“This is our home, and no damn spiders are gonna run us out.”
Verde Valley is a small quiet little town in Arizona. Walter Colby (Woody Strode) and his wife Birch (Altovise Davis) live outside of town on a small ranch. They are heartbroken when their prize calf becomes ill. They call veterinarian Dr. Robert 'Rack' Hansen (William Shatner) for help. Unfortunately there is nothing he can do for the calf. He takes some blood and urine samples and sends them off to the lab. Perhaps they can find out why the calf died.
Soon Diane Ashley (Tiffany Bolling) arrives looking for Hanson. She tells him that the calf died of poison due to spider venom. They visit the Colbys to look at the site where the calf died. Walter shows them a giant spider mound he found on his property. The mound is full of tarantulas. Diane takes a spider with her for analysis. She sends a sample of the venom off to a lab for analysis. The sample comes back stating that the venom is five times more deadly than normal. They set the mound on fire to destroy the tarantulas. The spiders move to a new location. Soon there are twenty more mounds.
The theory is that the spiders have grown use to DDT and are no longer affected by it and that, since their normal prey have been destroyed, it’s on to bigger and better prey, both animal and human. The mayor (Roy Engel) is of course only concerned that the big town fair doesn’t get interrupted and wants poison spread anyway. The spiders have other ideas. Not satisfied with the slim pickings out in the country, the spiders decide to go to town.
“Kingdom of the Spiders” was released in 1977 and was directed by John Cardos. This independent movie was a made for TV film. It first aired on the USA channel. The movie got panned by a lot of people, but us die hard horror movie fans know that spiders are creepy. And thousands of spiders are downright spine-chilling. Even if most of them are painted or glued on. As soon as one of them moves, the hair stands on end. A lot of them move. Even if most of them are moving away from you, they still move. As far as spider run amok movies are concerned, this ends up being one scary movie.
William Shatner got a lot of grief for being in the film. It was ten years after Star Trek and before the Star Trek motion picture. His resume wasn’t exactly extensive during that period. Many questioned whether or not his career was over. But since when did Shatner ever care what people thought? Lucky for Shatner “Kingdom of the Spiders” has become sort of a cult film. I wouldn’t be surprised if Shatner’s performance was the reason why. He’s really good in this as a horse riding, woman romancing, cowboy veterinarian. A cowboy at heart, this kind of film is right up his alley. Shatner agreed to do the film as a favor to director John Cardos. Shatner and Cardos were friends.
Of course the spiders need some credit too. And there are a lot of spiders. $50,000 of the budget went to spiders. The film producers paid ten dollars for each spider. The spider handlers collected 5,000 of them. Of course there were also fake spiders and painted spiders as well. The huge number of spiders caused some issues. Tarantulas are cannibalistic so each one had to be kept in its own separate cage. They also had to be kept warm. Tarantulas are actually shy around people and would rather flee than attack. To get them to go in the desired direction the handlers had to blow on them with fans and air tubes.
In real life the bite of a tarantula is not poisonous unless you are allergic to the venom. They are carnivores and can live up to 30 years, depending on the species. They periodically shed their external skeletons. This is called molting. They can re-grow appendages. They are normally nocturnal. Females will sometimes eat their mates. There are 800 known species. Bumba lennoni is a tarantula species named after musician John Lennon.