When I was a kid, one movie scared me more than any other: 1977’s “Kingdom of the Spiders.” It remains, as Shout! Factory’s reissue proves, genuinely unsettling. Stupid title aside, this entry in the animal-attack subgenre is a great movie — somewhat of an unsung horror classic.
William Shatner stars as vet Rack Hansen, and that could be the reason why the film isn’t held to the level it should be today. But he’s fine, and let’s face it: No one watches something called “Kingdom of the Spiders” for the Shat. You watch it for the spiders, and boy, oh boy, do you get plenty of them. Maybe even more than you’d want; “Arachnophobia” has nothing on this.
They’re big, hairy tarantulas, and they slowly take over a small town in Arizona. Director John “Bud” Cardos’ greatest decision was not only to use actual spiders, but to have them interact with the actors, and that means all over them: bodies, faces, you name it. If the idea of eight legs skittering across your bare skin makes you squeamish, “Kingdom” is a royal provider of bumps on the arm and chills up the spine.
Put simply, this movie does not skimp on the spiders, resulting in so many memorable scenes: the little girl trapped on the swing in her yard, the pilot with a lap full of the creatures, the webbed corpse, the third-act assault on the cabin, and the creepy final shot.
Toss out your old, no-frills Goodtimes release of the DVD; Shout!’s is in widescreen and comes crawling with extras. Shatner is on camera in a featurette to talk about the making of the film, including working with his co-stars, both human and arachnid. Further details are dished during a commentary with Cardos and other crew members, including the film’s “spider wrangler,” Jim Brockett, who, in a 12-minute segment, puts on a tarantula show for his somewhat spooked interviewer.
Now and forever, this is the best spider movie ever made. —Rod Lott