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.
Directed by Gary Jones
Written by Boaz Davidson, Stephen David Brooks, Jace Anderson, and Adam Gierasch
Starring Lana Parrilla, Josh Green, Oliver Macready, Nick Swarts, Mark Phelan, and Leslie Zemeckis
Ever since H.G. Wells wrote The Food of the Gods, scientists have been creating bigger spiders. Usually it’s in the pursuit of better nutrition, but every now and then it’s a straightforward attempt to weaponize arachnids. The film Spiders is the first entry in a series of movies based on this inadvisable weapons program.
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.
Big Ass Spider! (2013)
Directed by Mike Mendez
Written by Gregory Gieras
Starring Greg Grunberg, Lin Shaye, Ruben Pla, Alexis Kendra, Lombardo Boyar, and Ray Wise
Titles are important. They set audience expectations of tone and content. Other factors play into it of course — trailers, posters, tie-in products — but in the end, it’s just the title listed with a time. So when I learned there was a film named Big Ass Spider! I figured it would deliver a big damn spider, a comical tone, and hopefully enough action to make up for its shortcomings. Spoiler: my guess was right.
Bite Me! (2004)
Written Directed by Brett Piper
Starring Erin Brown (as Misty Mundae), Julian Wells, Rob Monkiewicz, Erika Smith, Michael R. Thomas, Caitlin Ross, and Sylvianne Chebance
If you’re setting out to review every big spider movie commercially available, you’re going to eventually have to deal with sleazy movies. I’m talking low-budget films with lots of gratuitous nudity and sex, simulated or otherwise. When I did a movie podcast years ago, the episode that broke me was about Jess Franco’s Mari-Cookie and the Killer Tarantula. Two of my friends took my displeasure as a challenge and watched for themselves. One said he’d seen worse but agreed it wasn’t good. The other sent a messenger to kick me in the junk for him. At least I’d earned it.
The Giant Spider Invasion (1975)
Directed by Bill Rebane
Written by Richard L. Huff and Robert Easton
Starring Steve Brodie, Barbara Hale, Robert Easton, Leslie Parrish, Alan Hale Jr., Bill Williams, and Diane Lee Hart
A lot of horror movies have misleading titles. The Monster That Challenged the World, for example, merely bothered a small boat. One thing I can say in defense of The Giant Spider Invasion is that its title is not technically a lie. There are spiders that are ecologically invasive, and one of them is indeed effing huge. That’s about the only thing impressive about it. The spider, I mean. More on that later.
Ator, the Fighting Eagle (1982)
aka Ator l’invincibile
Directed by Joe D’Amato
Written by Joe D’Amato and Michele Soavi
Starring Miles O’Keeffe, Sabrina Siani, and Ritza Brown
The sword and sandal genre once thrived, with heroes like Hercules and Samson knocking down pillars and wrestling lions. Maybe it died off because other cheap fare was more marketable, or perhaps an audience that had rejected tight shorts on men now demanded their heroes wear pants. Whatever the cause, it wasn’t until Arnold Schwarzenegger donned the loincloth for Conan the Barbarian that buff men running around in their underwear muscled their way back into theaters.
Spiders 3D (2013)
Directed by Tibor Takács
Written by Joseph Farrugia, Tibor Takács, and Dustin Warburton
We start in space, with the title appearing against a starry background.
I don’t have a 3D set, but if the title hadn’t mentioned it I wouldn’t have known I was missing something. So, good going titles.
The camera pans until the Earth comes into view. Then we see our planet covered by a spider. As our view pulls back we see that it’s actually on a view port of an orbiting space station. From the dead astronaut and many loose spiders, we may assume that something went wrong. Further, the Cyrillic letters on a clipboard indicate it was a Russian vessel.
If you were thinking that a meteorite would strike the space station, I congratulate you! You’ve seen a movie before.
Meanwhile, in New York City, our hero arrives at a rail transit control hub. Patrick Muldoon (“Starship Troopers”, “Days of Our Lives”) plays Jason, who seems to be some kind of district chief. One of the workers hands him an iPod. This is a gift purchased on Jason’s behalf for some young girl. Like a lot in this film, the details are murky.
When there’s a problem at the Noble Street subway station, transit worker Jimmy goes into the tunnel to investigate. He finds that something has penetrated the tunnel, but his experience fighting in Iraq tells him it wasn’t a bomb. Homeland Security is called anyway. Given that Jimmy fails to notice the large blue spider that crawls out his pants seconds after he’s bitten, it’s probably wise not to trust his observations.
Jason breaks contact with Jimmy to watch a news report on the incident. It identifies the cause as debris from a Soviet satellite launched in the 1980s. Jason decides to see the damage for himself, so he heads out. He tries to reach Jimmy again but gets no response. This is hardly surprising, as Jimmy has passed out from the toxins in his system and landed on the infamous third rail.
Jason pulls up to a subway entrance in a New York Transit van. A body is being loaded into an ambulance, and our hero asks callously if it was a jumper. A woman some kind of uniform who seems to know Jason informs him that it’s Jimmy. She is Rachel, played by Christa Campbell (“Mansquito”, “Day of the Dead”), and we’ll find out more about her later.
Down in the tunnel people in hazmat suits inspect the area with various equipment. They declare it’s free of radiation, and a bunch of officials enter — Jason and Rachel included. A Dr. Darnoff identifies a piece of wreckage as a disposal unit from the satellite. Homeland Security is satisfied, Rachel says the Health Department is not. ‘Waste’ sounds like something potentially hazardous. While everyone bickers over who’s paying for what and when the subway can re-open, nobody notices rats fleeing the area.
Later that night Rachel arrives at a Chinese restaurant where her daughter Emily has been waiting with (presumably) a babysitter, who promptly leaves after being paid. Rachel tells Emily that her father means well, and from their mention of his subway and the presence of gifts we can start to infer that Jason and Rachel might be more than friends.
Jason stops at a hospital, where a Dr. Stella takes him to the morgue. There she confirms that Jimmy died of electrocution. What’s interesting is what hadn’t killed him; she found the spider bite and worse — marble-sized eggs in his abdomen! Jason asks to take them to City Health, which probably violates all manner of procedures, but Stella readily hands them over.
Jason’s next stop is Rachel’s apartment. He gives Emily the iPod, and she happily flees the scene. Jason hands the eggs to Rachel, and she gives him divorce papers. At least we finally understand their relationship.
From here the plot spins into the well-worn patterns of government conspiracy, re-uniting family, and experiments gone wildly out of control. The area around the Noble Street station becomes overrun with spiders the size of people, and it’s up to Jason to stop the enormous queen.
It’s not what you’d call a good movie, but it’s largely entertaining and has some really nice touches. Some of the minor characters actually have significant plot beats, and even the soldiers that enforce the quarantine are shown to be people with their own motivations. The thinnest characterization is Colonel Jenkins, played by veteran actor William Hope (“Aliens”). He’s the villain of the piece, responsible for many of the named-character deaths and difficulties, but the script doesn’t give him any motivation or personality other than the face of pitiless government.
The true joy of this film is the spiders themselves. They’re goofy looking and abundant, growing to the size of a horse in roughly a single day. Then there’s the queen… But first let’s talk origin.
We’re told by Dr. Darnoff that the soviet scientists had tried to splice alien genes into several different animals but that only the attempt with spiders had succeeded. Why would they do this? To produce military-grade silk for making armor. The colonel, of course, wants to drop spider eggs on enemies.
All of which begs several grade-school level questions.
1. Why would you cross anything potentially dangerous with a spider? You know what you cross spiders with? Tomatoes! Tomatoes never killed anybody.1
2. When did the silk plan enter the picture? Did the dead aliens have a gold-plated record that told of the wondrously strong silk their genes produced? It seems more like something the scientists made up when they were caught making alien-hybrid spiders.
3. Why did they stay relatively small in the space station? Granted it’s not like there was a lot of food, but it’s not as though they spent enough time eating to grow as big as they did so quickly on Earth.
4. What did they eat on the space station? A cosmonaut, obviously. But then what? The station was essentially abandoned for decades.
5. After the giant spiders wipe out your enemy, how do you get rid of them? The Orkin army?
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. All you need to know is that all mysteries are explained by “alien
DNA” and that the queen is the size of a nice house in the suburbs.
While it’s not CGI on the level of “Jurassic Park” or Peter Jackson’s “King Kong”, the effects in this are a darn sight better than the typical fare in modern spider movies. For the most part the spiders interact reasonably well with the environment, and the design is fun. They have big humanoid eyes and multiple sets of jaws. Best of all, the queen shows accumulated damage from all of the bullets and general artillery that have hit it. When so many details are omitted, glossed over, or otherwise left to the viewers’ imagination, this demonstrates that genuine care went into the production.
Overall I found “Spiders” entertaining and a touch above the average monster flick. Despite a run-of-the-mill plot and some standard failings, it’s a movie that I can go back to again and again.
And maybe one day I’ll manage to see it in 3D!
Patrick Muldoon is no stranger to fighting giant spiders. Even if you don’t count “Starship Troopers”, he starred in the direct to TV “Ice Spiders”.
I actually appreciate that the script leaves Jason and Rachel’s relationship undefined for so long. It seems more natural that they don’t talk about it all the time.
Of all the people in the film, I feel sorriest for the babysitter. It sucks for all the victims, but here’s a girl who was just picking up some spare cash, and she gets put in quarantine and killed almost as an afterthought.
1. “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” doesn’t count.