The Spider (1958)
User ReviewsAdd a Review
Compare that to the overblown, overlong, CGI laden sci-fi "epics" to which we are currently subjected - and I know which I would prefer.
At the end of the day which is the better film - one made on a shoestring which entertains, or one costing a hundred million dollars which has you looking forward to the end credits?
Lord, you have to admire a man like Bert who directed, produced, wrote, and created the special effects. Sure, the effects suck, but think about it. He saved money and became an auteur at the same time! And while we're on the effects . . . let's just say Plan 9 has some serious competition, as it deals with the spider attacking photos of buildings or walking along as a rear projection which the audience can clearly see through. And please, the spider could fit in the gym, how could it tower over a three story building? But an added advantage this has is that the spider in this one has a web, even if no one sticks to it. And truth be told, it's actually quite entertaining, in a perverse sort of way. At least it doesn't have the long, dull stretches that most Gordon films do. Thank you, Mr. Gordon.
The only real disappointing goof in this film is the title, a horrid misnomer as the spider only gets to crawl about its web in a cave and a small town, and less than 10 people in the town actually "fight" it. Of those 10 people, most are represented by the driest actors imaginable (except for the women, who get to scream and sob), and the "teenagers" are obviously not, especially Joe, who looks like he's in his mid-30's. Said teenagers also make decisions in the film that are stupid, yet at the same time have enough logic that the audience is able to forgive them for it (as opposed to some movies of the genre where people just act stupid out of the blue). It might seem like a really bad idea to go to a killer giant spider's cave, but if it is to retrieve the last memento of one's father, its understandable, although still not a wise choice. The teen characters in this film act like that, making them less annoying and more lovable than most teen victims in the genre.
The spider they take on, is, unimaginatively, a run-of-the-mill tarantula filmed and super-imposed over scenes to make it seem gigantic; sometimes it's really noticeable and looks awful, but most of the time it works, yet still comes off as tacky since the spider is always moving in the same direction. Besides that fact, the other main reason that this barely works is that the spider and the people are rarely in the same shot at the same time. This also means that all deaths are off-camera (but accompanied by the spider's un-spider-like hissing and growling), and the resulting corpses are really weird-looking: by no means realistic, but odd enough to be entertaining.
Which is really the reason why films like these are watchable, and to some (like me) even enjoyable. Sure, there won't be any Oscar nominations for the acting, but isn't it funny to hear a science teacher call a spider an insect? He should obviously know better. Isn't it funny that the route the lead teens take to escape from the spider at the beginning of the film leads to a dead-end at the end of it? That was obviously a mistake in the script writing. Granted, these mistakes aren't intentional or intelligent humor, but it's humor nonetheless, and there's enough of it to recommend this film to fans of the genre. It's also worth noting that this film thankfully knows its limits, and is thus quite short, so that it can be enjoyable without dragging on and on.
EARTH VS. THE SPIDER has the handicap of being a steal of Jack Arnold's TARANTULA (1955) and like all giant mutation films of the 1950's following in the wake of the 1954 sci-fi masterpiece THEM! (trying to emulate its distinctive qualities and commercial success) but taken on its own terms it successfully establishes its own eerie atmosphere and excitement that makes it popular today.
Comparison with TARANTULA is unavoidable but while both films utilize an actual tarantula spider (for practical purposes) EARTH VS. THE SPIDER usually manipulates the title protagonist in confined, claustrophobic surroundings when pursuing its intended prey to great effect (the expansive yet enclosed underground caverns, the high school gymnasium and the climatic confrontation on the cavern ledge, etc.). Further this monster also spins a web (unlike the title menace in TARANTULA) and a great deal of suspense and tension is achieved as nosey intruders are caught in it while the wailing bellow of the approaching creature is heard.
The giant spider's cave sanctuary is as much a character as the spider itself and it engenders a tremendous sense of foreboding and dread as the two teenagers and later as the town sheriff, his deputies and some townspeople approach and enter it (the mood is beautifully underscored by Albert Glasser's ominous background music).
In comparison to the technical virtuosity of THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD released the same year (or any Harryhausen film of the period) the special effects in EARTH VS. THE SPIDER are thin beer indeed but adequate. These effects include rear projection, split screens, superimposures, miniatures and forced perspective utilizing photographic plates of famed Carlsbad Caverns. At the film's suspenseful finale there appears to be an unheralded moment of stop motion animation of the giant spider dangling along a precipice and the closing image of the dead creature impaled on stalagmite on the cavern floor (actually a painting) is quite impressive.
All told EARTH VS. THE SPIDER is a film well worth looking into.
That being the case it was profitable to crank out as many as possible as cheap as possible with as much action as the budget would allow and that was the only criteria. It worked because kids hungry for any kind of monster and teens needing a good background for the drive-in flocked to these B pictures so much that you could expect one to open a couple of weeks or so.
It's not like anybody got suckered into these things as well.I don't know how many previews I saw at the drive-in or matinée even if the monster looked fake or stinky in the trailer I still wanted to go see it. For the most part I had a good time and I still love these B creature Features from the fifties. This one in particular is highly re-watchable.
Unfortunately I can't say much for their current counterparts it seems like the bad bug movies of today are mostly just bad and not fun like these were. Recently I watched Ice Spider,Lord Of The Spiders and Scorpius Giganticus on the sci-fi channel and they all blew so bad I could barely finish them.
The special effects here are bad but they're fun because they're bad plus they fit right in with the naiveté and unsophistication of the times and Bert I Gordon didn't skimp on them either. Once the monster showed up you got tons of bad special effects right up until the climax . Today we know so much more about effects and budgeting and story structure and science and credible actions that it seem a shame that so many sci-flicks are blatantly disregarding this without giving us the fun of old school. It's a lose lose situation.
Currently this is on DVD with War Of The Colossal Beast and I recommend it highly as a cheap disc worthy of a rainy night filled with cherry Cokes and Sloppy Joes
You still see the holes in the superimposed spider's legs as it walks along, lines around it's body in some scenes, and the prop leg during the house sequence only dangles limply in front of the people, which is more humorous than scary. The spider's "growl" is a bit much. I don't know if arachnids make any audible noises, but, this one is very vocal.
The cave sets are pretty impressive, interlaced with real shots of Carlsbad Caverns. The story is fairly plausible, and Gene Roth is a trip as the town sheriff.
Albert Glasser gives us, again, a terrific score that adds to the terror of the story.
For it's theatrical release, the original title was shortened to just "The Spider". That would fit easily on any marquee.