Monster Island (2004)
Directed by Jack Perez
Written by Adam Glass and Jack Perez
Starring Daniel Letterle, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Chelan Simmons, Carmen Electra, Adam West, C. Ernst Harth, Alana Husband, La La Anthony, and Nick Carter
The horror movies of the 1950s have a certain cachet, not as exemplary films but as enjoyably cheesy. It’s a nostalgia thing, and it’s no surprise that filmmakers like Larry Blamire have used that as inspiration for their own efforts. Capturing that feeling of how we think movies were is a delicate task, and what is intended as homage can come of as misinformed, disingenuous, and cynical. By way of example, I give you the MTV production, Monster Island.
Fury of the Congo (1951)
Directed by William Berke
Written by Carroll Young
Starring Johnny Weissmuller, Sherry Moreland, William Henry, Lyle Talbot, Joel Friedkin, and George Eldredge
Odds are that if you know about Johnny Weissmuller at all, you know him as an actor who played Tarzan. Maybe you even know about his pockets full of Olympic gold and record-setting competitive swimming career. If you read my last review, you also know he faced a giant spider in Tarzan’s Desert Mystery. Well, my friends, today you’ll learn about his second encounter with a big damn spider, as Jungle Jim in Fury of the Congo.
Tarzan’s Desert Mystery (1943)
Directed by Wilhelm Thiele
Written by Edward T. Lowe Jr. from a story by Carrol Young
Based on characters by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Starring Johnny Weissmuller, Nancy Kelly, Johnny Sheffield, Otto Kruger, Joe Sawyer, Lloyd Corrigan, and Robert Lowery
There are movie series that feature giant spiders in recurring roles. With heavy-continuity franchises like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, it can be tricky to figure out how to handle the review. It’s a lot easier with the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan films, which are largely unconnected apart from basic character facts. For the 8th installment, Tarzan’s Desert Mystery, all you need to know is that there’s a guy named Tarzan (Weissmuller) who wears a buttflap. He has a son named Boy (Johnny Sheffield), who is also averse to clothing. Forget about Jane. She’s in England, helping out by working as a nurse.
Curse of the Black Widow (1977)
Directed by Dan Curtis
Written by Robert Blees and Earl W. Wallace
Starring Anthony Franciosa, Donna Mills, Patty Duke, June Lockhart, June Allyson, Max Gail, Jeff Corey, Sid Caesar, and Vic Morrow
In the annals of Western cinema there are many monsters that take a human form, revealing their true nature only to kill. Perhaps the most tragic is the werewolf. Victim of a communicable curse, the lycanthrope is an unwilling servant of evil chained to the lunar cycle. But there are other beasts whose transformations are tied to the Moon: weremoths, werepanthers, and in Curse of the Black Widow a werespider.
Directed by Jack Sholder
Written by Mark Sevi
Starring Chris Potter, Alex Reid, José Sancho, Neus Asensi, Ravil Isyanov, and Luis Lorenzo Crespo
It feels like most of the time we see giant spiders in the wild, they’re in caves. Certainly when they’re the focus of the plot, they’re in or approaching population centers. The one in Arachnid is an outlier in a number of respects, but primarily for spending the entire film on a tropical island.
Directed by Peter Yates
Written by Stanford Sherman
Starring Ken Marshall, Lysette Anthony, Freddie Jones, Francesca Annis, Alun Armstrong, David Battley, Bernard Bresslaw, Liam Neeson, John Welsh, and Robbie Coltrane
When I think of swashbuckling, I picture fantastic adventure and daring heroes, such as Sinbad and Robin Hood. The Buck Rogers comic strips and serials brought the sensibilities of the style into the realm of science fiction, and Star Wars launched a powerful franchise out of the mixture of fantasy, adventure, and technology. There have been quite a lot of imitators, but few ever approached the delightful world-building or production values achieved by Krull.
The Giant Spider (2013)
The Giant Spider (2013)
Written and Directed by Christopher R. Mihm
Starring Shannon McDonough, Daniel Sjerven, Billie Jo Konze, Michael Cook, James Norgard, and Mark Haider
Homage movies can be a challenge to review. More than most movies they are meant to be seen in the context of a particular genre and/or period of filmmaking, depending on the audience having at least passing familiarity with the sources. It’s similar to the spoof, which relies on audience expectations built from one or more previous movies. They can be hard to distinguish at times — much of the humor of The Lost Skeleton of Cadavracomes from deliberately crafted flaws, typical of the movies it emulates — but in general the homage seeks to tell a story more than to poke fun. Such a film is The Giant Spider
Directed by Jeff Leroy
Written by Eric Spudic
Starring Lisa Jay, Jeff Ryan, Phoebe Dollar, Calley Edmunds, and Ron Jeremy
Some movies aren’t good. Some movies are so bad they’re enjoyable. Some movies try to be so bad they’re enjoyable and wind up on SyFy. Some movies take that as a challenge and appear to be created as some form of social experiment to find out if people will actually watch anything. I owe apologies to some of the movies I’ve panned, because Creepies proved that it’s possible to be more artless and less ambitious than The Asylum.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)
Directed by John S. Robertson
Written by Clara Beranger, based on the play by Thomas Russell Sullivan, based on the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson
Starring John Barrymore, Martha Mansfield, Brandon Hurst, Charles Lane, Cecil Clovelly, and Nita Naldi
The story of Jekyll and Hyde is one of the foundations on which modern horror is built. Not only does it have the scientist experimenting on himself, but it lays out the format for internal crises of morality and identity being played out in physical manifestations. Certainly werewolves existed in folklore and fiction beforehand, but they were evil and corrupted in human form as well. Larry Talbot’s struggle against the beast inside of him has more to do with Henry Jekyll than with legend. In one of the most fascinating adaptations of the book, however, Jekyll isn’t initially trying to exorcise evil from the human condition but to let himself enjoy it.
L’araignée d’or (1908)
aka The Gold Spider
Written and Directed by Segundo de Chomón
This one is a special treat. Not only is it the earliest big spider movie I’ve heard of, but it’s also one of the oldest surviving representations of a spider on film! It’s only eight minutes long, and one shot is badly damaged, but L’araignée d’or is a splendid example of early narrative film and special effects.