Giant Monstershow: Earth vs. the Spider, aka The Spider

Earth vs the SpiderThe October Horrorshow Giant Monstershow carries on! Today’s film is the sixth this month featuring b-cinema auteur extraordinaire Bert I. Gordon. The man made giant monster flicks his own cottage industry. That’s not too far off of the mark, considering Gordon would shoot effects in his own garage.

Today’s film is Earth vs. The Spider, also released as just The Spider. Released just a few months after War of the Colossal Beast, Earth vs. The Spider switches up the formula for giant monster flicks. Most of the films featured this past month have featured scientists and doctors as the main protagonists, or maybe a military man or two. This film does have those characters, but they’ve been relegated to supporting roles. In this flick, the heroes are teenagers. That’s right. By 1958, shitty filmmakers recognized that it was teenagers that were pumping large amounts of dollars into their coffers, and someone came up with the bright idea to make movies featuring teenagers in the leads.

It was movies like Earth vs. The Spider that established the trope of teenagers, usually a young couple, trying to get the adults in town to listen to and believe their wild tales about monsters or aliens plaguing the populace. The most notable example of this trope was The Blob (reviewed tomorrow). Both were released in the same month, although I haven’t been able to find the exact date of release for today’s movie, so I can’t say which came first. No matter which film it was, shifting the focus from stuffy adults to swinging kids was a seismic shift in how these movies were made, and had a lasting impact on how Hollywood produced films for youths with disposable dollars.

June Kenney plays teenager Carol Flynn. Carol’s birthday is coming up, but it won’t be a happy one. That’s because her father never returned from a shopping trip to buy her a gift. Carol decides to go looking for her father and brings along her would-be boyfriend, Mike Simpson (Eugene Persson). The two of them drive the rural roads surrounding their town searching for Carol’s father. They don’t find him, but they do find his pickup truck smashed to bits, and the bracelet that he had bought Carol for her birthday (sniff!).

They find a cave nearby and, reasoning that Carol’s father might have sought shelter there if he had been injured, go inside. If the title of the movie didn’t give it away, the two of them find a giant spider inside. A tarantula, in fact — about the size of a house. They manage to escape and rush to the sheriff, only to be dismissed as a couple of kooky kids. But then, the sheriff grudgingly agrees to lead a search party to the cave, and everyone discovers that the kids were telling the truth. What follows is more process shot spider action, mostly filmed in Carlsbad Caverns, but also on the Universal backlot. We see the spider chasing down townsfolk, but not much more. Gordon, as per usual, was working with a minimal budget. While he could show wide shots of the spider giving chase, there wasn’t much in the way of puppetry or anything that would allow cast members to interact with the spider in a meaningful way.

This was the seventh film released with Gordon in the director’s chair, and he was continuing to show improvements as a director and a storyteller. The special effects are a little better than in previous films, as well. That being said, there was very much a ceiling on Gordon’s abilities. This is a much more watchable film than King Dinosaur or The Cyclops, but it’s still bottom-feeding dreck. Gordon still took shortcuts, and still relied on padding the runtime to make up for lack of plot, despite this film only running 73 minutes long. To put this in perspective, at a similar point in his career, Steven Spielberg was directing Indiana Jones movies. At his own pace, Gordon wouldn’t have been able to make movies like that until sometime around 2032.

Like all Gordon’s films, this is an artifact. Who is really going to seek them out without a purpose in mind, such as banging out a month of monster movie reviews? It’s cheap, from the first frame to the last. It was made to bring in a quick buck, and that’s what it did. No one involved, much less Gordon, would have thought it would have enough cachet to be written about 60 years after its release. That makes it a waste of time for most viewers, but if one is into shitty monster flicks, this is a must-see. Still, Alien: Resurrection is a better movie than Earth vs. The Spider.

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