Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The Giant Spider Invasion (1975)

Dir. Bill Rebane
Starring: Steve Brodie, Robert Easton, Barbara Hale, Alan Hale 

All hell is busting loose in northern Wisconsin. You know how we know this? Because characters keep stating that “all hell is busting loose”. Something has fallen from the stars – it later turns out that it is a black hole – and landed in a field. The black hole leads through to a parallel universe. Soon cattle and motorcyclists are being found dead and partially eaten. It might have been semi-suspenseful to work out what could be behind this mayhem if it weren’t for the fact that the film is called The Giant Spider Invasion. Yes – that’s right. America has been invaded by… a giant spider. 

Well, technically, it has been invaded by many tarantulas, a couple of larger teddy-bear-sized puppets and one giant fifty-foot spider with glowing red eyes. The puppets look ridiculous, the giant spider looks shoddy. Thankfully the live tarantulas give a believable and naturalistic performance. Which is more than the actors do.

Now, I’m a fan of ‘50s B-movies. But this ‘70s B-movie doesn’t even scrape into the ‘so bad it’s good’ category. It is terrible. Stock footage is interspersed with two serious scientific types saying serious scientific things like ”Einstein’s Theory of Relativity” and “gamma rays”. There are some semi-interesting country types – the mean, adulterous farmer, his sozzled wife, her pert and clothing-optional little sister, the bumbling sheriff, the comical German barmaid. There are ropey special effects, three different musical stings used over and over again, awful editing, scenes where you cannot even see what is going on and a mismatched script. Apparently two different men wrote the script: one wanted a serious horror tone, the other wanted comedy. So you have these two moods jarring against each other. At one point the Sheriff (Alan Hale) references Jaws, which came out the same year (“It makes that shark look like a goldfish!”). But what Spielberg realised with Jaws was that if your central monster isn’t realistic enough, keep it unseen. In The Giant Spider Invasion we see far too much of long wooly legs, mechanical joints and glowing red eyes – the giant spider was a dressed-up Volkswagen in reverse. It just does not look good enough. It is a non-scary horror film, a non-funny comedy and a non-arousing skin flick all rolled into one. It does not know which target to aim for and consequently misses them all. 
When Ropey Special Effects Attack!
Okay, so it had a small budget. So did The Evil Dead and I loved that. The Giant Spider Invasion makes the film the children are making in Super 8 look fantastic. 

What have I learnt about Wisconsin?
Wisconsin might be in the north, but it’s just as redneck as the south. We see crotchety farmers in long johns and hellfire revival meetings. The economy seems to be based on cattle-rearing and logging. They have polka festivals (or did in the mid-70s anyway). 

The most important place in the state seems to be not Milwaukee but the state capital of Madison. The National Guard are rousted from there, and the city also has a Caltech Neutron Accelerator (just the job for plugging up black holes!) 

Can we go there?
The film is set in Marathon County, Wisconsin. The giant spider outflanks the townsfolk to go on a rampage in Gleason to the north. The film was shot in Gleason and Merrill. In fact, just last week the film was screened at the Cosmo Theater (which can be seen in the background of some rioting scenes). 150 people turned up to watch it. Wow. Dr Langer’s observatory is in the Astronomy Department of the University of Wisconsin faculty at Stevens Point. 

Overall Rating: 1/5

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