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Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Giant Spider Invasion

Bill Rebane took another shot at producing and directing a mega-cheap sci-fi film in 1975. Giant Spider Invasion (GSI) is arguably his best film, though this is not saying too much. He is responsible for Monster A-Go-Go (’65) and Invasion from Inner Earth (’74). Both quite poor. GSI is a very 50s style of film, even if made in the mid 70s. The project was built upon a story written by Wisconin native, Richard L. Huff, fleshed out in screenplay form by actor Robert Easton (who plays farmer Dan) Huff and Rebane produced the film. In addition to dozens of ‘extras’ from the residents of Gleason and Merrill, Wisconsin.

Quick Plot Synopsis
After some flash in deep space, a meteor streaks towards the earth. Some electrical interference is felt, and a B-52 and crew are lost…somewhere. Cut to a country shack in Wisconsin, the home of Dan and Ev. He’s habitually unfaithful. She’s an alcoholic and also sleeps around. Her younger sister, Terry, goes out parking with her boyfriend, David. The meteor crashes near Dan’s farm spectacularly. NASA notes the odd radiation readings and sends crack scientist (and male chauvinist) Dr. Vance to investigate. He seeks out Dr. Langer, who turns out to be a woman. They try to locate the anomaly. Meanwhile, Dan is back from his cavorting. Ev urges him to go see what landed in their pasture. When they do, they find the bones of their cattle scattered around. They also find geodes, so take them home. Dan cracks one open, but does not see the tarantula crawl out. He is interested in the diamonds the encrust the inside of the rocky spider eggs. Suddenly, Ev is quite sweet to him. Dan takes the diamonds to his cousin Billy (who has a rock shop) for authentication. Billy is dismissive in a coy way, so Dan knows they’re genuine. Vance and Langer keep looking. Spiders grow. While Ev is alone, normal-sized tarantulas freak her out such that she runs outside to be eaten by a big spider puppet. Billy has some geodes in his car, which hatch. He freaks out and crashes with a great fireball. Dan, not too worried about Ev’s disappearance, hits on Terry, who is intrigued with having a Sugar Daddy. Later, Dan gets eaten by a big spider puppet while he’s out looking for more geodes. The big spider attacks the house where Terry is in her bikini underwear (naturally). Scream, run, scream. David arrives in the nick of time to drive the spider puppet away with some shots from his 30-30. The townsmen are riled up and form an armed mob. The big spider attacks the town of Gleason. The mob fares badly. Meanwhile, Vance and Langer deduce that a miniature black hole has somehow opened up a hole in the space time continuum, that is allowing these spiders from another dimension to thrive and grow on Earth. The only answer is to use…The Neutrino Initiator — to flood the black hole’s energy with mass and…um…choke it off. Or something. They locate the nearest Neutrino Initiator in Madison. Handy. They have it flown in by helicopter and direct it to the impact crater. After a few dramatic tension developing scenes, the “bomb” is dropped, creating a miniature fireball mushroom cloud. The big spider smokes, then erupts in puss, and maybe explodes too. The black hole is sealed. Earth is safe. Vance and Langer hold hands. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
There is an ample amount of nostalgia in GSI for fans of 50s B-movie science fiction. More on those parallels below. On some levels, GSI is an homage to that simpler time when giant bugs occasionally menace small towns, and a couple of scientist types save the day with some nuclear option.

Cultural Connection
Urban View of The Rural — While both writers (Huff and Easton) were native to Wisconsin, they write about rural Wisconsin life as if they were outsiders. Everyone is sex-obsessed, liquor soaked and greedy. The men of the town are gun-brandishing mob hooligans. The law, Sheriff Jones, is the stereotypic bumbling ineffectual. It’s pretty common for city folks to imagine that proper civilization stops where the pavement ends. Beyond, there be Trash. Indeed, Huff and Easton portray the rural Wisconsin folk more in keeping with the Southern White Trash stereotype — even including banjo picking score. Perhaps neither ventured far from their home cities, so had no idea what people in rural central Wisconsin were like. Or, they figured their audiences would not know anyhow, so let the stereotypes fly!

Big Bug Redux — The story in GSI was written by Richard L. Huff. This was his one and only movie story. It is set in his home state of Wisconsin and is a medley of 50s tropes. Seeds from Space — Invasion of the Body Snatchers (’56) and Day of the Triffids (’63). Giant spiders — Tarantula (’55) and Earth vs. The Spider (’58). Several of the scenes are reminiscent of the giant ants in Them! (’54).

Parody, Camp or Homage? — GSI is a difficult movie to pigeonhole. On some levels, it appears to be a parody of the 50s Big Bug genre, yet most of the cast act earnestly. On some other levels, the film is campy. Alan Hale’s usual acting style includes side comments to the camera. There are other blatant attempts at humor which suggest that Rebane was aiming for campy. Yet, the spider puppet and giant spider prop were pretty expensive for a parody or camp. Rebane may well have been aspiring to create a typical 50s sci-fi monster movie.

Major Minors — GSI stars two recognizable second-tier names amid a cast of obscure actors and actresses who typically played only bit parts in minor films, or in various television programs. Barbara Hale plays Dr. Jenny Langer. She was best known as “Della Street” in the Perry Mason TV series. Alan Hale Jr. plays the sheriff. He will be forever famous as The Skipper from “Gilligan’s Island.”

T & A. Just ‘Cuz — For no good plot reason, Rebane included some low-brow T and A just to satisfy his anticipated audience. At one point, Dan is trying to recruit Terry to be his personal paid-girl. With diamonds as the payment, she flaunts her credentials by saying that she’s 35-24-35, with the camera zooming in on her cleavage. Later, there is a brief moment of toplessness for Terry. Then, when Terry is in the conventional Helpless Female Victim costume (scanty underwear), the camera zooms in on her bikini panty butt. A giant spider is moving up to the house to attack her, but we’re supposed to be looking at her butt? Rebane had a problem staying on script.

Science Mumbo-Jumbo — One of the fun scenes in GSI comes when Vance and Langer have dueling epiphanies over how the problem of giant spiders happened in the first place end how to end the menace.
Vance: The energy pattern has to feed off the gravitational field of the black hole.
Langer: “Could we soak up the energy?”
Vance: “We could feed it so much extra mass, we could choke it.
Langer: “We could shower it with neutrons.”
Vance: (out of the blue) “Neutron Initiator. It just might work.”
Fortunately for Earth and the plot, Neutron Initiators were fairly common, so not too far away, and wasn’t being used for anything at the moment, so NASA okayed its destruction. All very handy, indeed.

Science Lab To The Rescue! — Note Dr. Langer’s “Lab”, in which she and Vance figure out how to seal up a rip in the time-space continuum with a bomb. It is actually the electronics lab at Nicolette College and Technical Institute, in Rhinelander, WI. How would a dozen identical (and turned off) oscilloscopes help the good doctor? And the giant slide rule hanging on the wall over the rows of black lab tables? Every brilliant rural scientist uses giant slide rules. She did get to use the observatory at U of Wisconsin, Stevens Point as an establishing shot. That’s something.

Bottom line? GSI is a cheap local indie film that really wanted to be more, but just didn’t have it. GSI is almost a remake of the classic 50s big-bug formula films, though with enough tangental plot threads (over-sexed yokels). GSI is not great (or even good) movie making. It is, however, entertaining as long as one turns off one’s inner movie-snob. GSI has its fans. The tropes are thoroughly 50s. Enjoy it as an homage to the Golden Era. —


Randall Landers said...

Like you, I could never decide about whether or not this was supposed to be a spoof. Instead, I've decided it's an homage to moves like Earth vs the Spider. The only additional thing they added with a bit of trailer trashiness that was found in movies like Attack of the Giant Leeches with a touch of nudity just because it's the 70's. While not on my Must Watch list, it's certainly on my "Yeah, if the mood strikes me" list.

Deen Gill said...

I am aware of a new Rebane project :). How do we connect?

Nightowl said...

Send me your email in a comment. Since they're moderated, I can see and respond w/o it going public.

A new Rebane project you say?

Mark Louis Baumgart said...

This has always been a guilty pleasure, turn your brain off and watch. Still, in the cast was Leslie Parrish, a tv crush of mine from the sixties, and one-time pin-up girl.