Kingdom of the Spiders

Aside from some silly tarantula POV shots at the beginning, the arachnids don't really crawl with a quality approaching menace until after the first hour. And if Kingdom of the Spiders didn't have William Shatner or an adorably awkward environmentalist theme, it might be condemned as forgettable schmaltz. But this kitschy flick has retained such a twitchy hold among bold cultists that even Warren Zevon felt compelled to name-check it in "Life'll Kill Ya." Kingdom is entertaining, but not always in the ways the filmmakers expected. Thankfully, the folks behind this movie -- even while rudely interrupted by Hostel producer Scott Spiegel's gushy sycophantism -- are game to explain on the commentary track that a horse was included in an attack scene "because a horse will tell you something's wrong before it happens."


Shatner's performance doesn't quite exude the cheesy sleaze of his 1974 turn as a psychotic conman in Impulse, but there are a number of creepy qualities bundled within his wacky veteranarian protagonist. Yes, eight-legged crawlers clamber atop Wild Bill's corpus -- one reportedly spirit-gummed to his face at Shat's suggestion -- but Shatner's character also drives an attractive entomologist off the highway to badger her into a dinner date. He then fulfills his mood-killing panache with the unintentionally hilarious line, "No, he got killed in 'Nam."


Five hundred real spiders were wrangled for this production. Over the course of the movie, the spiders are doused with liquids and crawl perilously close to moving vehicles. We are informed by the disc's extras that many spiders died. This brings an unexpected animal rights argument to something that would ordinarily be enjoyed as a Jaws ripoff made on the cheap. It's also quite fascinating that Kingdom manages to balance casual sexism ("Hey, the only person uptight about being a woman is you, you know") while presenting two non-stereotypical African-American characters (one played by the great Western character actor Woody Strode). Kingdom's pleasure arises not so much from its hardscrabble B-movie roots, but from the clumsy social framework of a confused decade. The film's overwrought theme song, Dorsey Burnette's "Peaceful Verde Valley," couldn't be more appropriate.

April 23: " 'A job,' the woman repeated again, smiling, as if I hadn't heard her. 'Would you like one?' "

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysely Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.

The Promise of Hope

Killed last year in the infamous terror attack at Nairobi's Westgate mall, Kofi Awoonor was a national treasure in his native Ghana.  His career began in 1964 with Rediscovery, and this magnum opus serves as a tribute to his entire long journey charting his beloved nation's course through his accomplished poetry.

Winter Mythologies and Abbots

A pair of linked stories finds that, as translator Ann Jefferson relates, "[Pierre] Michon's great theme is the precarious balance between belief and imposture, and the way the greatest aspirations can be complicated by physical desire or the equally urgent desire for what he calls glory."