Field Guide to Invertebrates in Film: Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo

Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo (1977)
Critter: Banana Spiders, Phoneutria nigriventer (a.k.a. Wandering Spiders)
Size: 3 to 5 inches in diameter
Modus Operandi: Bite victims with enormous fangs, injecting a deadly poison containing both a neurotoxin and serotonin. Victims either become feverish for hours and die or just keel over and die instantly.
How the Menace Emerges: Stowaways on an Ecuadorian coffee shipment crash land in a sleepy CA orange town and head straight for the oranges
End Goal: Bite, bite, bite; kill, kill, kill

This is an odd little eco-horror flick, one without the usual nature’s revenge angle. Instead, this town lives on its organic produce production. Sure, killer spiders are bad news, but the problem is that if the townsfolk use pesticides, their oranges, nay the towns’ very life’s-blood will be worthless. What to do? The solution to all of their problems comes from using a little creativity to warp bee buzz into a scary, wasp-like sound to paralyze our deadly pals. But will it work?

Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo is much better made-for-TV fare than say, Ants. Although the acting and the script tend towards melodrama, it is chock full of the super star power of Sheriff Lobo and Dr. Johnny Fever with more “Hey, look! It’s that guy.” moments than you can shake a stick at. It’s well shot, with an awesome post-plane crash scene. And the kid gets bitten! Boy, I do love the 70s for that. Somehow, we’ve lost the capacity to introduce wide-eyed innocents and bump them off just to raise the ante against our cinematic enemy. It’s just too bad.

Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo rolls along just as you’d expect in a 70s TV horror flick. The ending is no different, except for one misplaced sequence. It seems as if the film ends early for two of our heroes, while the rest of the town had to keep up the fight. Because I’d hate to give away any more of this flick, I won’t say more, but I couldn’t let such an oddity slip by without mention.

As an interesting side note, the venom from the Wandering Spider might be the most toxic of all spider venoms, but it is rarely known to kill people. In fact, one of the nastiest side-effects that males have from being bitten is priapism.

Nit-picking Science: Come on! We recognize that your deadly spiders are nothing more than a handful of our pals from the photogenic Theraphosidae Family! Dr. Benton, what’s that about vertical fangs? I think you are confusing these guys with real tarantulas, the only spider family with fangs that move up and down, rather than side to side.

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