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Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo
I tell you, nothing makes me happier than a scary movie about spiders, and I was never happier in my entire life than 1977, when Kingdom Of The Spiders crawled into theaters, followed shortly thereafter by Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo on TV. Tarantulas is about as wacky as they get, featuring tons of 8-legged action, a tense set-piece every few minutes, plus goofy dialog and situations galore. There's no filler in this fear festival!
Frankly any movie that starts (as this one does) with some great jazz-funk (Mundell Lowe) on the soundtrack, accompanying Tom Atkins (Halloween III) and Howard Hesseman (WKRP In Cincinnati) as they ready for takeoff a plane full of semi-legal coffee beans, is a damn great movie. This one gets better, as it's obvious this batch of beans includes tons of angry tarantulas, all destined for a small Californian orange-growing town. Once the beans land, in quite an inauspicious manner, the spiders get free, soon biting and killing anyone they see fit. (Why these spiders' venom is so potent, I don't recall, and frankly it's NOT IMPORTANT.) What is important is that, as in any good nature run amok movie, there is some type of festival they can't shut down, I think it's a marmalade festival or something. Maybe it's the drought the town faces, and potential loss of orange-income, because as one tough-guy orange impresario asks, incredulously, when faced with the thought of SHUTTING DOWN THE ORANGES, it's all nonsense, "spiders ... and getting in the way of the work??!" I mean, who gets in the way of the work, right?
But trust me, you don't need to know much more of the plot than that. The more free-form Tarantulas feels, the better it is for you. It's got the usual component of fun casting, with plenty of faces you oldsters might vaguely recognize, but it also stars Claude Akins, and let me just say I'm really happy to live in a world where Akins was a star. It's got situational grace notes like a school for autistic children that plays a pivotal role, and it's got a trench filled with gasoline, which was the defense du jour of angry insect TV movies. The townsfolk are also very anti-insecticide, which poses a problem, especially when it's noted that they've got bug-friendly "volumes of fruit inside an enclosed area" (not the usual bit of dialog you'll hear in a horror movie).
If it weren't for director Stuart Hagmann putting so many kids in extreme peril, I'd almost suspect they were at times joking with this movie; as people are considering fleeing the marmalade festival a calming PA announcement says, and I'm not kidding, "You people just stay around and don't spread any false rumors. Just relax!" (Or maybe bugs-on-the-rampage screenwriter Guerdon (Ants) Trueblood was simply trying to make his plot-machinations super user-friendly.) Whatever the case, there's a kind of giddy mania enveloping this movie, a weirdly upbeat vibe, which includes the entire town coming together in 'let's put on a show' fashion to humanely defeat the creatures with a little sonic trickery and heretofore unsuspected audio-engineering prowess from one of the leads.
So, just what is Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo all about? Doesn't matter. It's fun, it's creepy, it has tons of tarantulas, and it keeps you on the edge of your seat for a variety of reasons for the entire run-time time. What more could an 8-year-old ask for on a Saturday night in 1977? What more could you ask for now? Despite having only one bonus feature (a great commentary track, for the record) Tarantulas, for lovers of bug movies, TV movies, or just silly fun scary nonsense, has a replay value that's off the charts. For that reason alone, it earns a Highly Recommended rating.
The spiders come crawling at you in a 1.33:1 ratio, MPEG-4 AVC coded scan, which certainly reflects the movie's humble origins. Decent levels of detail, relatively good contrast, and nothing much in the way of compression artifacts or other transfer issues are things on the plus side. Print damage crops up here and there, but isn't terribly distracting. The movie probably never looked all that good to begin with, featuring drab, not-very-vibrant colors, without a ton of depth or saturation. Black levels, as well, are not terribly deep. This surely looks much better than its previous incarnations, and on the whole it's a fine looking film for its hobbled station in life.
Dialog is clean, clear and mixed well for this DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track from the mono source. Apparently the movie won an Emmy for sound, though standards are different now, as the dynamic range isn't terribly broad, and hangs out in the upper end quite a bit. The jazzy score sounds groovy nonetheless.
A broad-based and engaging Commentary Track is supplied by Amanda Reyes, Dan Budnik, and Nate Johnson of the Made For TV Mayhem Show podcast. They're knowledgeable, love TV movies in all their forms, and provide good insight and opinions. English Subtitles and a Slipcover with new artwork by Vince Evans are the other extras.
So, just what is Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo all about? Doesn't matter. It's fun, it's creepy, it has tons of tarantulas, and it keeps you on the edge of your seat for a variety of reasons for the entire run-time time. What more could you ask from a Made For TV Movie from 1977? Despite having only one bonus feature (a great commentary track, for the record) Tarantulas, for lovers of bug movies, TV movies, or just silly fun scary nonsense, has a replay value that's off the charts (at least in my highly biased opinion). For that reason alone, it earns a Highly Recommended rating.