Playing anthropologist on the Island of Misfit Films comes with certain risks attached. There are a lot of bad films out there. Some of them are so bad, they’re good, but most are so bad that they will leave you cursing the day you spent time and money chasing them down to document their strange and forbidden customs.
The Giant Spider Invasion is a film toeing the line between “too bad to be good” and “too bad to be bad” so closely that careful consideration doesn’t help much. It is one of those cinematic experiences that might actually benefit by having a few drinks first in order to nudge perceptions one way or the other.
The “watch it drunk” approach definitely plays to the film’s strengths. The Giant Spider Invasion is mostly a drinking game waiting to happen or, at the very least, a product of heavy drinking. A species of giant and not particularly well motivated extraterrestrial spiders decides to invade Earth. They launch their spindly hordes at that most strategic of beachheads, a small town in northern Wisconsin. The townsfolk soon discover that what they thought were diamond-filled meteoritic space-geodes are actually the eggs of a deadly spider-legion. NASA catches on to the escalating madness and sends crack scientist Dr. Vance to investigate.
Don’t be fooled. This synopsis leaves a lot out in the interest of making readable copy from impenetrable nonsense. What seems at first to be a meteor strike actually turns out to be a miniature black hole that has opened a dimensional rift into some giant-arachnid hellscape. NASA detects “deadly radiation” at the meteor/black hole jr. impact site, yet people clumsily investigate the crater throughout the movie without so much as contracting a tan. The script is partially structured around a religious revival meeting where a preacher spits brimstone in time with the spider mayhem, but it’s difficult to tell what exactly the “Greek chorus” motif is trying to accomplish.
It’s much more fun to switch off your brain and hoist a pint for the film’s 84 minute run time. Make sure to take a sip whenever one or more of the following pop up on the screen:
May I Speak with the Man of the House?: The gender politics of The Giant Spider Invasion are every bit as enlightened as you’d expect from low budget mid-seventies science fiction horror. In one scene, the male protagonist literally ticks down a list of every potential male relative of the female protagonist as he inquires about the whereabouts of a “Dr. Langer” before he discovers that the female protagonist is Dr. Langer. It’s as though the idea of a woman with a PhD in astrophysics is supposed to be more bonkers than the thought of giant spiders invading the Earth. The gender stereotypes on both sides are so crass and rampant that they skip right past offensive to the realm of the quaintly ridiculous. Don’t bother getting upset. Just grab a drink and grin at the stupid.
Sheriff on Line One: The Sheriff in The Giant Spider Invasion (Alan Hale Jr., aka “Skipper” of Gilligan’s Island fame) spends a lot of this movie taking phone calls. Many, many phone calls. Sure, I get it. Monster arachnids are running amok. People are going to want to share. But for some reason these phone scenes almost never cross cut to the person on the other end of the call, forcing the Sheriff to become a Wizard of Oz-like giant talking head of exposition.
Car Go BOOM!: Apparently, every vehicle used in the filming of The Giant Spider Invasion was a 1971 Pinto, including the motorcycles and B-52 bombers. The slightest fender-bender pretty much guarantees a fiery death to any supporting character foolish enough to drive so much as a unicycle in this picture.
A little Cheese with your Wine?: If you like gimcrack spider puppets, bargain basement make-up effects, spacey analogue synth music, and editing that makes you ask, “What just happened?” be warned. You might not have enough liquor in your house to keep up with this game. Invite plenty of friends.
Those are just for starters. The deeper you dig, the more layers of bad will open up to you like the scales of a rotting onion.
Some misfit films you can see on any given day and you know how you will respond. Some films only reveal their inner beauty when you are in the mood to see them. The Giant Spider Invasion is one of the later. Stay well enough away if you are the least bit interested in seeing a movie worth seeing.
And for the love of all that’s holy, do not buy this film unless you already know and love it. The DVD transfer looks like it was made from a beat-up 16mm print of the film that someone dropped in spaghetti once, or maybe a third generation VHS copy. The used DVD I purchased for review set me back $25.00. I know this because, when she saw what I was watching, my wise and beautiful wife kept looking at me and asking, “You paid $25.00 for this?” like I’d just dropped our life’s savings on blueprints for a time machine. Her incredulity was not misplaced.
Such are the hazards of purchasing forgotten films. Mainstream Hollywood stopped paying attention to this clunker eons ago. The only cut of the movie on DVD that is easy to find for sale or rental is the Mystery Science Theater 3000 edition complete with commentary from the Satellite of Love. Copies of the film’s original cut on DVD are scarce, pricey, and worthwhile only for collectors.
So, yeah. Looks like I’m stuck with The Giant Spider Invasion DVD for the long haul. Give this flick a shot if B-movies are your thing and it’s playing at a film festival in town. Morbid curiosity seekers can probably get by with the 12 minute version below.