If you need a giant monster on a small budget look no further than B-movie master Bert I. Gordon, a man who brought colossal entertainment to the big screen on almost non-existent budgets, with such films as The Cyclops and Attack of the Puppet People, but with Earth vs. the Giant Spider he brought a little of his trademark magic to the classic “giant bug” genre.
In 1955 director Jack Arnold made the classic Tarantula for Universal Pictures, which dealt with a mad scientist creating a miracle growth formula, and three years later Bert I. Gordon would take a crack at the subject matter – minus the mad scientist and with a few teenagers tossed in for good measure – but with a considerably lesser budget than what Jack Arnold had for his giant bug picture Earth vs. the Spider relied on cheap optical effects and an overzealous cast of characters to sell the idea to the public. It should be known that Bert I. Gordon doesn’t mess around when it comes to getting the action going, something required when your pictures are often just a little over an hour in length, and this film gets off with a bang as we open with a dad, Jack Flynn (Merritt Stone), racing home to deliver a birthday bracelet to his daughter Carol (June Kenney), and his journey home is cut short when his pickup truck is intercepted by the title creature and he never makes it home. The next morning a worried Carol convinces her boyfriend, Mike Simpson (Eugene Persson), to help her search for her missing father and because the power of boners is strong, he agrees. After finding her father’s overturned pickup truck they investigate a nearby cave, one rumoured to have had many people enter but not all having returned, and their concerns are quickly justified when they come across a skeleton.
Things don’t get much better when the two intrepid teenagers stumble off a rocky ledge and fall into what appears to be a giant spider web, to which Carol and Mike quickly extricate themselves, but not before a giant spider appears and chases them out of the cave. Needless to say, when they get back to town nobody believes their story about a giant spider and it’s up to their high school science teacher, Mr. Kingman (Ed Kemmer), to convince the town’s sheriff (Gene Roth) to round up a search party to check out their claims. Armed with rifles and large amounts of DDT our intrepid authority figures enter the cave system and soon find Jack’s desiccated body, much to Carol’s anguish, but before anyone has time to mourn the poor man the giant spider makes its appearance and it is up to our heroes to put it down by spraying DDT throughout the cavern. Now, I’m not sure why they thought it was necessary to climb onto the giant spiderweb to spray the cavern, but I’m not the expert here.
The Sheriff wants to seal the “apparently dead” arachnid in the cave but Kingman, being a man of science, talks him out of it and claims they need to study the carcass so that they can figure out why it grew so large, stating that “We have to put an end to it. Otherwise, there may be more giant spiders coming into the world, they may even be hatching from their eggs in some remote spot, right now. You realize how easy it would be for them to overcome us humans? Then instead of being the hunters, we’d become the hunted. They’d be our masters, they’d live on us.” And sure, that’s pretty fine speech and there is a very reasonable point at its center, but it’s pretty much forgotten after this as the threat of a global spider epidemic is never addressed again. The lifeless body of the spider is taken back to town to the high school gym, where Kingman hopes to not only study the creature but get reimbursed for his expenses by the university, unfortunately, a group of rock and roll teenagers decide to use the gym to practice their music and soon an impromptu dance breaks out that awakens the not at all dead giant spider.
As mentioned, this is a very low-budget affair so we don’t really get much in the way of a rampage on display, though one shot of a deserted street and a crying baby covered in blood was really quite effective, and the film’s required optical work to composite the creature amongst the town’s streets and screaming populace resulted in a lot of moments where the giant spider is either transparent or not quite making contact with the ground. As this was a “Bert I. Gordon Production” he was not only the producer and director of the film but he is also credited for its special technical effects, and they are definitely special, but this kind of thing only adds to the charm of these type of films and Gordon is a master at giving just enough “magic” to keep his audience entertained.
Note: It is always important for your cast of characters to take things seriously, if the audience is going to buy into the conceit of a giant monster attacking a town, and the actors in this movie give it their all in this picture.
• The town’s theatre is playing a double feature of The Amazing Colossal Man and Attack of the Puppet People, which were both Bert I. Gordon pictures and also starred June Kenney.
• The interior of the “unexplored” natural caverns was extremely well-lit. It’s nice to see that even giant spiders have an appreciation for good lighting.
• Our heroes find numerous human skeletons littering the cave but seem rather nonplussed as to their identities.
• Movies like this will often have scientists around to give out the required expository dialogue but the one in Earth vs. the Spider is really bad at his job as he keeps calling the spiders “insects” instead of arachnids.
• While lost in the cave, Carol and Mike find a skeleton with the words on the cave wall above it “George Weston Lost April 9, 1902” written on the cave wall above it, and Carol remarks, “He must have starved to death. I’m getting awful worried, Mike.” Which wins Carol the understatement of the year award.
• The actors portraying high school kids are either in their late 20s or early 30s and are even less convincing as teenagers than Steve McQueen was in The Blob.
Bert I. Gordon’s Earth vs. the Spider is a quick and fun romp through the giant monster genre, with good use of Bronson Canyon and the Carlsbad Caverns where our heroes seem to wander around endlessly, but the one thing this movie was really missing is a kicker ending, showing a bunch of giant spider eggs hatching, and that just screams missed opportunity. Overall, this low-budget entry promises and delivers exactly what was expected and who can really ask for more than that?
Earth vs. the Giant Spider (1958)
Movie Rank - 5/10
It’s fair to say that Earth vs. the Spider, which was also known simply as The Spider, is not the greatest entry in the genre but Bert I. Gordon tells a quick and engaging story that provides just enough monster action to keep his audience interested, that the special effects are a little lacking is pretty much expected and simply adds to the fun.