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THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION – A Retrospective

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A 35-minute cut of THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION will be shown on Super-8 sound film at Super-8 GIANT MONSTER Movie Madness next Tuesday, May 1st at The Way Out Club in St. Louis.

Wisconson-based regional filmmaker Bill Rebane’s no-budget wonder THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION was a hilariously cheesy 1975 throwback to the giant-monster flicks of the 50s, a trend then enjoying a revival with films like EMPIRE OF THE ANTS and FOOD OF THE GODS. This outrageous mix of giant monster motifs and backwoods sleaze plays like a hybrid of TARANTULA and THE BLOB with its mixture of giant spiders and falling meteors. I saw THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION at the long-shuttered Ellisville Cinema in West St. Louis County (on a double bill with the David Niven vampire comedy OLD DRACULA). I recall the poster in the lobby which featured a gargantuan spider bearing down on a group of terrified people. In the air above the mega-arachnid was three helicopters and lying crumpled at the spider’s legs were burning cars as spotlights filled the sky. One of the terrorized was a busty young blonde wearing only a negligee. I was jazzed, convinced I was about to experience the greatest cinematic thrill ride of my young life. Upon purchasing my ticket, I was handed a cool 4-page full-color comic book adaption of the film (yes, I still have it).

The main character in THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION, Farmer Dan Kester, is played by Robert Easton who cowrote the screenplay and looks dashing in his red longjohns. Easton (who died last year) was a grizzled character actor known for playing hillbillies and rednecks but, as a master of accents and dialects, was considered one of a Hollywood top dialect coaches. Anyway, Kester discovers his field is full of dead cattle that surround a large hole in the ground. He also stumbles upon some baseball-sized rocks (constantly referred to as “geodes”) which, when busted open, contain what appears to be diamonds. Kester’s farmhouse is white trash enchantment. His boozy wife Ev (Leslie Parrish – LIL ABNER’s Daisy Mae) is an bitchy lush, so he lusts after her jailbait little sister (Dianne Lee Hart who performed in Drive-in gems as LINDA LOVELACE FOR PRESIDENT and THE POM POM GIRLS and, despite a PG rating, is topless in THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION) and still finds time to carry on an affair with a local waitress (Christiana Schmidtmer, the warden in THE BIG DOLL HOUSE). When busting open the geodes, Kester doesn’t realize that he also exposes some spider eggs, and his home is soon crawling with furry tarantulas. In the film’s best-remembered gross-out scene, one of the crawling critters tumbles into the blender of Parrish’s Bloody Mary mix, and she unknowingly slurps down the Tarantula Smoothie. Her disgust is short-lived as she’s soon being attacked by a dog-sized spider puppet that pops out of her sock drawer which she is forced to catch and make look real.

That puppet later grows enormous, and at that point this “queen” spider is played by an altered Volkswagen Beetle dressed in a furry dark rug and eight giant hairy legs. That’s right, THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION is known as the film where the bug was played by a bug. Rebane had it made when the film’s distributor insisted that his film include creature special effects to rival the shark in JAWS, which was then in production. Rebane said in an article (at the Undead Backbrain website found HERE): “We had a VW sitting at the studio and a friend of mine said “Can we make a spider out of that?” Rebane’s friend Carl Pfantz figured it out. “Pfantz’s steel framework was covered with black Fun Fur to make the spiders both hairy and scary.” said Rebane, “The mechanical nature of the beast required seven people to be stuffed within the cramped confines of the VW floorpan – a driver and six children to work the spider’s legs.”

What’s especially charming (and awful) about the queen spider is that it is so obviously built atop a Volkswagen Beetle frame. I was 13 when I saw it and remember thinking to myself “Hey, that spider is a built atop a Volkswagen Beetle frame!”. During its nighttime rampage down the streets of Merrill, Wisconsin (actually the day for night photography switches to night for day within the same scenes), its orb-like eyes pulse with an orange glow resembling taillights (were they driving it backwards?). Really, one does have to appreciate the low-budget ingenuity, but still, the end result is less of a menace and more of a loathsomely hairy parade float. Seeing people get sucked upside down into one of these things, blood gushing and all, is a site to behold. Other veterans in the cast are Barbara Hale (“Perry Mason”) and Steve Brodie as a NASA scientists who deduce the invasion (with various scientific-sounding language) to be the result of some sort of intergalactic gateway, a plan thwarted when they simply close it off, draining the spiders of their energy and causing them to melt into puddles of disgusting but colorful sludge.

Director Rebane had MONSTER A-GO GO (co-directed by Herschel Gordon Lewis), RANA THE LEGEND OF SHADOW LAKE under his belt, and went on to make THE CAPTURE OF BIGFOOT and BLOOD HARVEST (starring Tiny Tim!) but THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION remains his most watchable film. By today’s phony, technologically dependent, CGI-enhanced, multi-billion dollar standards it’s a piece of crap, but THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION, which Rebane claims only cost $250,000 to produce (one wonders where the budget went),is a whole lot of fun. It’s never for a moment dull and is the kind of movie worthy a large interactive audience (it’s a favorite of fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000, who memorably skewered it). Michael Bay has yet to outfit a Volkswagen bug with legs to make it look like a giant spider and I’d respect him more if he did.

I’ve been collecting the condensed Super-8 Sound editions of movies for about 15 years now and am always thrilled when some odd title pops up for sale that I had no idea was ever released in the format. I host the monthly Super-8 Movie Madness show at The Way Out Club here in St. Louis the first Tuesday of every month where I show about 14 of these films from my vast collection. The hard-drinking crowd of movie buffs always appreciates films with the cheesiest aesthetics and there are few movies cheesier than GIANT SPIDER INVASION. A month or so ago ago, I was perusing ebay.uk and there it was. The seller claimed the Super-8 GIANT SPIDER INVASION was a two-part, 800-foot version. 35 minutes of Giant Spider madness! I couldn’t believe it! I immediately bid on the film (and bid high – I wasn’t the only one who spotted this gem). I won, paid airmail shipping via paypal, and waited anxiously. Well, it’s arrived and it’s a beauty! The color is superb, the sound is clear, and it’s edited around all the arachnid goodness! I’ll be showing my Super-8 GIANT SPIDER INVASION at the May 1st edition of Super-8 Movie Madness, a special theme show I’m calling Super-8 GIANT MONSTER Movie Madness. I’ll also be showing the giant monster movies WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST, THE GIANT CLAW, MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, REPTILICUS, 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH, YONGARY MONSTER FROM THE DEEP, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, and a Stop-Motion Trailer Reel featuring many of Ray Harryhausen’s big beasts. he non-giant monster movies we’re showing May 1st are: The Marx Brothers in DUCK SOUP, Charlton Heston in BEN HUR, W C Fields in IT’S A GIFT, a Clint Eastwood Trailer Reel, and for the fourth time the Little Rascals in the Super-8 Movie Madness favorite THE KID FROM BORNEO (Yum Yum, Eat ‘em Up!).

The Way Out Club is located at 2525 Jefferson Avenue in South St. Louis (corner of Jefferson and Sydney). Admission is only 3 bucks. There will be lots of posters and T-Shirts and stuff given away. Come join me and the spiders from the geodes for a night of giant monster fun.

The facebook invite for Super-8 GIANT MONSTER Movie Madness is HERE

http://www.facebook.com/events/264301753660601/

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