Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)

As I’ve talked about in a previous blog post, the #NotQuiteClassicCinema hashtag is an homage to one of my favourite childhood television programmes, called Not Quite Classic Theatre. Every Saturday night they showed old Hollywood monster movies until the wee hours of Sunday morning. A good portion of these old movies were of the “giant bug(s) attack a city or small town” variety. A perfect example would be Tarantula (1955), which I discussed in a different previous blog post.

It doesn’t take a genre film theorist to see a direct link between movies like Tarantula and Kingdom of the Spiders (1977). Kingdom of the Spiders is more recent, of course. And in colour (many of the old movies were black and white). However, when I was watching Not Quite Classic Theatre many of the films were only twenty-five to thirty years old. Kingdom of the Spiders is older to audiences now, than those old black and white films were to me in the 1980s (forty-three years and counting as of this writing). And I’m guessing that the look of Kingdom of the Spiders, while not foreign to me, is probably about as aesthetically different to a young person today (who is used to digital video, etc.) as black and white film was to me.

The biggest difference between movies like Tarantula and Kingdom of the Spiders is the size of the monsters, or tarantulas as the case might be. They were, of course, gigantic in Tarantula, but they are normal, everyday, regular sized tarantulas in Kingdom of the Spiders. Why would regular sized tarantulas be scary? Sheer numbers. There are thousands or millions of them. And, as the experts in the movie explain, they are more aggressive and more deadly than the normal version of these spiders.

I suppose a genre film theorist could make a case for the 1970s bringing a new sense of realism and grit to the giant bug movies of the past by making the bugs “regular sized”, but I won’t try to do that. Watching a movie like Kingdom of the Spiders gives me the exact same feeling as watching an older giant bug movie like Tarantula. It has the same small town setting, it has the same type of characters, it has the same basic plot structure. What I mean to say, is that it’s a dream come true for an old monster movie fan like me.

Kingdom of the Spiders is #NotQuiteClassicCinema gold! It’s one of those rare movies that manages to tread the line between being a “good” movie and a “bad” movie. It’s actually quite well made, and much better than one might expect. The cinematography is great, and some of the shots are downright brilliant (spiders entering the frame at just the right moment, etc.). As a piece of storytelling, it works well – and I have no trouble imagining that my childhood self would have taken this movie very seriously and been thrilled, chilled, and thoroughly entertained.

The cast is amazing as well. Former football player and iconic star of some of the greatest Westerns ever made, such as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), The Professionals (1966), and my personal favourite Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), Woody Strode plays a rancher who has to deal with the unusual infestation and its devastating effect on his animals. I first became aware of Strode in one of my other personal favourites, Vigilante (1982). Since then I have become a fan and am always happy to see him in any movie, good or bad.

His wife in Kingdom of the Spiders is played by Altovise Davis, who was married to the legendary Sammy Davis Jr.. She only has eight acting credits on the IMDb, but she somehow managed to be in several things I saw as a child, including episodes of Charlie’s Angels and CHiPs. There are actors with over a hundred credits that I’ve seen less often. How does that happen? Aside from Kingdom of the Spiders, she is in another #NotQuiteClassicCinema classic: Welcome to Arrow Beach (1974). When I was a kid, my friends and I thought The Village People were the height of cool, and used to spin 45s of YMCA and In The Navy over and over again. So imagine my surprise to discover that Altovise Davis was also in Can’t Stop the Music (1980), the Village People movie. Her acting career may have been brief, but it was remarkable. 

Without giving anything away, because you know I hate spoilers, Altovise Davis provides us with one of the greatest moments in Kingdom of the Spiders – perhaps one of the greatest moments in all of #NotQuiteClassicCinema. If you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t, you’ll know it when you see it. Trust me, it will blow you away. 

Tiffany Bolling is a minor #NotQuiteClassicCinema celebrity. Not as well known as many of her contemporaries, she is nonetheless a fan favourite for staring in such movies as Bonnie’s Kids (1972), The Candy Snatchers (1973) and, one of my personal favourites, The Centerfold Girls (1974). She is great in Kingdom of the Spiders, as Diane Ashley, a scientist and expert on spiders from the nearby university in Flagstaff. She is a strong, intelligent woman who is also a perfect foil for the (perhaps somewhat chauvinistic, but charming) town veterinarian, who is trying to deal with the strange deaths of Woody Strode’s animals.

The town veterinarian is, of course, played by larger than life legend William Shatner. What can I say about The Shat that hasn’t already been said in better places, by better people. If you are new to the planet, and do not know who William Shatner is, let me say this: he is a Canadian actor who went to Hollywood and starred is such fine examples of #NotQuiteClassicCinema as Impulse (1974), White Comanche (1968), Roger Corman’s brilliant The Intruder (1962), Big Bad Mama (1974), The Horror at 37,000 Feet (1973), Incubus (1966), The Devil’s Rain (1975) and, another one of my personal favourites, Visiting Hours (1982). Some people may remember him for a couple of other things, but these are his really important works…***

*** This is a joke. Please don’t send angry fan club lawyers to beat me up.

I’m sure that Kingdom of the Spiders would be good with or without Shatner, but he definitely brings his magic touch to it, and more than likely elevates it a notch or two. In other words, it would still be GOOD without him, it just wouldn’t be THE SAME without him. I, for one, am grateful for his presence.

And just for the record, I think the entire cast rises to the occasion and helps to make Kingdom of the Spiders (1977) a true masterpiece of #NotQuiteClassicCinema that can be enjoyed time and time again on any given #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn. I really haven’t talked enough about the director, John “Bud” Cardos (or at all, actually) – but I should have – and I undoubtedly will on another #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.