Kingdom of the Spiders DVD Review: Shatner vs the Tarantulas 

Kingdom of the Spiders (1977) stars William Shatner and Tiffany Bolling locked in battle with thousands of spiders in this eco-horror movie directed by John “Bud” Cardos. There’s a hoard of tarantulas migrating west in search of new range land and causing terror as they invade a rural Arizona town. These aren’t just any ordinary tarantulas though: they’ve mutated and are more venomous than usual. This one was better than expected and may be Bud’s masterpiece.

Buy Kingdom of the Spiders

William Shatner is veterinarian Dr. Robert “Rack” Hanson who operates in a rural Arizona town somewhere near Flagstaff, so there’s lots of trees and not just open desert. One day, Walter Colby (Woody Strode) finds his prized cow dead, weeks before the big county fair. Rack takes a closer look at the animal and sends his collected samples to the university to be analyzed. The university sends out their top bug lady (yes, yes. I know she’s an entomologist and not to be confused with an etymologist), Diane Asheley (Bolling) who informs them it’s not the plague that took old Bossy’s life but something venomous. Rack poo poos this silly idea of a snake taking down a cow before lovely Diane can correct him that it’s a spider’s bite that’s to blame. Still not sold, Rack dismisses the idea until Colby discovers a gigantic spider hill in his yard. They try to burn them out but these arachnids are too smart for these dopey humans and they split out the side hole of their hill. 

The survivors of the hill fire make numerous new hill strongholds and begin to consume more livestock as pets around the area go missing. The mayor steps in and calls for DDT to be sprayed all over the ranches to stop the spread even though Bug Lady Diane warns him against it, citing these tarantulas have mutated and are no longer affected by the powerful bug spray. Mayors though, do as they please, so he has the town flier gear up and take off to dust the fields but those pesky, smart ass tarantulas have already taken over his bi-plane and attack him mid flight, sending the pilot spinning out of control and dropping his payload all over the town. These spiders aren’t done yet, they have a kingdom to claim and no two-bit cowtown humans will stop them. Will Rack and the Bug Lady fight there way out? Will help arrive in the form of the marines as they did in the movie Them!? Or will the spiders rule the day and wrap the whole place up in a web of death? 

Kingdom of the Spiders is actually pretty good for what it is and I won’t totally ruin the ending for those so inclined to watch for themselves, which I highly recommend one do. Shanter isn’t Captain Kirk so there’s always some awkwardness, especially in these low-budget movies done in the years prior to the Star Trek movies. He does play the cowboy/animal doctor/local ladies man role as well as possible and really as only he can. The supporting cast turn in fine performances as well from Strode and Lieux Dressler to David McLean and Altovise Davis, who blows part of her hand off in terror (on screen not in real life…I think, as there are no extra features to tell me otherwise).

Bud Cardos is known for his no-nonsense, get ‘er done, workman approach to directing but in Kingdom of the Spiders he comes up with some good shots: crawling low in the grass from the perspective of a spider and creating some good moments of tension, which Shatner over plays a bit but again, it is Shanter. The special effects, where they are used, are also good as can be. The people cocooned in spider webs are creepy and give a good jump scare when first featured and let’s not forget Altovise’s hand. There seem to be countless real tarantulas mixed with the fake ones which causes some concern as the movie rolls along and some get crushed or stomped on.  

This MGM DVD release has no extras features whatsoever. In a previous review I had the pleasure of watching interviews and hearing commentary by Cardos and that for sure is missing here, but to have the movie alone is a major score as it’s been on my list for years. 

Kingdom of the Spiders is truly a cult classic that holds up pretty well all these years later. Bud Cardos and William Shatner shine in this fun 95-minute romp that’s surprise ending had me bug eyed. A small fun fact: my last review also featured an entomologist and an invading foreign species. Now ya know.  

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Joe Garcia III

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