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Spider Woman Strikes Back, The
The Spider Woman Strikes Again stars Gale Sondergaard once again as the titular Spider Woman, a role she first played in the Sherlock Holmes film simply titled The Spider Woman back in 1943. Directed by Arthur Lubin and released by Universal Studios in 1946, the film is an unofficial sequel of sorts. Holmes is nowhere to be seen and this time around Sondergaard plays a woman named Zenobia Dollard.
In this story, Zenobia Dollard is a very well to do woman who is, unfortunately, blind ever since coming down with a condition while in South America. She's also quite mysterious, no one in the small town of Domingo seems entirely sure of her origin story and she's more than a little guarded when it comes to her own past. Nevertheless, she needs a caretaker when the help disappears, and so she hires Jean Kingsley (Brenda Joyce) to look after things for her. On her way to Dollard's estate, Jean meets kindly Hal Wentley (Kirby Grant) and they hit it off.
Upon arriving at Dollard's place, Jean is instantly taken aback by the presence of Mario (Rondo Hatton), the owner's strange and hulking butler. Regardless, Jean sleeps well that night and happens to mention to Zenobia over breakfast the next day that she's pretty much all on her ow and completely unattached. How convenient! Later that night, after settling down with a nice glass of milk and then falling asleep, Zenobia comes into Jean's bedroom, drains some of Jean's blood and after taking it, regains her sight long enough to feed spiders to a Venus Flytrap! As random cows in the area turn up dead, we all have to worry for Jean's safety, but monstrous Mario takes a liking to her. This might come in handy once Jean starts realizing what's going on around her and begins to fear for her life...
Brisk almost to a fault and clocking in at less than an hour in length, The Spider Woman Strikes Back definitely would have benefitted from some more character development but as it stands proves to be an entertaining B-horror picture made quite enjoyable thanks to a pretty strong cast. Brenda Joyce plays the woman we assume to essentially be a damsel in distress very well. She has a fragility to her that suits the part and on top of that, she's quite likeable. Kirby Grant is solid in his supporting role and who better than Rondo Hatton to play Mario the monster man? Not only is the part perfect for him and he perfect for the part but he gets a good amount of screen time in the picture as well and he turns in a very memorable performance. As to Gale Sondergaard, she's quite alluring here, playing her mysterious femme fatale role with just the right amount of gusto, never overdoing it but coming deliciously close at times. Next to Hatton, she's the best part of the movie and a lot of fun to watch here.
While this was clearly made on a modest budget, the cinematography is pretty solid. There's good use of shadow and light in the picture and the sets all look pretty decent. This isn't a particularly effects heavy movie so that never factors into things the way it might on a low budget monster picture from the same period. Overall, this may be a little flimsy in terms of depth, but it's definitely an entertaining picture and one worth checking out for those with an interest in classic horror.
The Spider Woman Strikes Back arrives on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber taken from a ‘new 2k master' in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 1.37.1. The fifty-nine minute feature takes up 19.2GBs of space on the 25GB disc, the image is pretty clean showing only the occasional small white speck now and again. There's a little bit of flicker in a few scenes but otherwise the image is quite stable, the black and white picture boasting good contrast and solid black levels in most, though not all, of the movie's scenes. Detail, depth and texture are all quite strong in some spots, though some scenes can and do look a bit softer than others. Overall this looks good if never amazing.
The 24-bit DTS-HD Mono, in the film's native English, sounds quite good even if range is understandably limited by the source material. There are no noticeable issues with any hiss or distortion though some minor sibilance creeps in once in a while. Overall though, this track is clean, clear and properly balanced. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.
Extras start out with a new audio commentary track by Film Historians Tom Weaver and David Schecter that proves to be quite interesting. It's a good track, there's a lot of interesting information in here that aids in one's appreciation of the film and those who made it. There's biographical details included for pretty much every one of the key participants in the production, background on Universal's hand in the movie and lots of insight into the film's many effective scenes and performances, all delivered with an amiable, fun to listen to style.
The disc also includes a featurette called Mistress Of Menace And Murder: Making The Spider Woman Strikes Back, which is made up of new interviews with film historian and author C. Courtney Joyner, film historian Bob Burns, filmmaker Fred Olen Ray, make-up effects artist Rick Baker and the late Ted Newsom. Lots of insight here into the state that Universal Studios was in when the movie was made, casting the film, director Arthur Lubin's career, Rondo Hatton's life and times, what makes the movie an effective thriller and more. It's interesting and well put together. This piece runs just over ten minutes in length.
Finishing up the extras are a trailer for the feature, trailers for a few other Kino Lorber properties, menus and chapter selection options.
The Spider Woman Strikes Back may not be a masterpiece but it is a really fun vintage B-movie thanks to some stylish cinematography and some really memorable performances. Kino's Blu-ray debut for the picture looks and sounds decent, if a few steps away from perfect, while the commentary and short featurette definitely add value. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.