Thursday, July 31, 2008

Earth vs. the Spider (American International, 1958)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I dredged up one of the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 discs and reached for a disc that I thought contained the film Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, a dumb movie but one with a certain degree of appeal (especially from Ray Harryhausen’s effects work, notably the final scene in which an alien flying saucer crashes into the White House as it is shot down), but no-o-o-o-o, the movie actually was Earth vs. the Spider, a 1958 non-epic from producer-director Bert I. Gordon at American International.

It’s your typical small-town high-schoolers (played by actors in their late 20’s and early 30’s, by the way, though the MST3K crew didn’t ridicule this as much as they had in Ring of Terror) battling giant monster movie — virtually all of Bert I. Gordon’s movies feature something or someone who’s been artificially enlarged in size and has become menacing — and aside from Sally Fraser (Peter Graves’ wife in It Conquered the World, a movie that actually looks good by comparison with Earth vs. the Spider!), none of the cast members (Ed Kemmer, June Kenney, Eugene Persson, Gene Roth, Hal Torey, June Jocelyn, Mickey Finn et al.) were people I’d ever herd of before — and as a giant-spider movie this one is better than The Giant Spider Invasion but nowhere near as good as Tarantula (and, indeed, the spider featured here is a tarantula, leading to someone posting a “goof” comment on to the effect that spider’s webs are an important part of the story but tarantulas don’t spin webs).

It was pretty typical tacky 1950’s sci-fi, complete with model shots of a giant spider that looked like someone made it with pipe cleaners (besides producing, directing and co-writing — with The Mole People author László Görög and George Worthing Yates — Bert I. Gordon also took credit for the special effects, with one Flora M. Gordon listed as his assistant, and naturally the MST3K crew couldn’t resist making fun of the all-in-the-family nature of the credits: “Honey, pass me that plastic head, please”) and some all-too-obvious cuts between live-action footage and models of the same sets. About the only point of distinction this movie had was that Gordon took a crew to Carlsbad Caverns and filmed it as the home of his giant spider — which was cool, though it would have looked nicer in color — but for the most part this one was just one big bore even the MST3K crew couldn’t make entertaining, and if anything they seemed more inspired by the weird short with which they prefaced it — an educational film about effective public speaking hosted by a real-life speech professor who looked, acted and sounded all too much like the voice coach famously caricatured in Singin’ in the Rain — which they did a much better job of ridiculing.