When cattle in a small town in Arizona turn up dead for no apparent reason, local vet Robert "Rack" Hansen (William Shatner, beefy) along with scientist Diane Ashley (Tiffany Bolling, gorgeous) investigate the mysterious circumstances only to discover that a shift in the balance of nature has given rise to a strain of highly aggressive tarantulas intent on feeding on the town folk...
Made in 1977, in the wake of Jaws, Kingdom of the Spiders is a superior example of the nature vs. man genre that was so popular in the 70's (Frogs, Squirm, Grizzly etc). The premise may sound schlocky on paper, but the film is anything but, delivering some real menace and suspense, successfully importing elements from The Birds and Night of the Living Dead, and bravely playing out with a quietly devastating ending. Interestingly the film's premise is close to the 1974 zombie film The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue, both films explore the consequences of mankind's interferenece with the natural order - in the case of Kingdom of the Spiders, pesticides have destroyed the tarantula's place in the food-chain, so they turn to humans for food.
Director Jon "Bud" Cardos gets great mileage out of the story with some slick low angle shots of spiders creeping around, and in particular two striking set pieces involving a crop-duster, and descent into a darkened cellar. Besides excellent work from Shatner and Bolling, the film benefits greatly from the extended cast - 5,000 Mexican tarantulas who are marvellous - there's no Fulci fakery here à la The Beyond, these creepy-crawlies are the real deal.
Worth applauding also the human extras who allowed themselves to be covered and crawled upon by spiders - no mean feat. Incidentally, Wes Craven would go one better in his 1980 film Deadly Blessing by placing a spider in Sharon Stone's mouth. Animal lovers should note that there is extensive stomping and other punishments doled out to the spiders, and the film if remade today would have to make extensive use of CGI to satisfy the American Humane Association. One to savour indeed.
My copy of Spiders is the 2002 Goodtimes DVD which was a good budget disc for its time, but can now be discarded for Shout! Factory's magnificent 2010 edition, with a superior transfer (and in its OAR finally) and worthwhile extras - commentary, interviews and some Super-8 onset footage). The film is best avoided by those with a sensitive disposition to the eight legged freaks of this world, but for those looking for a solid 70's chiller, Kingdom of the Spiders is highly recommended.