Friday, May 02, 2014

Top 5 Spider Movies

Amazing Spider-Man 2 starts this weekend and sadly, I couldn't be less excited. I'm planning to see it, but mostly for the kissing parts. The villain-focused mythology this new series is building doesn't interest me at all, largely because that was the weakest part of the previous Amazing Spider-Man movie.

With that in mind, I thought it might be fun to remember and talk about some other spider-based movies that I expect I'll still like better than this new one once I've seen it. I picked my five favorites and some honorable mentions that didn't quite make the cut. Naturally, I want to hear about yours in the comments.

5. Beast from Haunted Cave (1959)

When I wrote about Beast from Haunted Cave a couple of years ago, I mentioned that it's primarily a crime drama disguised as a creature feature. The monster takes backseat to the conflict in a group of bank robbers and the guide they trick into helping them, which is what makes me love the film all the more. What crime thriller wouldn't be enhanced by a mysterious, cave-dwelling, web-spinning beast? The fact that it's not really a giant spider, but a spider-like humanoid only makes it more appropriate as a replacement for Spider-Man.

4. Charlotte's Web (1973)

I don't have a lot of time for the live-action remake from 2006, but the original cartoon adaptation of EB White's book still holds a special place in my heart. Paul Lynde's Templeton the rat was a huge attraction, but I'm amazed at how fond I grew of Charlotte the spider and how heart-broken and yet optimistic I was over that ending. That's a complicated blend of emotions to ask from children, but it's exactly why the story is so powerful and enduring.

3. Tarantula (1955)

If you're gonna turn ordinary animals into giant freaks - which people loved to do in the '50s - you can't do better than the hairiest, nastiest animal of them all. I don't know if I've mentioned, but as much as I complain about cephalopods around here, spiders - and tarantulas in particular - are 1000 times worse. This is almost my worst nightmare.

2. Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)

And this actually is my worst nightmare. I feel like I can get away from one, enormous tarantula, but there's no escaping a seemingly intelligent infestation of the things. The film makes up for its wild scientific inaccuracies by having a famous space captain Shatner up the place as a veterinarian investing the vindictive monsters and then leading a small group of survivors holed up in a lodge.

1. Spider Baby (1968)

One of my absolute favorite horror movies. Lon Chaney Jr. wasn't doing so well by this time in his career, but he's in excellent form as Bruno, the caretaker of a trio of creepy siblings in a decaying mansion. The Merrye kids all have an odd, hereditary syndrome that causes them to mentally and physically regress, exhibiting inappropriate behavior like eating spiders with a fork. Young Virginia is especially obsessed with spiders and she's the one who gives the movie its name.

Things get complicated when a couple of city-slicker relatives show up with their lawyer. As they try to claim control over the family estate, Bruno begins to lose control of the siblings and hilarity and murder ensue. It's a strange and disturbing, but weirdly beautiful film.

Honorable Mentions

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

It would've been weird to include another Spider-Man movie on my official list, but it would also be weird not to mention any of the others at all, especially the best one.

Dracula (1931)

Not at all a spider movie, but that awesome web and the rubber spider that lives in it are so memorable that I wanted to include the film.

The Angry Red Planet (1959)

I didn't feel that the giant bat-spider was a vital enough part of the film to include it in the main list, but again: really memorable.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

Not one of my favorite Harry Potter films, but it does have a couple of cool things going for it: Kenneth Branagh and the super scary chase scene with giant spiders.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

I have a giant soft spot for the spiders in the 1977 Rankin-Bass cartoon and their tormented whine, "We are no match for Sting!" But I genuinely love the first appearance of the Peter Jackson version as we get glimpses of them swarming over Radagast's cottage and then disappearing into the forest. I wasn't able to find a screenshot I liked that really captured that creepiness and horror, so I went for the more flashy image above from The Desolation of Smaug. But it's that brief appearance in Unexpected Journey that makes me want to mention them honorably.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

I like to think that it was Alfred Molina's being covered in spiders here that actually turned him into the spider-hating villain of Spider-Man 2.

The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

If I'd been picking a Top Six, this would've been on the list. In fact, on a different day, it would probably replace Tarantula. It's inarguably a better film, but on most days I prefer the camp of something like Tarantula to the serious tone and downer ending of The Incredible Shrinking Man. Awesome screenplay by Richard Matheson, based on his own novel, with excellent effects. Highly recommended.

So what are your favorite spider movies? Tell me!


Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

Spiders have played a key row in the sci-fi B movies of Mystery Science Theater 3000. "Horror of Spider Island", were a dancing troop on tour crashes their plane on the eponymous island were everyone hangs around in skimpy clothes until their manager is bitten and turns into a were-spider. Pretty dull all around.

Then there was "Giant Spider Invasion" were spider eggs from outer space land in a farm town in the deep south. Features Alan Hale from Gilligan's Island as the dimwitted local sheriff. Very entertaingly bad, easily on of the best riffings of the SciFi Channel era.

Outside of MST3K, there was "Wild Wild West", were we were introduced to producer Jon Peter's weird obsession with giant spiders.

There was a big ad campaign for "Eight Legged Freaks" when it came out, trying to sell it like a modern day B-Horror picture, but it looked like something that they were trying too hard to make camp to cross into that enjoyable hoke category, so I wasn't to keen on seeing it.

In the early 2000s there was a SciFi Channel movie called Arachnia. It had the typical cheap sets and wooden acting, but it made up for it in the third act with gratuitous nudity and stop motion effects for the giant spiders that make it feel a bit more legit than the typical low budget computer effects.

Michael May said...

Thanks, Erik! I'm adding some of those to my list. Were-spiders, Alan Hale, and stop motion giant spiders all sound fantastic to me. :)


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