I have two distinct memories of this movie. I was six when it first came out, and somewhere during those single digit years it aired late one night on TV. Up to that point I was already a fan of Earth Vs. The Spider (1958), Tarantula (1955) and that Dan Curtis 1978 made-for-TV spider-woman movie, Curse Of The Black Widow. Being that young I thought, well, I’ve seen all the giant spider movies Hollywood has ever made. There were two others I was surprised to find I hadn’t previously seen: Beast From Haunted Cave (1959), which wasn’t strictly about a giant spider but a monster with enough spider-like qualities I feel qualifies for addition to this list and The Giant Spider Invasion.
I never saw that first airing of the movie, my mother did. It wasn’t until the next morning when I got up and she told me she saw this movie about a giant spider coming to earth in a meteor that I learned of it’s existence and was consequently disappointed she hadn’t woken me up to see it. I remember telling her she should have, and she even admitted she should have.
Of course being a young kid my mind conjured up all kinds of cool images of a movie with a bunch of giant spiders laying siege to a major city. I had never seen anything like that before, but it wasn’t until, perhaps, the early 80s when I finally got to see it. It was on a Sunday, in the Fall, I think; I remember the day was cold, and when it came to seeing two of the victims actually being sucked into the giant spider’s mouth, one of them all bloody, I got squeamish. I remembered this was the movie my mother had told me about all the years before but had no idea it was in color or a borderline horror movie. Back then I had yet to totally embrace the horror genre and was still quite squeamish about them. I watched the movie all the way through and then went over to Brian’s house (this friend I had from my brother’s class) and we talked about it and how freaked out I was about those scenes.
This flick and its memories kind of fall into obscurity until Mystery Science Theater 3000 did an episode on it in the late 90s/early 2000s and that was hilarious. The Giant Spider Invasion falls into the same category as Equinox (1970), The Alien Factor (1978), Nightbeast (1982), and The Strangeness (1985). Movies that’re undeniably bad but good. Nightbeast I have to do a re-evaluation on someday, since my first ever viewing didn’t leave a positive impression, but all those others I own and still enjoy watching.
One thing Earth Vs. The Spider, Tarantula and The Giant Spider Invasion all have in common, other than the giant spider, are the small towns the spiders run amok in. I was a little disappointed when I saw it since it destroyed all my fantasies I had of huge arachnids laying waste to a major city, and it’s the first giant spider movie, I believe, to be filmed in color. The previous two are science run amok movies, at least Tarantula certainly is, the spider being the product of genetic tampering, but I can’t recall the origin they gave for the over-sized crawler in Earth Vs. The Spider. Director Bill Rebane’s ’75 take on eight-legged freaks being too big for their own good, however, is novel. As Dr. Jenny Langer (Barbara Hale) and NASA scientist, Dr. Vance (Steve Brodie) explains after this meteor crashed down in this small, Wisconsin town, a black hole and a gateway to a parallel dimension was created from which our rampaging monster originated. And it didn’t come alone. At the crash site a plethora of geodes are found each one containing a normal sized tarantula that grows into a man-sized killer.
Eventually the giant spider (none of the others ever get that huge) makes it’s big appearance in town, interrupting a fair and taking a stroll down Main Street as the townsfolk try and take it on. People die, but not as horribly as Dan Kester (Robert Easton), the white trash husband of the family whose property the meteor crashed on, and that deputy at the end.
Before they merge, the story fluctuates between Langer and Vance investigating this “radioactive anomaly” and the Kesters. It’s this family that provides the most bang for your buck here. Before the giant spider ever shows itself I always found the set-up, the discovery of the dead cattle in the fields and the first dead human, to be creepy. It’s not a bad movie it’s just the FX don’t obviously live up to the idea, or it’s poster, but I’ve seen this movie so many times the FX has grown on me, and since the spider comes from another dimension you can kind of make an excuse for the lame FX based on that alone.
For me the most famous face in the cast is Alan Hale, jr, who plays the Sheriff. He was The Skipper on Gilligan’s Island (’64-‘67). The movie even comes with some mild T&A provided by Terry (Diane Lee Hart), the wife’s little sister.
Fred Olen Ray’s Retromedia, I believe, was the first company to release Bill Rabane’s movie on DVD back in 2002. Since then it’s gotten several other releases over the years and I’ll be honest I never thought this movie would qualify for bluing. I’m glad it did, though. Back on June 9th VCI Entertainment released it on separate DVD and blu-ray editions with the blu being a VCI Exclusive and loaded with more extras than the DVD, so if you want that version you’ll have to get it through VCI’s website.
This is my first VCI Entertainment blu-ray so I don’t know the track record of how well they’re remasters are, and I have only seen The Giant Spider Invasion in the form TCM airs it, which is full frame, so I can only compare this blu to that transfer, and doing so VCI’s blu is definitely the way to go if you want to see this movie in the best form possible, which means widescreen for the first time, with very good colors. Audio was good too.
Extras on the blu-ray include…
- New 2015 Documentary by Daniel Griffith – “Size Does Matter! Making The Giant Spider Invasion” (15:20)
- The SUPER-8 Version (re-edited in HD) (30:17)
- Behind-the-Scenes Photo Gallery ()
- Original Theatrical Trailer and TV Spots
- Archival Interviews With Cult-Film Director Bill Rebane And Other Members Of The Cast And TV news Reports (2:13:08)
- Archival Interview With Actor Robert Easton (Kester) (16:58)
- Kevin Murphy and Mike Nelson Oof Mystery Science Theater 3000 Introduce Bill Rebane (7:04)
- The Super-8 Version (The Original Home Media Format) (28:22)
- Archival Newsreel—Bill Rebane On The Set Of Rana (7:34)
A CD of 14 songs from what the back of the blu-ray claims is a forthcoming musical based on the movie.
Some of what I learned from all these extras is the movie started out as a serious giant spider flick, but actor Robert Easton, who doubled as part of the script writing duo, convinced Rebane to go the spoof route due to the fact that the FX for the spiders would probably look less than stellar on the budget they had, but the other half writing the script, Robert Huff, was taking out all the comedy Easton was putting into it.
I’m not sure if this was a defect in the disc I had or it was designed to cut out like that but the Easton interview stopped abruptly at the 16-minute mark, while he was in mid-conversation, and went back to the main menu. That was too bad, since I was thoroughly enjoying what he was saying.
I also enjoyed the part in the 2-hour Archival interviews extra where Rebane was in his house showing photographs and memorabilia to this fan of the movie.. There’s tons of stuff in that 2-hour extra. You’ll even see where they discovered the remains of the giant spider, the metal chassis, and how they dragged it out from a junkyard and basically saved it.
I’m not sure why the Super-8 versions exist. They’re basically an edited down version of the movie. I couldn’t find anyone talking about them in the extras. Was this the basic movie completed and then more scenes were added to make it a full length feature, or what? If you want to see an abbreviated version of the movie go with the HD version on Disc #2.
There’s also a short comic insert (a reproduction of a comic that was made when the movie came out) and liner notes on the back of the cover art.
I’m still perplexed by the the idea that there’s going to be a musical version. In a perfect world I wouldn’t mind seeing some kind of remake. But until that day happens I can’t recommend VCI’s blu-ray enough.
(Note: A previous DVD had a commentary by Bill Rebane, but for reasons unknown it wasn’t ported over to VCI’s blu or the DVD).