Everything Can Be Wonderful Again…. Like It Was Before The Baby Died.
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Let’s not bullshit. If you are reading this review, it’s probably for 1 of 2 reasons. 1.) Either you are the kind of regular reader that people like me are just begging for (in which case, THANK YOU sooo much!!!!!), or B.) you remember this movie from its riffing on Mystery Science Theater 3000. There is that odd chance that you remember this film from its drive-in days. If so, that would put you a little closer to group #1.
Even without the MST3K riffing, The Giant Spider Invasion is still a fairly entertaining film. The plot is incredibly simplistic: Meteorites crash on a farm in Wisconsin. They crack open unleashing a horde of spiders that wreak havoc throughout the small town. Eventually, a giant spider emerges and attacks the city and it’s citizens. While succeeding in being a farcical tribute to 1950’s “giant monster” movie, the film is also a milestone in DIY film making. No, seriously.
The film is directed by Wisconsin filmmaker Bill Rebane, director of films such as The Alpha Incident & Blood Harvest, starring Tiny Tim. The film features its share of recognizable faces, including character actors Steve Brodie (The Wild World of Batwoman, The Caine Mutiny), Robert Easton (The Touch of Satan, Star Trek VI), Leslie Parrish (Lil Abner, The Manchurian Candidate), and even Perry Mason‘s Barbara Hale in a co-lead role.
Of the most importance to this reviewer is the presence of Alan Hale, Gilligan Island‘s “Skipper”, as the town sheriff. As expected, he is the source of most of the film’s comic relief, although the entire movie is very tongue-in-cheek. There’s really not much difference between the “Sheriff” and “The Skipper” other than the “Sheriff” behaves a little more like Gilligan. The character is portrayed as a dimwit, but Hale plays it as if the character is actually smarter and more in control than he lets on. This later proves true when his character tries to take charge during the spider’s stroll through town. It’s also worth noting that his shirt was always unbuttoned 1 button past “unprofessional”.
The film “shows off” its FX budget early with a shot of the meteor streaking through space towards Earth. While this may or may not have been a decent effect at the time, I couldn’t help but feel that the “meteor” looked more like a flaming piece of Chiclets gum.
Local farmer Kester (Easton) is returning home from a night out at the local church revival. And by “church revival”, he means “banging up the waitress from the bar”. He arrives home to find his alcoholic wife, Ev, waiting for him on the front porch. She has a handful of accusatory questions for him. I only have one question for him, and that’s “how in the HELL did he manage to land an attractive wife AND an even more attractive mistress when his backwoods ass looks like an extra from the set of Next of Kin?”.
I’d like to take a moment to thank the actress playing the waitress for not wearing a bra.
As the couple nears an argument, the space gum crashes behind their house. “Behind” meaning that the house is then superimposed over what I believe is supposed to be explosions. It might just be a close-up shot of a lava lamp. Either way, I now want to smoke a doobie and listen to Jethro Tull.
The film features its share of interesting subplots. You get the budding love interest/sexual tension between 2 characters well into their 50/60s. Gross. The film also nonchalantly mentions that Kester is actually a pot farmer and then never mentions it again. Throw in another minor sub-plot of Kester’s attempted incestuous relationship with his wife’s younger sister, and now you have a little more to entertain you than just some cheaply made spider action. Oh, yeah….. there’s something about a dead baby in there too.
The film does features some brief nudity, but the main “skin” scene comes as the giant spider trashes the Kester house in its effort to get at Ev’s younger sister, Terri. Terri crashes from room to room while wearing only a t-shirt and panties, a move obviously made to appease the teenage/young adult audiences most likely to see a film like this, usually in groups or on dates at the local drive-in or movie house. It also appeases movie reviewers closing in on 40.
The true “star” of the film is the titular giant spider. Titular. Heh. For its first appearance and subsequent attack on the Kester farm, the crew used a very large prop spider as no real intergalactic spiders of gigantic proportions were available. More memorable, and not necessarily for the right reasons, is the “mobile version” of the giant spider. The body of the spider was in fact a VW Bug that had been chopped and then welded back together to now look like the body of a spider. Or something close to. They covered it with a fur material and placed local kids inside to manually move the arms. While not exactly the prettiest looking thing, it gets the job done. It’s also an impressive feat when you consider that both spiders were built and operated by local residents that had pitched in to help with the project.
The final act sees the giant spider’s rampage through the small town. There is some bloodshed as the spider does eat a few residents and cast members. The real focus here though is on the town and it’s citizens. The city festival portrayed in the film was an actual event. The filmmakers scheduled filming of this scene with the event as not only a way to make the spider’s path of destruction seem “bigger” , but also as a fun way to “thank” the town for all of its cooperation.
There are 2 ways to look at The Giant Spider Invasion. There is the way that most people presumably see it, as a poorly-made film worthy of the mockery that it received on MST3K, and watchable as something to laugh at while having a few drinks with friends. On that level alone, I highly give this one a recommendation.
The film could, and should, also be seen as a watershed moment in true independent film making. Not only is it a nice story of a filmmaker doing well on a low-budget without Hollywood support or backing, but it’s also a rare example of a community coming together to be part of the “magic” of film. When you consider that this $300,000 movie pulled in over $20 million in its first year of release, the debate gets a little easier to make.
Video Quality: Well, I guess that depends on what you are expecting. This movie has never looked good and it never really will. Print damage is very noticeable, but it’s never overly intrusive and, at least for me, adds to the film’s low-budget, “drive-in” charm. Detail is pretty much non-existent, but it’s still better than previous releases. I would not be surprised if there was some DNR applied to this one.
Audio Quality: Like the picture quality, the audio was never anything special to begin with either. That said, the audio is quite serviceable here. While never very dynamic, dialog was always very clear and sound effects distinguishable.
SPECIAL FEATURES: VCI’s release is packaged in a Blu-ray/DVD set, and is loaded with over 4 hours of Special Features. As the main feature is presented on the Blu-ray disc, we will start with its Special Features.
Size Does Matter: Making The Giant Spider Invasion– 15min – Interview with Rebane. He starts by talking about his immigrating to America in the 1950’s, and how he learned to speak English from watching movies at his local theater. He discusses the disappointment with going over budget on his first film, which he then sold to HG Lewis. Lewis later added a few unrelated scenes and released it as Monster-A-Go-Go, arguably one of the worst films ever. This handling of his film would provoke Rebane to quit film making for a few years.
Rebane also talks about the involvement of various citizens in the town, the impromptu fabrication and operation of the giant spider, and the cast. It very obvious that Rebane is still quite proud of the film and its production. Very informative and entertaining.
Super 8 in HD (re-edited): 30 mins- Condensed, Super-8 version of the film. Cuts all the fluff out, so pace is very tight. Some scenes sport higher detail than main feature, but less color saturation.
Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery: 14 mins – Photos & stills provide more looks into the making of the film, while songs from the musical play.
Original trailer and TV spots
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES:
Archival Interviews w/Rebane, Cast, & Crew, & TV Reports – 2+ Hrs – Older interviews with Rebane and various cast/crew members. Lots of information here for the hardcore GSI fan. I, however, couldn’t make it all the way through.
Archival Interview w/ Robert Easton – 17mins – It takes 3 minutes to start the interview as there are numerous distractions, such as planes passing overhead and Easton going into his house for something. It’s quite hard to hear Easton without jacking up the volume. Easton seemed like he was mildly bragging about his involvement in the film (he wrote screenplay), but belittling the film at the same time. Easton dictates the flow of the interview, but he kind of has to as the interviewer couldn’t have come across as more unprofessional. Footage abruptly ends while Easton is mid-anecdote.
Kevin Murphy & Mike Nelson of MST3K Introduce Bill Rebane – 7mins- I found this one to be quite misleading as Kevin introduces a woman from a Wisconsin film festival, and SHE is actually the one that introduces Rebane. Also, I never saw Nelson in this feature.
Super 8 Version -28mins – A more “beat to hell” looking version. You might watch it for a few minutes out of curiosity, but the HD version is vastly superior looking.
Archival Newsreel: Bill Rebane on set of Rana – 7min – A brief look at Rebane’s film making in Wisconsin, in particular The Giant Spider Invasion and Rana, a later film about a giant frog. Rana is available on video as Croaked: Frog Monster From Hell.
Also included are liner notes, a small The Giant Spider Invasion comic book, and the soundtrack to the The Giant Spider Invasion musical. The comic book is cool, but only a few pages long. As for the CD? Some people may truly appreciate this as there is a growing fan base for these musicals based on older horror films, but I found the entire thing beyond atrocious. I’m almost tempted to pay VCI to take it back.
Final Opinion: The Giant Spider Invasion is a fun movie, if not a particularly well-made one. Fans of “bad movies” will enjoy laughing at its characters, fake spider, and horny senior citizens. It also serves as not only a reminder of the bygone era of the drive-in, but as a shining example of determination and community spirit. Loaded with bonus materials and a few other extras, you definitely get your money’s worth on this one.