puppets of some kind. I’m still not sure how they did the scene with the giant spider in the street. I guess it was more of a marionette, but while it’s completely unconvincing on any level, it’s fun. Which sort of sums up this movie.
This is great riffing material and Mike, Bill and Kevin do a great job here. There’s a lot of good guffaws and giggles, and there are plenty of moments—especially in the opening short which is all done with the creepiest marionettes and is about using the telephone sensibly—where no commentary is needed.
Kevin Murphy has another great song for this one, too, in the style of Neil Young, called “Giant Spider on the Highway”. Worth watching!