Captain’s Log Stardate 422… wait, wrong franchise. Yes, believe or not William Shatner, AKA Captain Kirk from Star Trek, tried his hand in the horror genre back in 1977. Kingdom of The Spiders is the tale of a veterinarian named Rack (Shatner) who looks after his widowed sister-in-law (Marcy Lafferty) and niece (Natasha Ryan: The Entity 1982) when his Arizona town of Camp Verde starts having an arachnid problem… a big BIG problem.
A made for TV movie airing on the USA Network on November 23, 1977, Kingdom of the Spiders was quite the way to kick off Thanksgiving with killer spiders eating animals and humans, right? Director Bud Cardos was a friend of Shatner, who was Bud’s choice for the lead role after Bo Svenson turned it down. Shatner originally had no intention of being in the movie, but Bud Cardos visited him at his house and managed to convince him to take the role. The plot itself is easy to follow once the main characters are introduced, but the movie has several issues that some may find too preposterous while others wouldn’t even notice.
One of the problems with Kingdom of The Spiders was the lack of realism involved. Suspension of disbelief is one thing, but when a movie flat out lies to you, it’s hard to take it seriously. It’s one thing if the spiders are giant, CGI monsters or puppets, but the tarantulas were actual tarantulas. Animal rights activists were furious that the spiders were legitimately killed on screen and, on top of that, tarantulas aren’t really that scary if you know anything about them. That brings me to my earlier point of suspension of disbelief. First of all, tarantulas are not aggressive, they’re very docile to the point being kept as pets (Buzz in Home Alone, for example). In fact, they’re more likely to run away from humans than attack. Second of all, they are not fatally poisonous to most small animals including dogs and cats, let alone humans. Even the most powerful tarantula in the world could only generate a bite wound equal in annoyance to a mosquito bite to human beings.
Third of all, they are loners. If two tarantulas are in a cage together, they are most likely to try to kill each rather than gang up to catch prey. The colonizing scenes would make absolutely no sense in real life, since tarantulas hate each other. Not only that, the movie’s crew had a hell of a time getting the tarantulas to do anything, given their cannibalistic nature and their natural avoidance of humans. They needed air tubes to push them toward the extras that were acting hurt. Again, if you didn’t already know all of this, the movie would go smooth for you. If you did listen in science class or happen to be slightly knowledgeable in arachnids, this movie will have you thinking, “Now wait just a cotton pickin’ minute!” more often than not.
Another problem this movie has is that William Shatner’s character is supposedly the protagonist, but doesn’t come off as such at all. In the first scene of the movie, his sister in law calls him by his brother’s name and he shoves her to the ground. Then later on in the movie, he pinches his 7 year old niece’s ass. Try getting away with either of that nowadays, and only Shatner could have 40 years ago. The special effects were about as special as a glass of water, but since it was a low budget, made for TV movie, that has to be expected. The acting isn’t anything to write home about, but it’s not terrible, either. It’s a pretty average movie that takes a realistic approach rather than going with the classic monster movie with oversized spiders. Compared to more ridiculous insect films like The Hive, Infestation and Killer Buzz, Kingdom of The Spiders is actually a cut above the rest.
All in all, the movie wasn’t exactly Oscar worthy, but that’s what gives Kingdom of The Spiders its charm. It goes for a realistic approach since the filmmakers were on a shoestring budget, and if you take away actual facts about tarantulas, it is at least watchable. It won’t make you laugh like Eight Legged Freaks or make you roll your eyes like Ice Spiders, but it’s at least worth taking a look at.