Monday, October 08, 2012

“That's the trouble with you eggheads - you jump to conclusions! I know what I see and I see a dead man, but, uh, I don't see any spider.”

Time once again to jump into the processed-shot world of Bert. I Gordon. Today’s entry is 1958’s Earth Vs. The Spider AKA The Spider.

In River Falls, (I presume) California, a teenager and her insensitive boyfriend look for her missing dad. Dad had a reputation as a drunk, but when the kids find his wrecked truck and some bloody clothes near a cave, it seems drunk driving was not the problem. No, that problem is a giant spider that the teens barely escape. The High School science teacher arranges to spray the monster with enough DDT to fill Lake Mead, and the spider’s corpse is stored in the school gym because it’s the only place large enough to study it.

And then the janitor lets a band into the gym to rehearse for the school dance, and they in turn are followed by the drama class who start shaking, rattling, and rolling, and the power of rock music rouses the spider from its slumber, sending it on a murderous rampage across the city before it’s killed in its original cave through a complicated series of events where the two teenagers from the beginning are trapped inside when a road crew blasts the entrance shut, then has to dig an entrance to rescue the kids, and the science teacher electrocutes the hell out of the beast.

Carol Flynn: June Kenney plays an average small town girl with average issues like occasional disagreements with her boyfriend and a father with a reputation as a bit of a drunk. Actually, her attachment to her father moves the plot along several times (sometimes stupidly) because she is devoted to keeping and recovering his last gift to her (a piece of jewelry) that she is willing to run back into the giant spider’s cave to find it after the plot has decided that she dropped it in there.

Mike Simpson: (Eugene) Gene Persson plays Carol’s rather dense and unintentionally insensitive boyfriend. Mostly he serves to follow Carol around and voice doubts about various things. Oh, and to drive a car. His dad owns a movie theater.

Sheriff Cagle: Gene Roth plays the simple, and extremely skeptical provincial sheriff. Like any B-movie sheriff, he doesn’t believe the teens when they tell him there’s a giant monster attacking people. It takes a few dead deputies to convince him that yes, there is indeed a giant monster attacking the town.

Professor Art Kingman: Ed Kemmer plays the actual hero of the film. He’s a high school science teacher and the first person to believe the teens when they tell him what they’ve seen. He’s also the guy who comes up with effective plans to stop the creature. However, after the spider is put down the first time, he’s determined to study it (like all good scientists do) and makes the miscalculation that the beast is dead instead of dormant. Still, he’s the only character that does anything truly proactive in the movie.

Directed by Bert I. Gordon, it works in Gordon’s signature processed shots to make things really big on a small budget. In this case, it’s a tarantula, and the effects are generally decent (though issues of scale come into play for differing shots). The spider’s web is very obviously a standard (and large) rope net. The film also uses Carlsbad Caverns as the “location” of the spider’s cave, but there’s some very obvious matte work and I suspect it was just cheaper to use elements from, say postcards, than to actually shoot in the actual caverns. There’s lots of cost and time cutting cheats in this genre and this movie is no different.

There is a random insert shot of a baby crying (presumably orphaned or abandoned) in the street amid the wreckage of the spider's rampage that is rather inexplicable. It only lasts a few seconds and I guess the purpose of it is to show the tragedy of this destruction, but it doesn't fit into a big, dumb giant spider movie like this which is full of lots of really, really dumb goofiness. All it manages to do is provide a few seconds of mood whiplash before jumping right back into "holy crap, how do we stop a giant spider!?"

Story by Bert I. Gordon, Screenplay by Laszlo Gorog and George Worthing Yates. Well, it’s a giant spider movie. It definitely provides that. The characters are not very interesting and the plot is by its nature far-fetched. Still, unlike some other contemporaries, it’s not boring and scenes don’t linger as long on pointless padding conversations as other movies. (They’re still present, but pacing at least exists in this movie).

Albert Glasser provides an enthusiastic and bombastic soundtrack to the movie. There’s also some Theremins thrown in for good measure. Because its not a 50s Sci-fi movie without Theremins.

Earth Vs. The Spider is an acceptable representative of the 50’s Giant Monster craze. Not the best, but not the worst. It’s bad, sure, but it has enough crazy images, concepts, and stuff going on that it’s at least entertaining.

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