Field Guide to Invertebrates in Film: Kingdom of the Spiders

Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)
Critter: Once again, our fine, photogenic friends from the Theraphosidae family
Size: 4-5 inches in diameter
Modus Operandi: Swarms of deadly tarantulas overwhelm a victim with multiple venomous bites
How the Menace Emerges: Through the overuse of pesticides, humanity has eliminated the majority of the spiders’ typical food supply. Desperate to survive, the spiders evolve social behavior and venom 5 times stronger than their pre-pesticide days, enabling them to take down cows, puppies and people.
End Goal: Dinner

Kingdom of the Spiders is yet another entry into the 1970s eco-horror, critter attacks subgenre. No more, no less. It’s a bit slow, but there’s a spider panic riot at the end that’s worth sticking around for. The laughable William Shatner delivers an uncharacteristically understated performance as Dr. Rack Hansen, veterinarian to the farming folk of sleepy Verde Valley, AZ. When blood samples from a dead calf are sent off to Flagstaff, Dr. Denise Ashley, a sharp and strangely glamorous entomologist with big-city sensibilities and a knack for rebuking the patronizing flirtations of local yokel Hansen, enters the scene. Unfortunately, she soon crumbles under Hansen’s freakishly redneck come-ons and before long, I kid you not, she is fetching his beer. The venerable Woody Strode (Once Upon a Time in the West, The Professionals, Sergeant Rutledge) makes an excellent, sympathetic appearance that is cut far too short. Another unlikely appearance is on the soundtrack. Country/rockabilly icon Dorsey Burnette was somehow convinced to record the soundtrack, contributing four fine songs to this mess of a film.

At least the makers of Kingdom of the Spiders spent their meager budget well. According to IMDB, $50,000 went to spiders alone. That may explain how the final scene became a zoom out on a somewhat lame drawing, rather than something that could have conveyed the creepiness that they were after. It’s just too bad that a number of these fine furry actors and actresses were obviously squashed in the filming.

Nit-picking Science: Dr. Ashley, you stated that no members of the infraorder Mygalomorphae are remotely social, but oh how mistaken you are. Surely, you read Drachen’s 1967 paper describing the quasi-social behavior of the funnel-web tarantula Macrothele darcheni (Family: Hexathelidae). Or perhaps you’ve heard about the tarantula Hysterocrates gigas (Family: Theraphosidae) whose juveniles have been observed feeding cooperatively. Social behavior may be rare in spiders, and even rarer in Mygalomorphae, but it ain’t unheard of. And another thing, your comprehension of the long-term effects of DDT on arthropods is despicable, misleading and makes the rest of us look stupid. Individual spiders do not develop immunity to DDT, but populations of spiders may develop genetic DDT resistance over multiple generations. I suggest you consult an undergrad Biology textbook to discern the difference between Lamarck’s discredited theory of acquired characters and Darwin’s brilliant theory of natural selection before you mouth off again.


Dex said...

And another thing, your comprehension of the long-term effects of DDT on arthropods is despicable, misleading and makes the rest of us look stupid.

whoa now! let's keep it civil!

MrJeffery said...

This movie creeps me out. Love the country/western Dorsey Bennett theme song. Your "Field Guide to Invertebrates..." is amazing.

Amber said...

Aww, shucks! Thanks!
I always wondered if Dorsey knew he was singing about a mutant spider attack or not!