Monster Movie Monday: The Giant Spider Invasion (1975)
Matthew Turner | On 07, Sep 2020
Director: Bill Rebane
Cast: Steve Brodie, Robert Easton, Barbara Hale, Alan Hale Jr., Leslie Parrish, Bill Williams, Christiane Schmidtmer, Diane Lee Hart
Watch The Giant Spider Invasion online in the UK: Amazon Prime
In the mood for a creature feature? Amazon Prime has a veritable menagerie of monster movies, so we’re working our way through them, one killer beastie at a time. Welcome to Monster Movie Mondays.
Reputedly made for just $300,000, The Giant Spider Invasion was directed by B-movie specialist Bill Rebane in 1975, the same year Jaws was released. It became a surprise hit, receiving an extended run in cinemas and ending up as one of the 50 top-grossing films of that year, albeit at the opposite end of the list from Jaws.
The film begins when what looks like a meteorite crashes down in small town Merrill, Wisconsin, spawning spiders of various sizes. For some reason, Merrill already has a bit of a spider problem, so the townsfolk are initially unfazed, but that all changes when one shows up that’s the size of a house.
While the space spiders are busy whittling down the cast, NASA’s Doctor Vance (Steve Brodie) teams up with local scientist Doctor Jenny Langer (Barbara Hale) to try and solve Merrill’s arachnid problem. They figure out that the meteor strike area is actually an interdimensional black hole and that the spiders are arriving from another planet. But can they stop the eight-legged mayhem?
Considering the low budget, the creature effects on the giant spiders (or rather, giant spider, as you never see more than one at a time) are surprisingly good. They were achieved by covering a Volkswagen Beetle in artificial black fur, with the fake legs operated puppet-style from the inside by seven members of the crew. The car’s back lights were also used for a glowing red eye effect in the nighttime scenes, though in the daylight the eyes are a slightly less scary pair of large white plastic balls.
Admittedly, the giant spiders don’t pose much of a threat to arachnophobes. However, the film also uses a job-lot of full-grown tarantulas for scenes where the spiders appear to hatch from eggs and crawl around people’s houses. To that end, the spider-wrangling is actually pretty impressive.
The gore effects are great too: Rebane clearly did a deal with a local butcher for some of the stripped-to-the-bone carcass shots, while the climax involves an impressive amount of what can only be called spider goo.
The film is packed with fun attack scenes of all shapes and sizes, including a high-school baseball game. while Rebane proves a master of shock moments. One bedroom-set sequence in particular is a veritable masterclass in suspense and pay-off, because you’re so focused on the whereabouts of one tiny spider that you’re completely unprepared for the sudden appearance of a massive one.
As for the script, it’s a frankly remarkable combination of straight-faced 1950s sci-fi – along the lines of Them! (1954) and Tarantula (1955) – and 1970s sleaze, similar to American International’s exploitation films. This was apparently the result of writers Richard L Huff and Robert Easton both approaching the film from different angles (serious vs comical) at Rehane’s request. At any rate, it works well, giving the film an unusual tone that keeps you off-guard.
The sleazy elements are so over the top that they’re genuinely hilarious. Aside from the scientists and the good-natured Sheriff (Alan Hale Jr), pretty much everyone else in Merrill is a sex-crazed lunatic. No wonder there’s also a fire-and-brimstone preacher (Tain Bodkin) in the town, whose sermons are frequently heard in the film.
At the same time, it’s genuinely refreshing to have two 50-something leads (Brodie and Hale were considered has-beens when they were cast) and their mutually respectful romance is surprisingly charming. Or at least, it is once you get past the excruciatingly sexist gag where they first meet and Vance doesn’t realise she’s the local doctor he’s there to see.
In short, this is a surprising amount of fun, thanks to an offbeat script, enjoyable performances and some oh-so-very-special effects sequences. It’s also the sort of film that has a number of very amusing on-set tales attached to it, if you like that sort of thing – we’ve run out of space here, but check out the IMDb trivia page.
The Giant Spider Invasion is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.