Sounds good doesn’t it? I was expecting a black and white masterpiece of the 50’s when I first came across this. Alas its actually from the mid 70’s which means its in colour and full of dodgy hairstyles and fashion. Still, can’t not be intrigued with a title like that huh.
So somewhere in rural (always rural) Wisconsin a meteorite crash lands which lights up the sky on impact (literally lights up the sky with some awful colour effects). Now somehow, don’t ask me how, but somehow this meteorite contains lots of spiders, all of which look remarkably like spiders here on Earth (don’t question it). These spiders seem to vary in size from your regular tarantula size (because they are tarantulas), to dog size, to house size.
I’m not too sure how these spiders survived the impact but they do appear to be cocooned within small circular rocks (rocks which also contain diamonds!). So I guess that sorts that (?). But do they spawn in the rocks? Do they use the rocks as shields against the vacuum of space? What do they feed on? Where did they come from? When they emerge on Earth why do they start to grow slowly? Why do they grow to such enormous sizes?
The main crux of the movie is of course the spiders, but leading up to that there are various boring subplots surrounding various characters. We are introduced to each individual and shown what type of person they are. Not that that matters much because this was a low-budget affair only intent on showing you spiders eating people. But sure enough, this being the countryside most of the townsfolk are hick types bordering on rednecks. Most of these rather unwashed looking characters are generally either in troubled relationships or simply up to no good such as one character trying to sweet talk an underage female (gulp!).
I guess I should point out that a few of the actors in this movie are/were well known stars on American TV shows as well as movies of the time. Director Bill Rebane managed to do what Quentin Tarantino once did which was gather together a bunch of forgotten stars (probably on the cheap) who were happy for the work. Obviously the quality of film and outcome differed slightly.
Anyway back to the arachnids (effects). So what are they like, the effects. Well whaddaya think they’re gonna be like? Obviously all the effects are pretty much on the cheap and homemade, but with much care and attention. There are plenty of wispy cobwebs hanging about the place and they do use quite a lot of real tarantulas which is quite effective for certain shots. There are also some bigger shock sequences such as a house (room set) being torn apart by the giant spider; and a guy getting mauled by the giant spider in his car which leads to a crash and explosion. I was actually reasonably impressed with the real tarantulas popping out of the ball shaped diamond encrusted space rocks (almost like eggs). Clearly they did put real tarantulas inside these balls and sprung them open to reveal the creepy contents.
The larger spiders is where things obviously go down hill somewhat. A large dog sized spider leaps onto one female character at one point which is quite amusing. Its very obvious someone threw this rubber spider at the actress…and its quality stuff. The oversized fangs, wobbly legs, and eyes are especially top quality. But its the giant spider that wreaks havoc on the town that is the big draw. Apparently the effects guys built this thing out of a VW Beetle; simply covering it with black fur, big legs, and using the rear lights as eyes. The crew operated the legs from inside the car. Ingenious if I do say so myself because the bottom half of the spider vehicle is always out of sight, which does actually give the solid illusion of a slow moving giant spider roaming the US countryside. There are quite a few shots showing this thing in the distance and it genuinely does look quite good.
Its was also quite gory too. This giant VW spider has big fangs below its (two) big red eyes and doesn’t hesitate to slam them into its victims as they are dragged up into its gaping maw. I assume the crew inside are pulling the actor inside the car via the sunroof when the spider eats someone. But this simply action is well edited and accompanied by a good gallon of blood that flows down the victims body. All in all its pretty satisfying to see people getting eaten by this mega arachnid or watch crowds of people flee from it. That and the individually moving legs, overall its a solid effect cleverly thought out.
I love how despite everything that occurs you never see any real police, army, or scientific presence. Its like no one outside that town knows whats going on at all and no one thinks to call for any external help. Pretty much all the characters are scummy or too gruff and you don’t care about them. Plenty of stock footage, a staple of these cheap crappy movies. Day and night switching between shots in classic Ed Wood style. The movies explanation for the spider invasion is ridiculous, an interdimensional gateway. The solution? A Caltech neutron initiator (‘it just might work!‘), like yeah…whatever you say bud. Apparently they drop this thing in the meteorite crater and switch it on. This does something that closes the interdimensional gate which in turn causes all the spiders to melt (an admittedly neat little melty effect sequence). Like I said, don’t question it.
You probably know not to expect too much from a movie like this. A cheap sci-fi B-movie that looks like its been shot on a camcorder. Visually it looks like a shoddy exploitation movie at times. Those 70’s styles and especially the violent and panicky street mob sequences. Its a throwback to the corny giant bug movies of the 50’s (check that poster), yet they made it to genuinely compete with ‘Jaws’! Somehow this went on to make quite a bit of money for Transcentury Pictures and has since become a cult. I can understand why but for me personally I think it would be a lot more enjoyable and effective in black and white (and set in the glorious 50’s).
‘if it doesn’t work, then old buddy we’ve got company for dinner‘