When the Misses mentioned having grown up seeing this film before I couldn't believe I'd never heard of it, a horror/monster B Movie staring William Shatner as a cowboy womanising veterinarian? This was going to be right up my street, I hoped.
As any fan of B Movies knows, it is a tricky tightrope we walk between the ideas for these films sounding wondrous and the execution being about as entertaining or polished as a folding chairs display on the home shopping network from 1985. I did fear, during the first 10 minutes of Kingdom of the Spiders that despite the splendid presence of The Shatner that this was going to be a dud, that without the requisite childish nostalgia, this was going to be a turkey. That's because B Movies do scripting and character development just a slight notch above porn films and often you have to fidget and cough through 40 minutes of tedium whilst the second assistant director's cousin flashes her acting chops and sets wobble before finally you get a glimpse at a bad rubber beastie, with obviously fake gnashers trying to chase a puppy or something.
Luckily, with Kingdom, this was not the case because despite a pretty poor opening with a lot of unnecessary waffling (we don't need to know what the local inn keeper charges for cabins!), clips of Shatner trying to flirt in cowboy duds and a dull, sandy Arizona back drop, once the tarantulas show up properly and really get going the film just throws more and more creepy crawlers at the screen until literally the screen is covered in spiders. Job, as they say, done.
The film makers boast that they had 5,000 real live orange kneed tarantulas for this film (at $10 a spider, apparently) and the cast must have had nerves of steel coated in lead and glazed in gold the way these hairy critters are dropped with gay abandon all over them, even Shatner gets a ton dumped on his head and back towards the end. Thank goodness CGI had not been invented then because the real thing, mixed with the odd animatronic model in the distance, or in stunt shots, is so much more effective. This film also contains a couple of real stand out moments like the scene where, in slight homage to The Birds, a swing set goes from being devoid of spiders to slowly covered in them, trapping a terrified little girl in the process, a scene in which the sheriff drives through a small town gone mental as people frothing, swelling and dying from toxic spider bites throw themselves at the car and out of shops like deranged zombies, a crop dusting plane crashing into a barn as the pilot is over run with spiders and so on and so on for scene after scene. For a low budget B picture, it has some marvelous, uncomplicated but wholly effective set pieces.
The film even managed to whip in an anti-pesticide/environmental message that was a decade ahead of its time!
For once one of these films had obvious ambitions and achieved them without the thing looking too hokey. The real shame these days, with CGI getting cheaper and cheaper, is that independent low budget movies have turned to using ridiculously bad CG effects that look completely awful rather than having to find inventive, simple, old fashioned and effective techniques to achieve their objective. I think that's why Kingdom of the Spiders was so refreshing and fun for me because it seemed to achieve everything it set out to do, some of it very big and exciting and you never felt it was made out of the back of a caravan for a handful of crisps and a can of soda (which no doubt Shatner kept all to himself).
Yes the script was absolutely awful and no there weren't enough Shatner as a hero moments but as spider movies go I think I'll make it my top one. Stick with it and this movie has a lot to love about it. Just look at the poster, it's pure genius!
7 out of 10 sushi spider rolls
Points from The Misses 7 out of 10 sushi spider rolls