Kingdom of the Spiders (dir by John “Bud” Carlos)


While many celebrated International Cat Day on August 8th, it also happened to be National Tarantula Appreciation Day. As a result, I decided to return to a film that terrified me when I was little (and watched when I was far too young), 1977’s Kingdom of the Spiders.

As a kid growing up near the beginning of cable, movies were regularly during the weekends shown on prime time TV. This consisted of about 5 main channels in New York City: CBS (Channel 2), NBC (Channel 4), ABC (Channel 7), WNYW (Channel 5, which would become Fox in the Mid80s), WWOR (Channel 9), and WPIX (Channel 11). In addition to this, Channel 5, 9, and 11 would have movies playing on weekday afternoons just before the nightly news. I ended up watching Kingdom of the Spiders at my grandmother’s house, from under her bed. I didn’t sleep well for a while after this movie.

I don’t know why she ever owned it, but my Grandmother had this near clear shower curtain with a giant red and black spider on it. The web started from the center and spread out to the edges of the curtain. The image below is the closest approximation I could find to the one she owned. This was the source of my arachnophobia, which caused me to either enter the bathroom with my eyes closed, or use the basement bathroom (which had the rare added chance of seeing actual spiders). She tried to make me see the reality of it once, scooping me up and lifting me in front of the curtain to realize it was just a plastic sheet. My imagination was a little too much, however, and all I saw was something that wanted to cocoon and drink me dry. I screamed and flailed in her arms, and that was the end of that.

The premise for Kingdom of the Spiders is incredibly simple. At first, life is pretty comfortable in Verde Valley, Arizona. You’ve a family of cattle ranchers in the Colby’s (played by Spartacus‘ Woody Strode and Can’t Stop the Music‘s Altovise Davis). However, when a farmer’s cattle begin to fall ill and eventually dies, Dr. Rack Hansen (William Shatner, Miss Congeniality) is brought in to figure out what’s happening. Between heavily flirting with this brother’s widow Terry (Marcy Lafferty, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Shatner’s wife at the time) and taking care of her daughter, Laura (Natasha Ryan, The Amityville Horror), it’s a surprise Rack has the time to help the Colby’s out.

When he sends in the blood samples to a lab for more research, the diagnosis is spider venom on a highly toxic scale. It’s so toxic that a spider specialist, Diane Ashley (Tiffany Bolling, Open House) is brought in to help. Of course, this springs Rack into action. After they meet, he cuts her off on the road, gives her his best one liner and then picks her up and takes her to his favorite restaurant (in her car, mind you). Rack’em, indeed.

Over lunch, they come to an understanding that DDT might be the cause of their tarantula menace. Having killed off their regular food sources of insects, the spiders have moved on to larger game. A quick visit back to the Colby Ranch confirms their fears. A spider mound is on their farm and the decision is eventually made to burn it down. Burning helps, but little do the humans realize that the spiders had exit strategies of their own. They also had additional mounds that the humans never even noticed.

With time running around out, Rack and Diane eventually decide the answer is more DDT, but the spiders thwart the attempt and decide from that point on, it’s all out war. Can the town survive the assault?

So, the spiders in Kingdom of the Spiders are just tarantulas. While all tarantulas are spiders, not all spiders are tarantulas. We’re not talking about the small house spiders from Frank Marshall’s Arachnophobia. They can be dangerous too, depending on the type. The Brown Recluse in particular has venom that is necrotic and will eat away the flesh around a bite. This movie focuses on the large hairy ones.

From what I’ve read, while most tarantulas have venom, it’s not particularly dangerous to humans. The only real exception to this are the Funnel Web spiders of Australia. They’re super aggressive and their venom can kill. Thankfully, according to a USA Today article, no one on that continent’s been killed by one since 1980. Additionally, some tarantulas only really use their fangs as a last resort. They will usually choose to flick the hairs off their back, which sting the eyes and noses of most predators.

There were about 5000 tarantulas used in the movie, with a mix of real ones for the early close ups and fake models for some of the wider shots. I’ve always wondered if the American Humane Society supervised the film, because it looks looks like a number of them were killed (at least in the last third).

Shatner is pretty much himself here, bringing that style he always does to a role. It’s not the over the top levels of Captain Kirk or Denny Crane, but it’s still fun to watch. Though I haven’t been able to confirm it, I’m told that Tiffany Bolling was one of the few people that wasn’t scared to work with the arachnids and that helped to get her the role. Most of the cast are okay, thought their reactions to spiders might cause one to laugh more than to share in their fear. Granted, I’d probably react the same way as most of them.

There’s one part involving Mrs. Colby with a gun that shares the same musical piece used in David Cronenberg’s Rabid and Scott Sanders’ Black Dynamite. Much like the classic Wilhelm scream, this musical piece seems to pop up in older movies now and then.

Overall, Kingdom of the Spiders is a decent film to unleash upon your Arachnophobic friends to watch them squirm. The spiders may spend more time running away from their prey, but some low to the ground camera shots help to make things more interesting.

Documentary Review: Shatner In Space


Remember when William Shatner became the oldest man to go into space?

It’s okay if you’ve forgotten.  It happened way back in 2021 and that was like — well, it feels like it was about 30 years ago.  Add to that, Shatner went up in space as a part of Jeff Bezos’s space program and Bezos’s attempts to conquer space have pretty much been replaced by Elon Musk’s attempts to conquer space in the national consciousness.

That said, it was a really big deal when it happened.  I think there were a lot of people who were concerned that, at the age of 90, Shatner wasn’t really physically fit to go into space and that it would be really depressing if Shatner didn’t make it back to Earth.  There were others who pointed out that Jeff Bezos’s Blue Orbit may have gone high up in the sky but that it didn’t quite break through the atmosphere.  The people on the ship, including Shatner, experienced weightlessness and got to see what the Earth looked like from space without actually literally going into space.  George Takei had to be a whiny little child about it because that’s pretty much the way Takei reacts to anything positive happening to William Shatner.  And, of course, many people said that Jeff Bezos should have been spending his money on fixing the Earth instead of trying to escape it.  Those were the same people who, later that year, wrote positive reviews of Don’t Look Up.

That said, it was all just really cool.  Star Trek may bore me to tears but even I was still moved by the thought of William Shatner going into space, even if it was just for a few minutes.  It was a moment to spark the imagination and to inspire optimism.  I think those are two things that the professional naysayers are incapable of possessing or understanding.  But it’s imagination and optimism that will make the world a better place.

Anyway, there’s a 50-minute documentary about Shatner’s voyage into space, one that I just watched.  It’s on Prime and, quite appropriately, it’s called Shatner In Space.  In all honesty, Shatner In Space is largely a commercial for Jeff Bezos.  There’s not point in denying that.  The first half of the documentary features perhaps a bit too much footage of Jeff Bezos, one of the world’s richest men, trying to present himself as just being a humble sci-fi nerd who grew up on a ranch.  Brilliant businessman that he is, Bezos is not the most charismatic person in the world and that’s especially obvious when he’s sharing scenes with William Shatner.  There’s undoubtedly a lot that you can say about William Shatner but no one can deny that, even at 90, the man knows how to work a scene.

But, fortunately, Shatner himself seems to be so sincerely excited about the prospect of going into space that it even makes Bezos tolerable.  The documentary doesn’t include as many scenes as one might hope of William Shatner training for his mission.  Personally, I would be curious to know what type of precautions were taken before sending a 90 year-old person into space because, who knows …. I might be 90 before I get the chance to try it for myself!  I did notice that, of the crew, Shatner was the only one not to really indulge in the weightless aspect of the trip.  While everyone else floated around the capsule, Shatner seemed content to stay in his seat and look at the Earth below.  The fact that Shatner, who has pretty much made a late-in-life career out of parodying his reputation for being a bit pompous, seems to be, at that moment, at a loss for words is actually rather touching.

Anyway, as I said, this is basically a commercial for Jeff Bezos but it’s hard not to enjoy watching Shatner go into space.

Music Video of the Day: Somehow You Do, performed by William Shatner (2021, dir by John Ottman)


Today, the Shattered Lens wishes a happy 91st birthday to William Shatner!  Not only is William Shatner an actor, a director, a writer, a famed wit, and a legendary Canadian but he’s also a singer!

Here is William Shatner performing Somehow You Do.  This song was written by Diane Warren and the video was directed by John Ottman.

Enjoy!

Horror Film Review: The Devil’s Rain (dir by Robert Fuest)


Was I the only one who was relieved that William Shatner didn’t die this week?

Seriously, when I heard that the 90 year-old Shatner was going to be taking a trip on one of the Amazon rockets, I was really worried.  First off, you’re taking a 90 year-old into space.  Secondly, you’re doing it with a rocket that people don’t really know that much about.  And third, that 90 year-old is a cultural icon and one who probably played no small role in causing people like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk to become obsessed with conquering space in the first place.  With the exception of George Takei, everyone loves William Shatner.  (And, at this point, Takei’s constant sniping about Shatner is coming across as being just a little bit petty.  Move on, George!  People love you, too.)

As I watched Shatner land back on Earth, I found myself thinking about The Devil’s Rain, a film from 1975 that starred William Shatner as a man whose exploration of the unknown led to a far less triumphant result.   

In this film, Shatner plays Mark Preston, a youngish man who lives on ranch with his father (George Sawaya) and his mother (Ida Lupino).  For some reason, the Preston family owns a book that is full of evil magic.  Satanic high priest Jonathan Corbis (Ernest Borgnine) wants the book and when the Prestons refuse to hand it over, he makes it his mission to destroy them.  He gets things started by turning Mark’s father into a weird, waxy zombie who melts in the rain.  Not wanting the same fate to befall the rest of the family, Mark grabs the book and heads to a desert ghost town that has been taken over by Corbis and his followers.  Mark never returns.

Mark’s older brother, Tom (Tom Skerritt) then shows up in town, searching for Mark.  Accompanying him are his wife (Joan Prather) and a paranormal researcher (Eddie Albert).  Tom discovers that Corbis is transforming his followers into zombies who have no memories and who exist only to …. well, I’m not sure what the point of it all is but I guess it basically comes down to Corbis needing something evil to do.  Not only has Mark become one of his Corbis’s followers but, if you keep an eye out, you might spot a very young John Travolta in the background.  This was Travolta’s film debut.  According to the end credits, the character he plays is named Danny.  Danny Zuko, perhaps?  That would serve him right for making Sandy doubt herself.

The Devil’s Rain is one of the many low-budget movies that William Shatner did between the end of the Star Trek TV show and the start of the Star Trek movies.  It’s a bit of an disjointed film, as I think any film starring William Shatner and Tom Skerritt as brothers would have to be.  Skerritt gives a very laconic performance, playing his character as if he was the star of a Western.  Shatner, meanwhile, does that thing where he randomly emphasizes his words and gets the full drama out of every sentence and facial expression.  But, as much as Shatner overacts, you can’t help but enjoy his performance because he’s William Shatner and that’s what he does.  The same is true of Ernest Borgnine, who overacts in his role just as much as you would expect Ernest Borgnine to overact when cast as an evil cult leader.  For that matter, Eddie Albert isn’t exactly subtle as the paranormal researcher.  Don’t even get me started on Keenan Wynn, playing yet another small town sheriff.  Let’s just say that, with the exception of Tom Skerritt, the cast of The Devil’s Rain is not necessarily full of actors noted for their restraint.  That said, there’s something rather charming about everyone’s attempts to steal every scene in which they appear.

The Devil’s Rain is a deeply silly film but that doesn’t make any sense but it’s hard not to get caught up in it.  Even if the fact that this film is perhaps your only opportunity to see John Travolta melt on screen isn’t enough to make you watch, Shatner vs. Borgnine with Skerritt approaching in the distance is just too entertaining to resist!  Thankfully, Shatner survived appearing in this film and revitalized his career through a combination of Star Trek movies and Canadian tax shelter flicks.  He’s a survivor.  In fact, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that, even at the age of 90, Shatner has no trouble going into space.  William Shatner’s going to be around forever.

Disaster on the Coastliner (1980, directed by Richard C. Sarafian)


A completely computerized passenger train is traveling across the country, with the Vice President’s wife as one of the passengers.  When Jim Waterman (Paul L. Smith), a man who blames the railroad for the death of his family, manages to hijack the train he plans to ram into a locomotive until his demands a met.  He wants railroad president Estes Hill (Raymond Burr) to take responsibility for the crash that killed his wife and children.  With Waterman determined to crash the two trains, it falls to dispatchers Al Mitchell (Lloyd Bridges) and Roy Snyder (E.G. Marshall) to try to figure out a way to stop the collision.  Helping them out on the train is a con artist named Stuart Peters (William Shatner!) who may be wanted by the police but who is still willing to do whatever it takes to save his fellow passengers.

Disaster on the Coastliner is an above-average made-for-TV disaster movie.  Even though it was obviously made for a low-budget and that the majority of the money was probably spent on securing the B-list cast, there are enough shots of the train careening on the tracks to bring happiness to the hearts of most disaster movie fans.  The cast is full of the type of people who you would typically expect to find in a movie like this, people like Raymond Burr, Lloyd Bridges, and William Shatner.  Bridges, interestingly enough, gives the same performance here that he gave in Airplane! and when he starts ranting about how everything’s computerized, he sounds like he could be reciting dialogue from that film.  The only difference is that Airplane! was a comedy while Disaster On The Coastliner is meant to be a drama.  Raymond Burr also does a good job hamming it up as the president of the railroad.  He spends most of the movie sitting behind his desk and looking annoyed, which was pretty typical of Burr in the years after Perry Mason and Ironside. 

For a lot of people, the main appeal of this film will be seeing what William Shatner was doing in between Star Trek movies.  This is a typical early 80s Shatner performance, when he was still trying too hard to win that first Emmy but also when he had just starting to develop the self-awareness necessary to poke fun at his own image.  Shatner really digs into the role of a conman with a heart of gold.  He delivers his lines in his trademark overdramatic style but, in scenes like the one where he sheepishly discovers that a door that he’s been pounding on was unlocked all the time, Shatner actually seems to be in on the joke.  Shatner also did his own stunts in this film, including one where he had stand on top of a speeding train.  In his autobiography, Shatner wrote that he wasn’t even wearing a safety harness in the scene so give it up for Bill Shatner.  That took guts!

Fast-paced and agreeably unpretentious, Disaster On The Coastliner is an enjoyable runaway train movie.

 

Music Video Of The Day: Ponder The Mystery by William Shatner (2013, directed by William Shatner and Kevin Layne)


Today, we wish a happy 89th birthday to the one and only William Shatner!

This music video is for the title song from Shatner’s 2013 album, Ponder the Mystery.  Nowadays, it’s usually agreed that Shatner was laughing at himself when he famously covered songs like Tambourine Man and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.  But Ponder the Mystery features Shatner in a reflective mood.  This song, like every other song on the album, finds Shatner pondering not just the mysteries of life but the reality of death, as well.

After that happy introduction, what else can I do but invite you to…

Enjoy!

International Horror Film Review: Incubus (dir by Leslie Stevens)


The 1966 film Incubus is unique for being one of the few films to have been made in the international language.

What?

No, not love!  WE’RE TALKING ABOUT ESPERANTO!

Esperanto is a language that was invented in 1887 by a Polish idealist who wrote under the name — I kid you not — Dr. Esperanto.  The idea behind Esperanto was that it was a simple language that anyone could learn and, if the whole world learned to speak this one language, there would be far less misunderstandings, conflicts, and wars.  There’s probably some truth to that idea and the language has gone through the occasional period of popularity.  (If Lincoln Chafee runs for President again, I’m sure he’ll probably make learning Esperanto a part of his platform.)  Still, Esperanto never really caught on.  I imagine that most people were like, “But what if I go through the trouble to learn a new language but no one else does?  Then I’d look stupid!”  That’s what kept me from learning trigonometry.

Still, when director Leslie Stevens and producer Anthony Taylor was trying to decide what gimmick they could use to set Incubus apart from other low-budget horror films, they decided that the entire film would be in Esperanto.  Since the film was about a succubus trying to steal soul of a “pure man,” the feeling was that Esperanto would give the film an otherworldly feel.  The idea of having the demons all speaking Esperanto actually worked out well because, seriously, why wouldn’t otherworldly denizens have their own language?  But of course, then William Shatner shows up as the pure man and he’s speaking Esperanto too.  It gets a bit confusing.

The film takes place in the village of Nomen Tuum, where there’s a well that can both heal the sick and make the ugly look reasonably more appealing.  As a result, the village has become a popular spot for not only those who are dying but also those who are incredibly vain.  Kia (Alyson Ames) is one of the many succubi who hang out around the village, leading arrogant and foolish men into the ocean where their souls are claimed by the Incubus (played by Milos Milos).  Kia, however, has grown bored with only tempting the morally corrupt.  She wants a challenge!  She wants to tempt someone pure of heart!  All the other succubi tell her to be careful because dealing with the pure of heart might make it difficult for her to retain her demonic nature, which would upset the Incubus.  Kia shrugs them off and heads out to seduce a clergyman….

Unfortunately, all the available clergymen turn out to be just as vain, greedy, and corrupt as the people drinking from the well!  Whatever is a succubus to do!?  Kia is on the verge of giving up when she spies a wounded soldier named Marc (William Shatner) and his sister, Arndis (Ann Atmar).  They’ve come to the village to heal Marc of his wounds.  And yes, they are “pure of heart.”

It would be easy (and, let’s be honest, a bit tempting) to glibly dismiss Incubus as being the film that proves that, in the 60s, William Shatner could overact even in Esperanto.  And William Shatner does give a very Shatneresque performance.  But Incubus is actually a surprisingly effective film.  The film’s black-and-white cinematography was by Conrad Hall (with the uncredited assistance of William A. Fraker) and the film is full of wonderfully atmospheric images.  When Marc dreams, he sees haunting images of dead men floating in the ocean.  When the Incubus abducts Arndis, they travel through a shadowy landscape before finally arriving at a house that that appears to be on fire with demonic evil.  As the film progresses, the imagery becomes more and more surreal, as if we’ve entered into a dream, a filmed nightmare of sorts.  And, long before The Witch, Incubus features a character wrestling with a Satanic goat.

Incubus was filmed with the actors learning their lines phonetically and with no one on set to correct their pronunciations.  When the film was previewed for 60 people who spoke Esperanto, the audience laughed at how the actors butchered their precious little international language.  After that, Milos Milos — the actor who played the Incubus — was found dead with his girlfriend in what was assumed to be a murder/suicide, though many continue to claim that it was a murder/murder.  (Milos’s girlfriend was also Mickey Rooney’s wife and both were discovered dead at Mickey’s house and, well …. I don’t like where this is heading.  Sorry, Mick!)  As a result of all of the scandal, no reputable U.S. distributor would handle Incubus.  (This was 1966, after all.)  So, the film was only released in France.  Though I have no evidence to say for sure, I choose to believe that the French got it.

The film was long believed to be lost until the last remaining print was discovered in the collection of the Cinematheque Francaise in Paris.  From that badly damaged print, Incubus was restored and, as a result, history’s first Esperanto horror film can once again be appreciated by audiences everywhere!

Mi amas feliĉan finon!

The Lost Ending Of It’s A Wonderful Life!


Has it ever bothered you that, at the end of It’s A Wonderful Life, Mr. Potter basically gets away with nearly destroying George’s life?  It’s certainly bothers me!

Well, fortunately, the lost ending of It’s A Wonderful Life has been uploaded to YouTube!  Broadcast on a 1986 episode of Saturday Night Live and introduced by William Shatner (who, it must be said, really gets into introducing the clip), this clip gives George the revenge that he deserves!

As George Bailey put it: “You double-crossed me and left me alive!”

(Incidentally, I love the fact that Uncle Billy says that he talked to “Clarence at the bank.”  Obviously, Clarence put those wings to good use!)

Enjoy!

Captain Kirk vs. Sheriff Taylor: Pray For The Wildcats (1974, directed by Robert Michael Lewis)


The year is 1974 and there’s nothing more dangerous than being a hippie in Baja California.  That’s because psychotic business Sam Farragutt (played by Andy Griffith!) is on the loose.  Sam likes to describe himself as being a hippie himself.  “A hippie with money,” Sam puts it as he waves a hundred dollar bill in the face of a hippie without money,

Actually, there is one thing more dangerous than being a hippie in Baja California and that’s being an ad executive.  Once again, Sam Farragutt is to blame.  He’s willing to give his business to three ad execs but first they have to agree to go down to Baja and ride around with him on their motorcycles.  The three ad execs are Terry Maxon (former child evangelist Marjoe Gortner!), Paul McIllvain (former Brady Bunch star Robert Reed!), and suicidal burn-out Warren Summerfield (William Shatner!).  Warren is having an affair with Paul’s wife (Angie Dickinson!) but he’s still planning on committing suicide in Mexico.

However, going to Mexico gives Warren a new lease on life.  After Warren discovers that Farragutt is responsible for the death of two hippies, he becomes determined to make sure that justice is served.  Soon, Andy Griffith (!) is chasing William Shatner (!) across the Mexican desert.  Someone’s going to die.  Is it going to be Sheriff Taylor or Captain Kirk?

Pray For The Wildcats was a made-for-TV movie that aired the same year as Savages.  Both movies were a part of Andy Griffith’s attempt to change his image after playing the folksy Sheriff Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show.  Griffith is a good villain but the main appeal of Pray for the Wildcats is the chance to see William Shatner doing his thing.  Shatner has a juicy role here, playing a man who is at first suicidal and then righteously indignant.  He overemotes with the self-serious intensity that was Shatner’s trademark in the years before he finally developed a sense of humor about himself.  The movie itself gets bogged down with unnecessary flashbacks and dated dialogue but the spectacle of Griffith vs. Shatner makes it all worth it.

Confessions of a TV Addict #7: TJ HOOKER and His Amazing Hair Helmet!


cracked rear viewer

TV Cop Shows ran rampant during the 1980’s. There were gritty street cops, female cops, Dirty Harry-inspired cops, MTV cops, debonair cops, teenage cops, and every other permutation you could think of, short of outer space cops. But for Cops With The Best Hair, it has to be… no, not CHARLIE’S ANGELS, but TJ HOOKER!

TJ HOOKER starred William Shatner (which kind of makes this a semi-outer space cop show, no?) as Hooker, a veteran on the LCPD (standing in for Los Angeles) who serves as mentor to the younger cops. Shatner, who by this time was, shall we say, follically challenged, wore a perm-coiffed toupee which never got mussed no matter how many times he ran down bad guys, got in hellacious fights, or got it tousled by his latest love interest:

As Warren Zevon would say, “His hair was perfect”!

Also with perfect hair was costar Adrian Zmed…

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