Sunday 23 November 2008

The Giant Spider Invasion (1975)

After the celluloid abortion that was Monster a Go-Go, it's a wonder that anyone let Bill Rebane anywhere near a camera again. Admittedly he wasn't responsible for all of it but given that there wasn't a single redeeming factor in the entire film, it doesn't say much for his talent. Needless to say this is better, not just on the basis that it couldn't be worse but on the basis that it's actually a pretty enjoyable film, one that positively shines when you realise the sort of budget Rebane had to work with. There was another big monster movie made in 1975 that I'm sure you know pretty well, and it even gets a mention. 'Ever seen that movie Jaws?' asks the sheriff. The giant spider of the title 'makes that shark look like a goldfish.'

Well, no it doesn't. Needless to say this doesn't hold a candle to Jaws, but Steven Spielberg had $12m to work with and Bill Rebane had $250,000. For one fortyeighth of the budget, I think Rebane did a stunning job. Don't get me wrong: this is not a great film, but where Monster a Go-Go is a bad bad movie, this is a good bad movie. Where Monster a Go-Go is a film to just not watch, this is a film to watch and enjoy, especially if you're drunk and with a bunch of buddies. No wonder it's listed among John Wilson's 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made because that's a pretty fair description.

The title says it all. We're in northern Wisconsin where some sort of meteorite has crashed to Earth bringing with it a whole slew of geodes containing various species of what are apparently radioactive spiders from a parallel universe. Or something like that. These spiders do a little bit of running around making the local hillbilly women jump, but they also grow in size. Before you know it there's a fifty foot spider roaming the countryside chasing whole carnival loads of people. Luckily there are scientists on hand who know gibberish so well it comes out of their pores, well two of them at least. One is a local, and NASA is so concerned for national security that it sends a whole taskforce of one more scientist to assist.

So why is this better than Monster a Go-Go? Well pick any reason out of a hat and it'll be valid. It's populated with real actors for a start, maybe not people like Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss, but people like Steve Brodie, Barbara Hale and Alan Hale Jr (no relation), and it looks like they all turned it into something of a family affair. There are Brodies all over the credits, not least Steve Brodie in the lead as the NASA scientist. He made this in between Jerry Warren movies like The Wild Wild World of Batwoman and Frankenstein Island, so it's definitely a step up. He brought his son Kevin along for a small speaking role, just as Barbara Hale brought her husband Bill Williams.

It's also huge fun: how could it not be fun with a Volkswagen Beetle turned into a giant spider? Part of the fun is that it's a delightfully schizophrenic film, due to the fact that the two writers had very different approaches. Richard L Huff took it seriously, so presumably is responsible for all the scientific gibberish, which is truly stunning. Steve Brodie and Barbara Hale, in the forms of Drs Vance and Langer, brainstorm the situation with more buzzwords per sentence than can comfortably be imagined, none of which have anything to do with the price of fish. Meanwhile Robert Easton, already an established dialogue coach, had fun with it, especially given that he plays the cheating hillbilly who owns the farm the meteorite crashes onto. Alan Hale Jr has the most fun, treating the film like a comedy, beginning with a Gilligan's Island reference (for the rest of the world who didn't grow up watching this show, he was the Skipper) and keeping the humour up from there on out.

So I need to pay more attention to Bill Rebane. Monster a Go-Go would seem to be an unfortunate starting point, though wandering through IMDb I realise that I've seen his work before: films like Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake which I picked up on cheesy looking VHS from a market stall somewhere a couple of decades ago. That one came before this one, but he followed them all up with a few more and they're well represented in the various Mill Creek 50 film box sets. He only made ten films which leaves me eight to find, but I'm seeing five in these box sets: The Demons of Ludlow, The Alpha Incident, They, Twisters Revenge and The Cold. I'll definitely need to delve soon.

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