“Are you crazy lady? This is our home, and no damn spiders are gonna run us out!” - Birch Colby
Way back when, in the seventies, the success of Jaws as a worldwide phenomenon started a craze of all sorts of movies where various creatures presented a threat all of a sudden. It has to be said, most of them, unlike Jaws, were dire, but comically so. And here’s a prime example.
Another point worthy of note is that this film stars the legendary William Shatner, inbetween his stints as Captain Kirk, after the Star Trek series but a couple of years before Star Trek: The Motion Picture reignited his career. I’ve never thought Shatner is not as untalented as the majority of people would have us believe. Yes, he played Kirk as a typical scene chewing, sixties action hero, milking the action with dramatic pauses in Star Trek, but gave a more nuanced performance in the Star Trek films. Let’s also remember that he has starred in three hit primetime TV shows, and his performance as the eccentric Denny Crane in the award-winning Boston Legal was a clear display of the breadth of his talent.
However, I guess an actor is only ever as good as the script and the direction given, and both here are clearly lacking. I can’t say I really accept William Shatner as a good ol’ country boy veterinarian with an eye for the ladieez. Okay, we know that Kirk was a galactic lothario, but here – the dialogue is just cringingly clumsy, and the object of his affections sets women’s right back several decades with her practically immediate submission.
So, what’s the story here? Well, in a small town in rural Arizona, there’s a problem. Livestock are dying mysteriously. It all starts with a prize calf, grazing away as the film opens. This calf actually gives the most convincing performance in the whole movie, as it looks at the camera in wide eyed surprise and unease - something we can’t see is stalking it. Poor thing doesn’t last long before it’s brought down and the intrepid vet “Rack” Hansen (Shatner) is called. But it's too late. The calf dies and a blood sample is dispatched to a lab for testing.
Rack is a complicated soul, he obviously wants Teri (his dead brother’s widow) but other than acting petulantly when he’s called by his dead brother's name, he’s not really doing anything about it. (Here’s a bit of trivia, Teri is played by Shatner’s then wife Marcy Lafferty. Oddly, not his main love interest in the film)
The mysterious death of the Oscar worthy calf by spider venom brings an arachnologist named Diane Ashley (Tiffany Bolling) to the area. Forget the crisis and the poor farmer who has lost a calf and is fearing the financial ruin of quarantine, or his affection for his sister in law – there’s a new woman in town, and Rack wants to get him some. (Good grief). And as I mentioned cringe worthy dialogue, here’s a bit I thought I’d share…
Diane: Rack, you’re a funny man, you want be with your brother's wife, but you take care of her like you were. Isn't that like buying the cow and giving the milk away?
Rack: You don't quit pestering me, one of these mornings I'm gonna show up and start milking that cow.
Diane: Well, make sure your hands are warm.
There’s a migration of spiders in the vicinity. Specifically, tarantulas. And they’re hungry because in his infinite ignorance, man has wiped out the spiders’ usual menu with over use of pesticides. So, the hungry critters are on the move to look for something to eat. And there are thousands of them. (The film makers obviously couldn’t disguise the fact that tarantulas are actually pretty shy and in the attacking scenes are clearly trying to get away from their “victim” preferring to run away and hide.)
There is, of course a town mayor, in the exact mould of the one in Jaws, who’s more concerned with the county fair that saving lives. He insists that more insecticide be used, despite Diane’s objections. The biplane carrying the insecticide crashes into the local garage, the pilot having been overcome by hordes of spiders which have gone unnoticed in the cockpit by the pilot. Soon, the entire town is overrun by them, in a frankly hysterical scene of extras running here and there with rubber spiders attached to their clothing and a few stuntmen crashing through windows and doors. (Oh, the carnage. I particularly liked the old man who saunters past the camera with a rubber spider on his hat.)
Ultimately, Rack, Diane and a small group of survivors are sheltering overnight in a lodge, trying to keep safe from the spiders who somehow even manage to break windows by the sheer weight of their numbers. Open the door a crack and (apparently) a couple of hundred of them walk straight in.
They even get to Rack himself, but obviously (not to mention inexplicably) he’s too much of a man to be overcome by mere spider venom and recovers overnight. The following morning though, in one of those surprise twist endings, they see that not only the hotel, but the whole town, maybe the whole county, as far as the horizon, is entangled in spider webs.
And that’s how the film ends…
There have, of course been rumours that there was a sequel intended, but thankfully, it never came to be. And to think, the director actually went on record to Fangoria magazine claiming that the vastly superior Arachnophobia was a copy of this hilarious mess.
Copyright © 2010 - 2020 Robin Pierce. All Rights reserved.