Earth Vs. The Spider/The Spider (1958) [31 Days of American Horror Review]

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Director: Bert I. Gordon
Starring: Ed Kemmer, June Kenney, Eugene Persson, Gene Roth, Hal Torey, Sally Fraser, June Jocelyn

1955’s Tarantula! was a huge hit, so it was only a matter of time before Bert I. Gordon got round to using it directly as “inspiration.”

The combination of BIG and AIP was never the mark of classic cinema, but for trashy, fun drive-in fodder? It was a dream team.

Depending whether they were wanting to capitalise on the success of Earth Vs The Flying Saucers or The Fly at the time, this multi-titled movie rattles along at a furious pace and never really lets up, even after it “kills” it’s giant monster. It knows what kind of film it is and isn’t ashamed of it, so there’s no pretence to be anything more than a balls-to-the-wall scary movie here and as trashy as it is, it’s all the better for it.

When Carol Flynn (Kenney)’s father goes missing, she and her boyfriend Mike (Persson) find his car crashed but unoccupied. Exploring a nearby cave in case he has crawled in there injured, the pair find a bracelet he had bought for his daughter, but no sign of the man himself.

What they do find though, is a colossal tarantula which attacks them, leaving them lucky to escape with their lives. After struggling to convince the authorities of the giant spider’s existence, Carol and Mike persuade their science teacher Mr. Kingman (Kemmer), leading to the discovery of the missing body, with its desiccated state proving that the creature is indeed lurking in the cave.

After the sheriff orders a DDT attack on the monster, it’s seemingly killed and the corpse is temporarily stored in the local school gymnasium for study. Unfortunately for the town, the spider is not as dead as it looks and once revived, goes on a rampage of death and destruction…

One of the best things Earth vs The Spider has going for it is just how relentless it is. Right from the off when the unfortunate Mr Flynn is dragged from his car, there’s rarely a few minutes goes by without some kind of outsized arachnid action happening.

That’s exactly what you want in a film like this too. It’s never going to win any Oscars for best screenplay, so it just gets gets on with delivering the chills and thrills and there’s plenty of both to go round.

The spider is revealed early and it’s suitably monstrous, with a real tarantula being overlaid next to the cast, in the same way the 1955 classic was rendered. Okay, the effects of the time were limited, but a giant *real* spider is always going to be more disturbing than a cheap, fake one that’s actually in the room.

That disturbing feeling is enhanced by the monster’s lair, which is less of a cave and more of a charnel house, with dried-up corpses and webbing strewn everywhere. It’s a nightmare-inducing vision of hell basically, ramping up the tension every time our heroes venture into it.

Brilliantly, Gordon keeps us on our toes by seemingly killing the beast early doors. It’s a genuinely surprising moment and for a little while later, you don’t really know where he’s taking it. Are there more spiders in the cave? Is the dead one not so dead after all?

Well, as soon as it’s “dead” body is put on display in the local high school for later examination, you know exactly where it’s going and it’s wonderfully drawn out from then on in.

Anything coming back to life in the movies is always a tense affair, but when it’s a titanic spider in a school gymnasium? Brrr. Even just having the thing on display is bizarre and the casual acceptance of it only compounds it, but the expectation of it waking up again really amplifies the building horror of the situation.

Wonderfully, it’s reanimation comes from rock n’roll, as we get that rare thing in one of these teen-focused ‘50s horrors- a musical interlude that doesn’t feel crowbarred-in.

Instead, we watch a bunch of teenagers having a band practice while their friends dance along, all the while blissfully unaware of the slowly-reviving monster lurking right behind them. It’s wonderfully staged and and as bizarre as it is effective.

Once it awakens, the tension is replaced by absolute mayhem, which once again, Gordon handles brilliantly. We’ve seen this kind of thing many times by now, but done right, a giant creature causing carnage will never, ever be boring.

The spider’s scream, though? That’s one of the weirdest creative decisions ever and adds a layer of icky weirdness to the finale. There’s something just *wrong* about it that just sits with you long after the movie is over and done with. Marvellous.

Earth vs The Spider isn’t the most original or the most inspired film you’ll ever see. Hell, it isn’t even the best giant tarantula film you’ll ever see. What it it is though, is a brilliantly tense mix of horror and action that is relentlessly entertaining from start to finish and one that ranks high in the Bert I. Gordon filmography.

Rating: 3.5/5.


The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy

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