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Beware the horny Shatner! “Kingdom of the Spiders”

October 11, 2012

Kingdom of the Spiders was one of those movies on seemingly constant rotation on HBO in the early ‘80s—that and Outland: apparently the programmers in those days were positively enthralled with spiders and Sean Connery—but I was always too chicken to watch it with my buds (whose parents weren’t puritanical whack jobs when it came to cable TV). There’s a good reason for that: spiders skeeve me out. Not Indiana Jones-and-snakes-level skeeve, but…I’m sorry nothing should have that many eyes. I’m not thrilled about the segmented body and fangs either. Anyway, I decided to catch up with KotS now, a scant 28 or so years later, since I am an adult and thus, immune to fear. My first impression of this film: Sweet Crap, it has Shatner! My next impression: Whoa, Shatner on the prowl is even creepier than the spiders!

Kingdom was made in 1977—a time when hack movie-makers took a look at the success of Jaws and at the popularity of the environmentalist movement and said, what if the shark ate people because he was all pissed off about over-fishing? Best of both worlds! Ridiculous as this seems, it spawned a rich subgenre of nature-strikes-films whose influence was felt as recently as 2008 with M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening. The major difference being that M. tried to build a mystery into his film’s goings on, whereas the ‘70s movies put the central beastie pretty much up front. So, if you’re going into Kingdom of the Spiders expecting a malevolent creature that’s not a fuck-ton of spiders, you’re gonna be disappointed.

“Hello. I’ll be your sexxxy guide for the evening…and maybe the morning ;)”

The movie takes plays in Verde Valley, Arizona (which is interesting, since there isn’t a whole lot of verde in that valley). Things begin innocuously enough as a local rancher fusses over his prize calf he wishes to enter in the upcoming State Fair. Unfortunately, we know the calf isn’t long for this world, for as the calf goes happily a-grazing on the, uh, sparse grass (say, is this the best place to raise cattle?) we get a spider-eye view of it being stalked from all sides. A couple minutes later and it’s veal cutlets all around.

Enter Shatner. The Shatner, bitches.

Billy plays the local veterinarian nicknamed Rack (there’s a long story about how he got his nickname that ends with brother being killed in ‘Nam), and he gets called out to look at the dead calf. He thinks something’s hinky—the cow has insect bites all over it, but they wouldn’t cause death–so he calls the local University for an entomologist. The University promptly sends out their hottest (and, uh, presumably smartest) bug doctor, Diane Ashley.

“Yes, ladies, the Shatner also comes in ‘Cowboy'”

Rack and Diane head out to the farmer’s place where they arrive in time to see a cow being felled by a gang of unruly tarantulas. They also find a massive spider-mound (that is, a big mound of earth filled with spiders). Ashley makes some noise about how aggressive the spiders seem to be, and how these are. Diane, with no evidence at all to support her theory, decides it must be the overuse of pesticides that’s causing all the fuss. The reasoning being that the pesticides are killing off all the insects that spiders normally eat, so now they’re eating cattle. Now, this seems a bit dodgy to me, but what do I know? Am I a hawt bug expert? Well, since you probably don’t know me I’ll just tell you that no, I am not a hawt bug expert. Diane also does some tests which determine that the spiders’ natural venom is five times as deadly as a regular tarantula’s. So now they’re basically dealing with super-mega-banzai spiders.

“Look at it. You know you want to.”

Distressingly, the Shat-man is totally putting the moves on Diane, and…ew…just ew. This film was made during Shatner’s long period in the wilderness between Star Trek the series and the release of the movies when he would go on to geek godhood and take with it the massive power and sexual charisma that is James Tiberius Kirk (and, to a lesser extent, TJ Hooker). No, here he really tries to be Rack, and…well, Shatner has no game. He actually has, like, negative game. A game void that sucks game into it and crushes it into a lump of ore. Rack runs around in a form-fitting western shirt and jeans so tight that even Robert Conrad in Wild Wild West would have balked at. He deploys lines like, “Look, you’re going to eat. I’m going to eat. Why don’t we do it together?” Then he deploys the whole “my-little-brother-got-killed-in-‘Nam” to seal the deal. He’s freakin’ creepy, and watching him mack on Ashley sort of made my spleen hurt.

“Yeah, chicks dig a man in uniform.”

Oh yeah, and he looks after his niece and sister-in-law who clearly lusts after his most Shatneriffic bod. That doesn’t alleviate the ick as much as you’d think it would.

Anyway, Rack and Diane go back to the farm and decide to torch the mound. Unfortunately, this is a film in which the leads are incapable of even burning a patch of earth, and the spiders escape through a back door. So everyone goes back to having a good time. Which, for Rack, means charming pants off the hot doctor. Only problem is, the spiders are pissed now and ambush the farmer as he’s driving to town. Yeah, they go at him with crowbars and tire-irons until he says uncle. No, actually they just bite him until he runs off the road. When the cops and Rack find him (because, when you have a vehicle wreck, the first guy you want on scene is a vet), the farmer’s been encased in a cocoon. Uh-oh. Time for Plan B.

“I’m hanging on your every word…”

There’s some disagreement about what Plan B should be, however. The mayor wants to hose the landscape down with toxic pesticides. Diane thinks that this is too dangerous to the eco-system and wants to just let the spiders’ natural predators—rats and birds—take care of the problem. Apparently, she missed the part where the spiders took down some friggin cows! She doesn’t bolster her case particularly well when she calls the mayor “ignorant.” I’ve found that people tend not to become more agreeable when you insult their intelligence. Anyway, the mayor is worried about the spiders ruining the annual State Fair, which is a big revenue-generator for the town.

I realize that this movie was made during the bad economic times of the late ‘70s, but when your town’s economic well-being is only secured by a State Fair, it might be time to start courting some chicken-processing plants or correctional facilities or something.

“Wardrobe could only find this tight shirt for me to wear. Oh well…”

So the local barnstormer goes up in his trusty biplane to nuke them. Unfortunately for him, the spiders were big donors to Joe Wilson’s Senate campaign and he arranged for them to receive some Stringer missiles and they make short work of the plane. Ha! No, I’m kidding, but wouldn’t it be awesome if that’s really what happened? Yeah, but they just stowaway on his plane and bite him until he crashes into the local gas station, producing a disappointingly small fireball. Our Mensa-level leads promptly run past the fuel pumps to try and rescue the pilot while shouting things like “Get water! Call the fire department!” (well, der-hey).

So now the spiders are pissed and they march on the town, laying the place waste (hey doc, when exactly are the rats and birds supposed to take care of things?). Rack, Diane and a couple other forgettable people hole up in a local motel and the rest of the movie plays out sorta like Assault on Precinct 13. Except with tarantulas. The film ends with the whole town being encased in spider webs, and the survivors marveling at the awesome power of nature. And probably what a rip-off of The Birds this ending is.

“Tale one last look at the hat, ladies.”

So, was KotS worth all that childhood fear and dread? Well, it’s still creepy as hell if you don’t like spiders. And, of course, watching Shatner pitch woo is cringe-inducing. Thankfully, we’re well in our way to demolishing the environment, so we’re probably not going to have to worry about a spider invasion. So that’s a good thing. Shatner, however, would go on to flirt and flirt again. Some things Man is helpless to stand against.

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