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Kingdom of the Spiders
I love Kingdom of the Spiders so much it's a little nuts; this is in fact my third review of what is arguably the best spider movie of all time. For serious arachnophobes, watching this movie is akin to serious immersion therapy, but we creepy-crawly fans can (barely) handle its skittering charms. Solidly put-together with serious workman-like artistry, Kingdom enjoys delightful performances, steadily mounting tension, a decent story and literally thousands of tarantulas crawling all over the place. I suffer involuntary twitches every time I watch this superlative creature feature, now presented in its proper aspect ratio, and with a web-full of nice extras.
The story - an admitted Jaws rip-off - concerns the little Arizona town of Verde Valley. Festival time is upon the sleepy hamlet, but a series of giant spider hills have been cropping up on the outskirts, introducing countless ultra-poisonous, enraged tarantulas into the touristy proceedings. You'd think they'd shut down the festival, especially with the urgings of veterinarian 'Rack' Hansen (William Shatner) and big-city entomologist Diane Ashley (Tiffany Bolling). But, profit motives stand in the way, and it's not too long before web-covered corpses are littering the streets. By the downbeat nature's revenge ending - so popular in the '70s - literally everyone is drenched in giant spiders, and you'll be twitching uncontrollably.
Kingdom might not be to the tastes of the youth of today: There's no CGI, tension is allowed to build up for a full forty minutes before things get out of hand, and the movie stars William Shatner. Say what you want about Shatner - there's a huge percentage of the real Shatner in every role he plays, and the real Shatner is a maniacal hambone - but he's an institution for a reason. His turn in Kingdom is about as naturalistic as he gets. In between ingratiating chuckles and throwing Tiffany Bolling into her own car in order to abduct her for a date, Shatner demonstrates real concerned heroism, especially where his movie niece is concerned. This lovable moppet, like all the other game players in this veritable cringe-fest of fear, winds up truly terrorized by the tarantulas who surround her on the bed, dash at her while she's on a table, and generally make her miserable. But here's Shatner, risking all to repeatedly scoop her from tiny fangs of death, cradling her as if she were his own. And then he too winds up showered with arachnids. It's a rough way to make a living.
The climactic final half-hour of the movie is cruel and unbearable, as the evil spiders plop heavily down from the chimney or clamber all over their victims' helpless bodies and faces. For further proof that Kingdom means business, note the results of a first effort to control the spiders; a pesticide-spraying pilot starts screaming like a monkey when dozens of real tarantulas begin crawling up his legs from the floor of the cockpit. He screams like a monkey for about two minutes. It's this dedication to the depiction of insane terror and pain, and the realization that our actors' fear is fairly genuine, that launches Kingdom into lofty cobwebs of eco-terror fame. If the sight of dozens, hundreds, even thousands of giant spiders skittering all over makes you shiver, then this is your movie. And for your trouble, you'll get a fine cinematic experience along with the chills. This eight-legged Jaws analogue sets a standard for rampaging spider movies that's yet to be matched.
In addition to a load of extras, Shout Factory does the right thing by presenting this bug battle in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, in anamorphic widescreen for 16 x 9 TVs. Clearly, framing is much improved, with all that space above and below from the Good Times 2003 release eliminated. Although it's still an old movie, this newly minted transfer of it is sharp, fairly detailed, and nicely clear, with no compression problems to concern you. Grain and occasional film damage appear occasionally, but to a much lesser degree than before, and none of which is so extreme that it will distract from your viewing pleasure, you'll notice it at first, then quickly forget about it. Colors are rich and '70s natural, not too saturated, but nicely realistic. Overall, this is a real improvement from the previous DVD release.
Dolby Digital English Mono Audio hasn't gotten a processing upgrade - it's still mono, but it sounds fine. Dialog is mixed well with library music, (some Jerry Goldsmith, according to the commentary) and those fun Dorsey Burnett originals sound great. No dropouts or distortion problems are to be found.
Shout Factory's Special Edition runs circles around Good Times' previous "25th Anniversary Special Edition." That previous release, in open-matte 1.33:1 fullframe ratio, contained a Scene Index and the movie - that's it. Shout Factory delivers an All New Interview with William Shatner, of about 16 minutes, in which the actor is frank, funny, and his usual self while reminiscing. A full-length Commentary Track with director John "Bud" Cardos, producer Igo Kantor, spider wrangler Jim Brockett and cinematographer John Morrill, is moderated by Lee Christian and Scott Spiegel. Moderation is good since these guys (no offense) are getting a little long in the tooth. One can frequently be heard breathing quite heavily into his microphone, or banging a knee on the table. The gentlemen, left alone, might ramble or lapse into total silence as they watch the movie, but Christian and Spiegel keep them on track, eliciting plenty of fun, old-school BTS tidbits, well-deserved admiration of their own work, and other fun stuff. A 12-minute "Jim Brockett: Spider Wrangler" featurette, taken in conjunction with his contributions to the commentary track gives you most of what you want to know about spider-action in the movies - including questions about spiders who may have given their lives for this movie. 17-minutes of rough quality Rare Behind-The-Scenes Footage will please mostly hardcore Kingdom fans, and others interested in producing independent horror features. A four-minute Interview With Writer Steve Lodge fills in more gaps regarding production, and a self-navigated Poster Gallery contains a baker's dozen of images, most of which feature the same ghastly motif. Finally, the Original Theatrical Trailer wraps things up. It's nice to see Kingdom of the Spiders finally get the respect it deserves.
Kingdom of the Spiders merits its crown. It's the best spider movie out there, with solid, no-nonsense suspense direction, artful cinematography, and good performances across the board. Did I mention thousands of raging tarantulas leaping on everyone in sight? If you have a serious fear of spiders, this movie is not for you, but you should watch it anyway as it rocks like crazy. Highly Recommended.