DVD Review: “Kingdom of the Spiders”
Released By: Shout Factory
Release Date: January 19, 2010
Number of Discs: 1
Approximate Running Time: 97 Minutes
Special Features: Interview With William Shatner, Featurettes, Audio Commentary By Director John Bud Cardos, Behind-The-Scenes Footage, Poster Gallery, Trailer
Suggested Price: $19.99
A remote Arizona town is overrun by tarantulas that are apparently working collectively to eliminate every living thing in their path. A local Veterinarian (William Shatner) teams with an entomologist (Tiffany Bolling) to find a solution before it’s too late. After several failed attempts at killing the spiders only make the situation worse, the last act finds the pair gathering the surviving townspeople at a tourist lodge in a final stand against the arachnid army.
The Fanboy Factor:
One of the many “nature runs amuck” films of the 70’s, Kingdom of the Spiders differentiates itself with an enjoyable cast and enough real spiders to give arachnophobes nightmares for the rest of their lives! The film was made well before the advent of CGI and it really gives the viewer an appreciation for what the cast and crew had to go through to make a film with several thousand live tarantulas. While the plot does reach a bit, most species of spiders are solitary and cannibalistic by nature and would not work well in groups, it is still much better grounded and realistic than similar films of this genre.
During his career lull between the Star Trek television series and motion picture franchise, William Shatner starred in a number of less than stellar features. According to the commentary, Shatner wanted to be in this picture so badly, after Bo Svenson turned down the role, that he not only accepted a reduced salary but ended up firing his agent over it. In an interview included on the DVD, Shatner reveals that he was a real trooper and even suggested some of his more difficult scenes. Considering many of his performances around this time, like Impulse or The Devil’s Rain, he shows remarkable restraint for the majority of this film.
Much of the credit for the success of Kingdom of the Spiders lies with director Larry “Bud” Cardos, a student (or victim depending on who you ask) of the Al Adamson school of filmmaking. Cardos is probably best known as a back up director, often brought in to save pictures other directors have started and fallen behind on (see Mutant and The Dark for two examples). For Spiders, Cardos was the first directorial choice and he had a major influence in the casting and locations. His background as a stunt man helped him include several scenes that appear to be major effects sequences but never strayed from the tight budget.
On its original release, Kingdom of the Spiders did well at the box office and, as Shatner reveals in his interview, a sequel was planned. Had this gone through, not only would Shatner have returned as his character, who has fought his way out of the cocooned town at the cost of his sanity, but directed as well. Unfortunately Cannon Pictures went under before the film could begin production and thousands of tarantulas were sent crawling to the unemployment line.
Kingdom of the Spiders was unceremoniously dumped on the DVD market several years ago in a sell through edition devoid of the extras a film like this screams for. Now Shout Factory has released a definitive special edition that gives fans everything they could ask for. In addition to a beautiful wide screen transfer, the film has a feature length commentary with Director Cardos and enough other personnel and fans that it becomes unruly at times. The bountiful extras include the anticipated trailers and galleries but also an interesting selection of interviews. Chief among these is the Shatner one mentioned above, where he shows an infectious enthusiasm for a picture that could not have helped his career much at the time. Clocking in at around fifteen minutes, this interview is chocked full of great behind the scenes stories and trivia. A second interview with Stephen Lodge, who wrote the original script, is also informative but annoyingly brief. He spends the majority of his short screen time detailing the differences between his script and the finished film but leaves the viewer with the impression that he had more to share since he was involved in the entire production. The final interview is with spider wrangler Jim Brockett who displays a broad knowledge of arachnids and nerves of steel!
The Bottom Line:
This release from Shout Factory is a perfect example of the DVD medium put to its proper use. They have taken a thirty-three year old minor cult film and given it the kind of treatment usually reserved for major releases. For anyone who remembers this film from when it played in theaters or the frequent airings on television thereafter, it is great to see it looking so clean and vibrant all these years later. If the transfer were not enough, the DVD justifies its purchase price for the extras alone. Shout Factory has recently acquired a number of Roger Corman titles from the 80’s including Piranha and it will be interesting to see if they can maintain the high standards they have set for themselves with the release of Kingdom of the Spiders. Highly recommended.