An outrageous mix of 1950s giant monster motifs and backwoods 1970s sleaze, THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION has a special place in the hearts of “bad movie” lovers all over the world, and it now makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy of VCI Entertainment.
One of the first things that comes to mind when discussing Bill Rebane’s THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION is the presence of Alan Hale, Jr. who was never able to shed his typecasting as The Skipper on "Gilligan's Island." Here, he's still as jolly and portly as ever, and even talks to the camera at one point, but the icing on the cake is that his first lines are, "Hey little buddy"! Hale plays the sheriff of a small Wisconsin town (where this was entirely shot) that has some kind of meteor come crashing down, forming a black hole in a farmer's field. Farmer Dan Kester is played by Robert Easton, an easily recognizable character actor who mostly played hillbillies and rednecks (if you remember "Moose Mallory" from an episode of "The Munsters," you'll know what I'm talking about). Easton, who is also credited as co-writer of the film, was a renowned Hollywood dialect coach(!). Anyway, Kester discovers his field is full of dead cattle that surround a large hole in the ground. Also found are some unusual rocks which when cracked open, appear to contain some kind of diamonds.
Meanwhile back at the farm, it's white trash heaven. Kester's pretty wife Ev (Leslie Parrish, MISSILE TO THE MOON) is a hopeless lush, so he lusts after her jailbait little sister Terry (Diane Lee Hart, BUMMER) and finds time to carry on a liaison with a busty barmaid (Christiana Schmidtmer, the warden in Jack Hill’s THE BIG DOLL HOUSE). When cracking open the rocks, dumb Kester doesn't realize that he also exposed some spider eggs, and the house is soon crawling with creepy, fist-sized buggers. In the film’s most disturbing scene, one of these crawlers falls into the blender of Ev's Bloody Mary mix, and she unknowingly tastes the concoction in disgust. Her fate is being attacked by a man-sized fuzzy spider puppet which she is forced to catch and make look real (she actually had a stand-in for the scene).
That puppet later grows enormous, and at that point this "queen" spider is an altered Volkswagen Beetle. Well, it actually doesn't look that bad (at least in the long shots), and it seems people ridicule the effects mostly because it's well known that there's a car under that carpet and those tremendous pipe cleaners (hell, they only had about $10,000 to spend on effects). Seeing human victims get sucked upside down into the giant spider’s mouth, blood gushing and all, is a site to behold. Other veterans in the cast are Barbara Hale ("Perry Mason") as an astronomer and Steve Brodie (IT’S A SMALL WORLD, THE GIANT BEHEMOTH) as NASA scientist Dr. Vance. Neither look too embarrassed here (Brodie did a couple of Jerry Warren pictures, so I guess it really doesn't get any worse than that). Brodie’s son Kevin (a former child TV actor) also appears as a young reporter courting Terry. It’s also surprising to see a decent amount of gore and a flash of nudity (courtesy of Hart) in a PG-rated release, but then again this was the 1970s. Actually, THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION had quite the popular theatrical run when first released in October of 1975, and it became one of the 50 top grossing films of the year, and was later aired on network TV (ABC) as well as on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the 1990s.
THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION was first released on DVD from Retromedia in 2002, and some years later in 2009, a two-disc version appeared from Silver Street Pictures and Synergy Entertainment which featured an alternate (and not necessarily preferable) “director’s cut”. Both these releases included participation from Rebane, with the transfers taken from full frame video masters. VCI’s Blu-ray (the same transfer is also being presented on a subsequent DVD release) presents the film in 1080p HD, and it’s great to finally have the film available in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio rather than a boxy full frame transfer. The elements used for this transfer are largely clean with vivid colors, though there are a few lines and other debris that pop up on the screen periodically. There is also some revealing brighter detail to be found here, and nighttime scenes (which include a climactic spider attack on a crowd in the streets and the deputy being swallowed up by the monster) which were almost impossible to see in previous transfers now have ample clarity to them (the flickering in that very nighttime crowd scene seems to be inherent of the original filming as it’s also evident in every other previous transfer). The transfer on a whole is a bit on the soft side, but this is the best the film has ever looked on the home video format by a long shot. The Linear PCM 2.0 stereo track is a clean mix, with no background noise to speak of, and the dialog and music are both as good as can be expected. Optional English SDH subtitles are included.
Extras on the Blu-ray portion include “Size Does Matter! Making The Giant Spider Invasion” (15:20) which is a new documentary by Daniel Griffith. It’s made up of a solid interview with Rebane, as he relates how he had to learn English (only speaking German) when he arrived in America in the early 1950s, and later making his first motion picture which turned out to be a fiasco he handed over to H.G. Lewis, who released it as MONSTER A GO-GO. Settling in a farmhouse in Wisconsin, Rebane worked steadily in industrial films, and by the early 1970s, he decided to get back into feature films (starting with INVASION OF INNER EARTH). Rebane then goes into detail about the development of THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION, the casting of its name stars (and what they were like to work with), the special effects (and that they hired seven kids to get into the spider/Volkswagen to keep it moving and animated!), and how he and Easton basically made up the script as they went along! The Super 8 digest version (30:17) is a replication of the old home movie edit, put together in HD from the same elements used for the feature. There’s an incredibly lengthy behind-the-scenes photo gallery (14:32), with most of the rare stills being marked with comments, and a number of newspaper clippings are also included. Rounding out the extras on the Blu-ray portion are the original anamorphic theatrical trailer, a full frame black and white version of the trailer and a TV spot.
The bonus DVD included here has an exhausting collection of archival interviews and videotape clips (2:13:09) which include Rebane being interviewed, local TV news pieces from 2005 (during its 30th anniversary), footage from a 2005 Wisconsin Rebane film festival (with guests Rebane and Mystery Science Theater’s Kevin Murphy and Mike Nelson) which has Rebane and SPIDER star Paul Bentzen talking in front of an audience, miscellaneous news articles and photographs from the event, Rebane talking with super fan Cory Udler next to the remains of the giant spider (the Volkswagen bottom and erector-like framing), Udler going through archive materials on the film in Rebane’s living room, footage of the giant spider’s remains being towed out of the deep woods (and then being put on display in front of a theater), footage from an outdoor screening (projected from DVD), more local news footage from 2008 and a few more newspaper clippings. The late Robert Easton is seen in an unedited archival video interview (17:00) which looks to be shot in his backyard. He talks about how he got involved with the film, his first lunch meeting with Rebane and his involvement with re-writing the screenplay as the original was far too serious (and how he handled things when he got opposition from one of the producers, whose niche was actually real estate). There’s a piece of video where Rebane is introduced in front of an audience at his honorary 2005 film festival (7:06). The Iver Film Services Super 8 home movie digest version (28:25) is shown here as is on the original media, and will better make you appreciate the quality of the main feature on the Blu-ray! Rounding out the extras on the DVD portion is footage of Rebane on the set of RANA (7:36) in Wisconsin, circa 1981. Rebane is interviewed on the set talking about his craft and making films for the drive-ins, and there’s some fun behind-the-scenes footage here.
A CD is also included with 14 tracks from “The Giant Spider Invasion the Musical” and the packaging also includes a full-color reprint of the original promotional comic book distributed during its original release. The reverse side of the Blu-ray cover features liner notes by Tom Stockman, who shares some lesser known factoids about the film. (George R. Reis)
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