Dr. Robert “Rack” Hansen, a veterinarian in rural Verde Valley, Arizona, receives an urgent call from a local farmer, Walter Colby. Colby is upset because his prize calf has become sick for no apparent reason, and the animal is brought in to Hansen’s laboratory. Hansen examines the calf, which dies shortly afterward. Hansen tells Colby he cannot explain what made the animal so ill so quickly, but takes samples of the calf’s blood to a university lab in Flagstaff.
A few days later, Diane Ashley, an arachnologist, arrives looking for Hansen. Ashley tells Hansen that the calf was killed by a massive dose of spider venom, which Hansen greets with skepticism and disbelief. Undaunted, Ashley tells him the problem is serious and that she wishes to examine the animal’s carcass and the area where it became sick. Hansen escorts Ashley to Colby’s farm; and moments after they arrive, Colby’s wife, Birch, discovers their dog is also mysteriously dead. Ashley performs a quick chemical test on the dog’s carcass and concludes that like the calf, it died from a massive injection of spider venom. Hansen is incredulous, until Colby states that he recently found a massive “spider hill” on a back section of his farmland. He takes Hansen and Ashley to the hill, which is covered with tarantulas. Ashley theorizes that the tarantulas are converging together due to the heavy use of pesticides, which are eradicating their natural food supply. In order to survive, the spiders are joining forces to attack and eat larger animals–and humans.
Hansen and Ashley return to the Colby farm to burn the spider hill. As the scientists and the Colbys are walking past a barn, a bull erratically stampedes out, also being attacked by tarantulas. Ashley notes that the spiders likely will not be afraid to attack people either. Colby douses the spider hill with gasoline and lights it on fire, seemingly destroying the spider menace. However, many of the spiders escape out of a distant tunnel. Colby is attacked by a group of tarantulas as he is driving along in his truck the next day, sending the truck over the side of a hill and killing him. Hansen happens upon the accident scene and helps the sheriff, Gene Smith, examine the wreckage. Colby’s body is found encased in a cocoon of spider webs. Meanwhile, Ashley is notified by her colleagues that a sample of venom from one of the spiders is five times more toxic than normal. Hansen is then told by the sheriff that several more spider hills have been located on Colby’s property.
Hansen, Ashley and the sheriff examine the hills along with the mayor of Camp Verde, who orders the sheriff to spray the hills and the surrounding countryside with a pesticide. Ashley protests, arguing that pesticide use is what caused the problem to begin with and that the town would be better off using birds and rats (tarantulas’ enemies in nature) to eradicate them. The mayor dismisses the idea, fearing that having a large number of spiders and rats all over the countryside will scare away patrons of the annual county fair. A crop duster is enlisted to spray the pesticide; but once airborne, the pilot is attacked by tarantulas, causing him to crash the plane and perish before he can successfully disperse the spray.
The spiders eventually begin their assault on the local residents, killing Birch and Hansen’s sister-in-law, Terri. Hansen arrives at their home and rescues Terri’s daughter, Linda, from the spiders. Hansen, Ashley, and Linda then take refuge in the Washburn Lodge. They consult with the sheriff, who tells them that the spiders are everywhere and Camp Verde is cut off from the outside world. Officer Smith drives into town, while Hansen and the other survivors at the lodge plan to load up an RV and escape. However, the spiders have them trapped in the lodge, and they barricade themselves inside. Meanwhile, Smith arrives at Camp Verde and finds the town in screaming chaos, as it is under siege by the spiders. Smith tries to escape, but is killed when another car crashes into a support post under the town’s water tower, causing it to fall on his vehicle and crushing him to death.
Back at the lodge, the power goes out, and Hansen is forced to venture into the lodge’s basement to change a blown fuse. He succeeds, but is besieged by spiders who break through one of the basement windows by using their combined weight. He makes it upstairs just in time to be saved by Ashley.
The film concludes the next day, with the survivors rigging up a radio receiver and listening for news of the attacks. To their surprise, the radio broadcast doesn’t mention the attacks, indicating that the outside world is oblivious to what has happened. Hansen pries off the boards from one of the lodge’s windows, and discovers that the entire building is encased in a giant web cocoon. In the final scene, the camera pulls back to reveal the entire town of Camp Verde encased in cocoons as well.
The project began with Igo Kantor, a 20-year movie veteran who had worked as a composer (Nightmare in Wax, Russ Meyer’s Vixen). editor (Arch Oboler’s The Bubble) and music supervisor (TV’s The Monkees) and wanted to give producing a try. “A friend of mine came to me with a short synopsis of a story that was somewhat reminiscent of The Birds,” remembers Kantor, who started his career with Ed Wood Jr. while still in college. “Except that it was not birds, it was about spiders that are going to take over because they’re short of food supply and are going to get even, first with animals and then with people.”
Igo Kantor made his entrance into the horror genre with Kingdom of the Spiders in 1977. This taut thriller deals with an ecological imbalance that causes thousands of tarantulas to go on a rampage in a small Arizona town. For this picture, Kantor promoted John “Bud” Cardos from second unit work to the position of director; together, this producer-director team created a horror film with sympathetic characters, tight plotting and good action.
The collaboration between Cardos and Kantor on Kingdom of the Spiders began when Cardos was shown a story that he describes as “really bad.” Despite the story’s failings, he saw some cinematic potential in this tale of spiders on the rampage, and his background in animal handling made him the perfect choice to direct 5000 tarantulas. Alan Caillou, a staff writer on TV shows like Thriller and Man from U.N.C.L.E. and scripter of such memorable B-movie efforts as Bert I. Gordon’s campy oversized-teen epic Village of the Giants and the bikers VS. Vietcong classic The Losers, was called in to rework an original script by Jeffrey M. Sneller that Caillou deemed “absolutely unworkable.” Director John “Bud” Cardos came to me at 10:00 one night and said, Alan, we’re about ready to start shooting, and just look at this bloody Script,'” recalls Caillou, who also had a career as an actor in films like Journey to the Center of the Earth and Beyond Evil. ” ‘Give me a hand, help me straighten this thing out. We worked through the night, till 5 a.m., and I got it organized decently.”
He brought the story to Kantor and, between the two of them, they worked with several writers to bring out a convincing, suspenseful script. This intensive script preparation is characteristic of the work of the Cardos/Kantor team. Cardos says that Kantor is excellent at developing dialogue, while he describes himself as an idea man, especially in terms of action.
Micro-distributor Dimension Pictures had green lighted the project, but Kantor had to enlist the aid of numerous investors including Sneller, who shared producing credit with Kantor to reach the necessary $500,000 budget. “We had about 10 producers,” Caillou says. “There are only two credited, but there were so many of them. I recall that one of them borrowed $10,000 from his father, bought himself a producer job on the picture by investing the money and then told his father the movie was an absolute flop and he’d never get paid back. Meanwhile, the picture was making money hand over fist!”
Igo Kantor made his entrance into the horror genre with Kingdom of the Spiders in 1977. This taut thriller deals with an ecological imbalance that causes thousands of tarantulas to go on a rampage in a small Arizona town. For this picture, Kantor promoted John “Bud” Cardos from second unit work to the position of director; together, this producer-director team created a horror film with sympathetic characters, tight plotting and good action. They also had to deal with thousands of live tarantulas and had to convince actors to deal even more directly with the poisonous bugs. Kantor points out that, even though tarantulas carry venom, they are fragile, unaggressive, and have stingers that are not very effective at penetrating human skin. Just the same, actors’ fears were still an issue. “The way we cast that picture, “Kantor says, “”was by having a big, live tarantula in the office during interviews, Actors and actresses would come in and we’d take the spider out and put it on their shoulder. If they didn’t faint, they had the job.
Cardos straight-no-chaser attitude came to the fore when it was time to select the female star. “What I did was, when I was casting the part of the lead girl, I kept two live tarantulas on my desk in one of those one-fish aquarium things,” Cardos remembers.
“They’d come in, and while we were talking. I’d just pick it up and hand it to ’em, And then they screamed and ran for the door! Donna Mills came in for the part, but she was so afraid of them that it was impossible. “I remember we had Barbara Hali [Della Street on TVs Perry Mason) as one of the first candidates, and she fainted dead away.” says Kantor. “So she didn’t get the part.”
Tiffany Bolling, I handed it to her and she just put her hand out.” Bolling was a model-turned-actress who’d had roles in ’70s drive-in fare like The Candy Snatchers and was pursued by Edd “Kookie” Byrnes in the unique split-screen psycho film Wicked, Wicked; in 1976, she played the “Spider Lady” in an episode of the kids’ super heroine show Electra Woman and Dyna Girl.
You worked with William Shatner on KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS.
BOLLING: Well, first of all, where we shot was a dream come true, in Sedonia, Arizona, it’s like four seasons come through every day, you get your snow at night and then it warms up to about 70° in the daytime and you can go lie by the pool. So, it was a wonderful place to be able to shoot a film and I felt so bad for those poor spiders, because they were all so innocent, bless their hearts. And Bill Shatner…he’s a horny guy, like most men. [Laughs]
So he chased you around?
BOLLING: No. Well, just little things, so that was fine. His wife, Marcie, was in the film, too, you know.
So he kind of flirted with you?
BOLLING: Well, sure, but I thought that was great, because it helped us work together, because I’m supposed to be this very tongue-in-cheek “Ms.” type of person, and so he used that a lot.
“What was really a great help,” he adds, “was a little girl in the cast the name of Natasha Ryan. She loved the tarantulas she had one for a pet. She was playing with them on location in Arizona and all these actors would say, Well, heck, this little girl can play with them, it must be okay.’ So finally even the crew could deal with them. William Shatner was a real trouper-he had 50 live tarantulas on him in one scene.
Shatner, of course, had become a genre star thanks to Star Trek and had also appeared in such scrappy low-budget affairs as Impulse (a.k.a. Want a Ride, Little Girl?) and The Devil’s Rain. The actor, whose then wife Marcy Lafferty co-stars in Kingdom, delivers one of his most low-key performances as Rack Hansen, the good-ol’-boy vet who first investigates the spider attacks. “I guess I was attempting to be real in a potentially very unreal situation,” says Shatner about his lack of horror flick hysterics. While Shatner’s presence adds immeasurably to the film’s appeal and longevity, he was not the first choice. “We had come up with Jim Mitchum, Bob Mitchum’s son, and then all of a sudden Jim wanted somebody else to direct it. I said, ‘Well, I don’t think so!” laughs Cardos.
Kingdom of the Spiders Spanish Lobby Cards
“And remember Bo Svenson?” he continues, recalling another actor who was in line before Shatner. ” had done a picture with him about a month before Kingdom of the Spiders started, and Bo and I became pretty good buddies. I wanted to talk to him about doing it. I thought he might be a good choice, ’cause he Was kinda hot back around then, and at the time Bill Shatner was not as hot. He and I met for lunch, and wound up staying for lunch and dinner and almost closed the place,” Cardos laughs. “Drinks all day and all night! And he just said, ‘Nahhh, I don’t think so.’ Then, after the movie was done and Bo saw it, he called me up and was crying on the phone almost, saying, “My God, why didn’t I do that picture?!'”
After all that, Kantor and Cardos almost didn’t land their third choice, either! “I had worked with William Shatner on another picture a few years before that,” the director remembers. “They submitted the Script to his agent and the agent gave it to Bill and he just turned it down, Now, when I heard that, I said, ‘Naw, that ain’t right. So I called up Bill and went over to his house. We sat there with a glass of wine and some cheese, and I told him what I was gonna do and how I was gonna do it. Well, by the time I left there two or three hours later, he had called the office and said, “OK, I’ll do it.”
“It looked like an exploitation film, and I didn’t think I should do that type of film at that point in my career,” Shatner explains his initial refusal. “But I talked to Bud, and he told me about how he was casting women by making them stick their hands in the jar of spiders, and I thought that was very funny and inventive, so I trusted him with the project.”
Cast as Hansen’s young niece Linda was child actress Natasha Ryan. “It was, of all the lovely B flicks I’ve done in my time,” Ryan recalls, “the most enjoyable filming of any of them.” Already a TV veteran by the time she screamed her way through Kingdom of the Spiders, she later had supporting roles in The Amityville Horror, The Day Time Ended, Going Berserk and 1983’s underrated ghost-rapist film The Entity. Little Ryan definitely deserves some kind of acting honors for Kingdom; though barely out of day care, she had to pretend to be afraid of spiders! “I love tarantulas,” she beams. “I’ve owned one personally ever since. I own one presently!”
Woody Strode, the late black character actor whose career spanned from 1940s films to Sam Raimi’s The Quick and the Dead, played Walter Colby, the farmer who first reports the spider activity. “Woody Strode fantastic man,” says Cardos. “Just a gentleman. We had some fun. One night, I think it was on Easter eve, we wrapped in Camp Verde, and they had a big old bar and steakhouse there. It had giant wooden stools with the leather tops on ’em and a huge wooden bar—you know, the whole thing. Well, we got there and it was already closing. But I’ll be damned if the old bartender didn’t open up for us, then closed the doors. Woody played guitar and I play guitar; we had about a dozen crew and actors and stuff, and Woody and I played guitar till the sun came up!” Cast as Colby’s wife was Altovise Davis, then spouse of Sammy Davis Jr., who was making her film debut.
Kingdom of the Spiders – Interview with William Shatner
BEHIND THE SCENES
“Making a movie is always fun, but on this film I started every day with a bucket of spiders dumped over my head, Shatner says, explaining his less than pleasant memories of the shoot. Did you know that tarantula fur is what they make itching powder with? And for good reason! Also, tarantulas have these hooks at the end of each leg. Normally it’s not a problem, but I was wearing a silk shirt and they would stick right into my skin. And they do bite! Everyone kept saying, “We took their stingers out but I was bitten many times.”
While all remember Shatner as a 100 percent trouper and a pleasure to work with, Ryan does recall the fearless Captain Kirk showing a more vulnerable side. “I remember one scene he was antsy in,” she says. “There was a scene in the lodge where I’m sitting on a bed covered with them, and he’s supposed to rush in and pluck me off the bed. Which he did, but in between takes the tarantulas were crawling up the inside of his thighs, which he wasn’t too comfortable with!”
Kantor describes his leading man as having an “anything to be realistic” attitude, which he proved in a shot towards the end of the film, where his character stumbles out of the basement, almost dead from spider bites. “I wanted to have a shot in the movie where I’m covered with spiders, and then I fall down right in front of the camera and we see one crawl off my face,” Shatner says. “Just to prove to the audience that these were real spiders. Well, it took six takes to do it. On the fifth take it was right, but then the still photographer popped up in the corner of the frame. How much spirit gum you use to keep a live spider on a man’s face was a continuing issue of debate.”
Kingdom of the Spiders (Mörder Spinnen) German Lobby Cards
“While they were shooting in Arizona, but before I joined them there, they told me to give the screenplay some urgency by putting in a scene from Jaws, which at the time was very popular,” says Caillou. “I said, “For God’s sake, this is stealing somebody’s screenplay! I’m not going to do it. One of the producers, a friend of mine, then went and hired another writer (Robinson) to put these changes into my script-about 20 or 30 of them scattered throughout. And instead of paying this writer, they offered him 50 percent credit.” Cardos, with whom Kantor had worked on Nightmare in Wax, was chosen to sit in the director’s chair on Kingdom. Not wanting to make waves because he was friends with many of the people involved. Caillou agreed to share co-screenwriting credit with Richard Robinson, who only added minor changes to his work.
To create the considerable action and stunts for Kingdom of the Spiders, Cardos had to create a maximum of effect within limited resources. Working under these conditions comes naturally to him, I have this background,” he says, “from years ago in independent movies where we’d improvise everything. To get a car crash, for instance, we didn’t spend much money. We bought a junker and I would back-rig the throttle and throw it in gear and let it go-you take your foot off the gas and it went full-bore. So, in Kingdom, on a stunt like the plane crashing into the building, I could see it and improvise and it doesn’t cost that much, I can’t use dollars and cents because I really don’t know. I know that a major studio would pay maybe $10,000 or $20,000 to do that plane stunt. We probably built the set and shot it for $2000 or less.”
“Obviously, working with tarantulas is not easy because they don’t always follow instructions,” Kantor adds. “But otherwise, it was one of the easiest shows I’ve done.”
Having a limited budget for the full-scale pandemonium the script called for, the production team found enjoyable ways to stretch their finances, Kantor, Cardos and Caillou all enlisted their families as extras and for minor speaking parts, and some of the action highlights were not exactly what they seem. One involved veteran stuntman Whitey Hughes, who plays the crop duster hired by the mayor to dump pesticides on the rebelling arachnids, against Dr. Ashley’s warnings, Attacked in midair by spiders, the plane crashes into a gas station, signaling the full scale spider siege to begin, “We never actually crashed a plane, Kantor reveals. “It was an optical illusion. We had the plane actually go behind the gas station, but shot it from straight ahead. We detonated the gas station at the precise moment when the plane crossed the sightline; it was actually just behind it. But it appears for all intents and purposes that the plane crashed into the station.”
“In the shot of me in the plane screaming and everything, we propped the airplane up, got the tail end of it up so it looked like an aerial shot,” Hughes explains. “They put the tarantulas all over the plane’s joysticks, and they were crawling onto my hand and my face. When I did the scream in that thing, they all said, ‘Boy, Whitey, that scream sounded real.’ I said, ‘Believe you me, it was real!” ”
While the crop dusting scene is one of the highlights of the film, it did come at a cost-namely the good will of the local police force. “I remember we had the airplane flying at 150 feet over Camp Verde, and the police came out in every car they had to find out what the hell was going on. When the pilot finally landed, they picked him up, handcuffed him and threw him in jail!” laughs Caillou. “But Bud Cardos is a very tough man who doesn’t stand for any bloody nonsense. He went round to the police and said, ‘What the hell are you doing with my pilot! I need him! I want him out! Somehow he talked the cops into letting the guy go, and no action was taken.”
Cardos remembers the incident somewhat differently: “We had to drop in very low when we did that crash, and we didn’t get a permit for buzzing, but I don’t think they arrested him,” the director says. “I think they just slapped his fingers or something. They didn’t haul him off, I don’t believe.”
Come early 1977. money in line and cast and crew chosen, the only thing left was to gather up the film’s titular stars. “We got 5,000 live tarantulas from Mexico at $10 a crack, so that was $50,000 just for Spiders.” Kantor reveals, “We also had a few rubber ones in the background. We had spider wranglers in Mexico hunting for tarantulas for six or eight weeks.”
“We used every spider in Mexico, I believe,” Shatner recalls. “The spiders were from Southern Mexico; those are far superior to the ones from the North. They walk with a sashay and have a lot more charm,” he laughs.
“They had to keep ’em warm in heat containers,” adds Kantor, “And you can’t put two tarantulas into one container because they’re carnivorous and they’ll eat each other. So they had to keep ’em separate. Can you imagine 5,000 containers, every day?”
Logistics aside, there was also the little matter of danger: Popular knowledge tells us that many, if not all. tarantulas are poisonous. “People think that working with tarantulas is dangerous,” says Ryan’s mother, who accompanied her daughter on the set. “I took a lot of flak, that I would let my daughter in this movie! But I did a lot of reading about it, and tarantulas can give you no more than a bee sting.”
“Unless you’re really allergic to bees, you’ll be fine,” Kantor says. “If you’re allergic to bees, you’re allergic to spiders and vice versa. The only thing they can do is cause you to itch: that fur they have sheds on you.”
KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS – SET OF 6 BRITISH LOBBY CARDS
Also contrary to popular opinion, tarantulas, at least the Chihuahua redlegs used in the film, are not aggressive by nature, but rather shy, retiring types. Spider wrangler Jim Brockett used air, via fans or through long tubes, to move the tarantulas in the desired direction for wider shots. For close-ups, it was mostly a matter of covering actors with spiders and hoping for the best. “They used gigantic fans to keep them running towards us,” remembers Ryan. “Because the Spiders didn’t want to be there doing what they were doing. “If you watch the movie, very, very carefully, you will see that the tarantulas are running away from the bodies and not toward Not all the them!” her mother spider bites laughs. “It was so Shatner funny!”
As it was cold special enough to occasionally snow at the Sedona and Cobra Verde, Arizona locations, the south-of-the-border stars did not take well to the cooler climate. The crew used heat lamps to keep the spiders warm between takes, which, combined with the many action scenes involving running, driving and stomping, succeeded in sacrificing many of the eight-legged actors to the B-movie gods.
“In my opinion, they did not observe any animal rights laws,” protests Ryan. “In between scenes, somebody would cover them all with little yogurt containers so they would stay in place, and then they would heat them. And they had a nasty tendency to melt! I remember a lot of them dying from that.
In a move quite common in the ’70s but largely unseen today, Kingdom of the Spiders has a downbeat ending: As dawn breaks and Hansen pries a board off a window to survey the outside situation, he sees the entire town wrapped up in a cocoon, preserved as future tarantula food. Then the credits roll! “The movie comes off very well except for the end, when they ran out of money and couldn’t do the matte shot properly,” says Caillou. “It should have been more obvious that the whole village was in a cocoon.”
Another cost-cutting and timesaving measure was Kantor’s Scoring of the film using bits and pieces of existing film music, mostly from TV sources. As a composer and former head of the music department at Columbia Pictures, it was an easy hat for him to wear. “I used a lot of tracks by my friend Jerry Goldsmith,” Kantor explains. “He had done a series called Thriller which had a lot of scary music, so I used a lot of that.
(from “The Invaders” and “Back There”) – Jerry Goldsmith
“Startle cues” used in the film during the scenes with the spiders can also be heard in notable episodes of The Twilight Zone, including “To Serve Man” and “The Invaders”, as well as in at least one episode of The Fugitive. The country music songs heard on the radio in the movie, as well as over the opening and closing credits, were performed by country singer Dorsey Burnette.
Dorsey Burnette – Peaceful Verde Valley
The film only had a brief theatrical release, but more than made up for it by becoming something of a network TV staple. “The film cost $500,000, and the week after we got our answer print, ABC bought it for $850,000 for two runs,” Kantor recalls. “Of course, we told them that they couldn’t play it until it ran theatrically. It played theaters, and then a year and a half later, they played it. Then CBS, on the heels of ABC, bought it for another $75,000. So out of network television alone, we got $925,000 on a picture that cost $500,000. It has grossed to date about $17 million, which is not huge, but compared to what it cost, it is.” Kingdom was also nominated for Best Horror Film of 1977 by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films. Viewers lucky enough to catch the syndicated awards show on TV were treated to
Kingdom of the Spiders writers Stephen Lodge Jeffrey M. Sneller
How did you and Jeff Sneller come up with the idea for Kingdom of the Spiders?
STEPHEN LODGE: I met Jeff in Tucson in 1967 when I was the set costumer on the TV series Dundee and the Calhane. He was about my age and, like many of the locals, he worked extra on any Western that came to town. Between then and the time we wrote Kingdom, he had moved to California, wiggled his way into the business and done a few pictures as a producer. One day in 1972, Jeff and I were sitting in the bar across from CBS Studio Center, and he asked, “You want to write a horror picture?” I had always wanted to write Westerns, but a horror picture was fine, so I said, “Sure!” Then he asked, “Well, what will we write it about?” I said, “I don’t know, What scares you the most?” There was a little beat, and then we both said, “Spiders!” We said it simultaneously, which made it very funny. Turns out both of us have been scared shitless of spiders since we were little kids! We went to the library and found a book on them, to use for research, and went over to his house in Studio City. We set up our typewriters on a table in the kitchen, across from each other, and started writing an outline.
When we got that done, we said, “Why don’t we just go ahead and write the Script?” I brought my typewriter over to his house every day, and he’d sit on one side of the table with an old manual and I sat on the other side with my old electric, we turned out I-don’t-know-how-many pages a day and did a first-draft script probably within a week or a week and a half.
At first, we included different types of spiders, but we finally decided to make them all tarantulas ’cause they were the ugliest ones. Our whole thing was, we would not have large, overgrown spiders; the ones in our script were just normal sized and would get into groups and attack humans. We didn’t want our script to be an exaggerated sci-fi/horror picture; we wanted something that could happen.
That was written in 1972, but it was years before anything happened with it
LODGE: Jeff was mixed up with some kind of a producer named Pat Rooney, but he just didn’t ever get anything together. Finally, two years later, Jeff called and said,
“I think we got a deal. It turned out to be with (music editor] Igo Kantor, who’d produced a couple of pictures, and Jeff was going to be one of the producers.
Kantor said that during the casting process, when actresses came into the production office, they’d be handed a tarantula to see how they’d react and Barbara Hale “fainted dead away”!
LODGE: No, it was Barbara Anderson. I can see where he made that mistake because both Barbara’s are famous for co-starring with Raymond Burr. Barbara Hale on Perry Mason and Barbara Anderson on Ironside. Yes, Barbara Anderson was horrified! This was in our Arachnid Productions office, which was in the old Selznick studio in Culver City.
Why was Kingdom shot in Arizona?
LODGE: Probably they got the best deal there. Usually that’s why anybody shoots anywhere. I wasn’t on the production team. The only job they could offer me was wardrobe and not at my regular rate. I took the job for about half price because I wanted to be with the show, to see what was going to happen.
By the time it went into production in 1977, other writers had been involved.
LODGE: I was never asked to rewrite anything; by the time I got there, they had already shopped it out to Alan Caillou, who was more of an actor than a screenwriter, and this Richard Robinson, who I don’t believe I ever met. He was a Florida guy. I think. Caillou I met because he came out and visited for maybe a week, smoking a pipe and acting like he was The Big Writer. First he had done some rewriting, and then they brought Robinson in.
Caillou told me that your script, the one he was asked to revise, was “absolutely unworkable”!
LODGE: If the script was unworkable, why the hell did they buy it?
Did you like nature-runs-amok movies of this sort?
LODGE: Well, I wasn’t really a sci-fi fan. I had seen The Birds, and yes, there were a few things we stole out of that. But [the makers of The Birds] probably stole some things out of somethin’ else too ! It’s done all the time, believe me.
In Kingdom, there are also a few things stolen out of Jaws but that couldn’t have been you, because you did your writing years before there was a Jaws.
LODGE: Those moments were things the other guys [Caillou and/or Robinson) put in. I was just now thumbing through our screenplay, the one Jeff and I wrote, and noticing some of the differences between it and the movie. In ours, there was a veterinarian named Hansen, who was an older man, and a hero named Peter Cook; in the rewriting, they combined the two characters into one, played by William Shatner. In our script, Peter was a lawyer who came to Camp Verde to see his little daughter and his ex-wife; in the movie, our ex-wife ended up being the wife of Shatner’s late brother, and so the little girl became his niece. The movie features all the stuff we wrote, but manipulated around enough to make someone think it was different, if they ever even saw the original, Those characters were changed; in our draft, the cattle rancher played by Woody Strode had a son, and so on.
During shooting, did you get much cooperation from the Arizona locals?
LODGE: Oh, sure, you always do. Just hand over a little money! There was no studio work; everything was shot on location in Sedona and Camp Verde. In Sedona were the cabins where Tiffany (Bolling’s) character stayed, and where all the people are trapped at the end. That lodge was up in Oak Creek Canyon, where John McCain lives. It was a pretty exclusive tourist place, but for about a week it was all ours. They fed us every day out of the kitchen; the best food we had was there. We also shot in Sedona the scenes where Shatner, Tiffany and the little girl, Natasha Ryan, ride their horses and have a picnic. The rest was Camp Verde, which is a nice drive from Sedona.
If a bunch of people came to my town to shoot a movie and brought 5,000 tarantulas, I don’t think I’d be pleased. Was everybody there happy about what you were doing?
LODGE: First of all, it was 2,000 tarantulas. Other people who were on that movie like to say now there were 5,000, but on the day we started shooting, it was 2,000. Every one of them was individually kept in a plastic container, the kind you’d get if you went to the deli and said, “Give me a pound of coleslaw.” There was wet cotton in each container so the spider wouldn’t dry out, maybe a couple of crickets so it could eat and there were holes cut in the tops. These containers were kept stacked in the back of a truck. They died easy: tarantulas live in little holes in the ground, they’re not used to being out and about like they are in the movie. They were Mexican red spiders, so I assume they came from Mexico. Our “spider wranglers’” came up with them.
If one of your spiders bit me, what would I get, besides the bite?
LODGE: It’s like a bee sting. But what the spider wranglers would do was clip off the spiders’ chelicerae, the little fangs and they’d die from that. If the spiders were going to be on somebody in a scene, they’d first clip them so that person would not get bitten.
Once their fangs were clipped, how soon would they die?
LODGE: I have no clue. But there’s no way for them to kill their prey if they don’t have those.
Walk me through the shooting of, say, an outdoor scene with a couple of dozen spiders running around.
LODGE: We’d have a bunch of those plastic containers and take the tops off and put ’em on the ground upside down, without letting the spider out, so it kept the spider in one place. Then when we were ready to shoot, somebody would say, “OK, run and pick up all the containers, and 15 crew guys, or however many were there, would dash in and start lifting them, letting the spiders run wild. This was an independent picture, there wasn’t any union bullshit, so (the crew guys! could do all this. Everybody would run in and pick up the containers and get out of the frame, and then the filming could begin. Then, once they got the shot and the director yelled cut, somebody would say, “All right, go cover ’em!” and we’d run back in and put the containers upside down over all the spiders. None of ’em ever escaped, The wranglers would go in then and put the tops on the containers. Inside it was a different story; it was usually just a few spiders at a time. Like when you see a bunch on the hanging light bulb in the cellar of the lodge. I guess they glued those spiders to the bulb, and they were obviously killed when the bulb exploded. And then in the kitchen, when Lieux Dressler (playing the lodge owner) throws boiling water on the spiders in the sink, you saw ’em scurry because it was boiling water. See, when we first got (to Arizona), I figured people hated spiders as much as I did, and it wouldn’t bother them to see one of these f*kers squished. So we did a shot of Shatner running around a corner and stepping on one, right in closeup, and out squirted all this green shit. When we saw it in dailies, it was, like…really yucky.
I don’t remember now whether Tiffany Bolling saw (the spider-squishing on the set or in dailies, but she said, “Oh my God, what are you doing? These are little critters! In her mind, she made ’em into animals, just like PETA has done now. They were nothin’ but frickin’ spiders as far as I was concerned. But after we’d done a few scenes, she made a big stink about that, so everybody had to start being careful with them.
I guess those were the days when you didn’t have to worry too much about animal rights organizations, yes?
LODGE: Well, they’re not animals, they’re spiders! There was no ASPCA type organization for spiders in those days; they were insects, like a fly, I “love” this whole new bullshit thing where anything that breathes, even if it can kill ya, is considered an animal. Or “a critter,” as Tiffany would have said. It’s like when Obama Swatted a fly, and people bitched about that whole thing. Isn’t that ridiculous?
Once spiders overran an interior location, like the lodge, how were you able to be sure you got ’em all out again?
LODGE: Inside, they were much easier to control than outside, because we’d never have a thousand of ’em indoors. We probably never even had a thousand at one time outside, even for the scene in Camp Verde where the tarantulas are attacking all the people on the street. In that scene, a ton of the spiders in the distance were rubber, and then the ones in the really far distance were stencils: people went around stenciling them on walls with spray paint. Go to Camp Verde today and you can probably still find some! Also, every spider that died was saved, and for the scene where all the people are running down the street, they hired three local girls to glue dead ones on the extras.
Can you talk a little about some of the cast members?
LODGE: Shatner was OK, he was friendly enough. He raised horses and liked to ride them, so maybe that’s why [one of the Kingdom rewriters had his character doing that. I’d worked with him before, on a movie of the week [1973’s The Horror at 37,000 Feet}, and I did a Star Trek [“Whom Gods Destroy”] for a few days one time. But I didn’t hang out with him. I don’t think he hung out with anybody.
He was aloof?
LODGE: Actors behave that way. It’s like they think they’re better than you. One who never did was Jim Arness. When I worked on Gunsmoke, he’d eat with the crew. They’d call lunch and he’d run to the catering truck, trying to get there faster than anybody else! Meanwhile, other stars have to have their food brought to them in their private dressing rooms. Anyway, on Kingdom, I took all the clothes over to Shatner’s house and we fit him over there. Marcy Lafferty, his wife at the time. played his widowed sister-in-law. She was fine. Natasha Ryan (playing Lafferty’s little daughter] loved the spiders; she thought they were great. For one scene, they put her on a bed and threw all the spiders around her, and it didn’t seem to bother her at all!
So, cast wise, everybody was OK with the spiders?
LODGE: The only one who was really afraid of them was the actress who played the vacationing Colorado wife at the lodge [Adele Malis). I had brought with me plastic suits that would cover the wearer from wrists to neck to ankles-the kind people used to wear when they ran, so they could sweat to lose weight, I brought a bunch of those in case some of the actors wanted ’em, but she was the only one who wanted to wear one of those under her clothes.
Tiffany Bolling was all right, I guess. They actors and actresses all have an opinion of themselves that’s a little bigger than they are; she was probably happy as shit she was doin’ a movie, but acted like she’d done it all her life. She played the part well.
Lieux Dressler was great, wasn’t she? I’ve run into her at a couple of festivals, and it was like old times. Woody Strode was great too. He liked his wine, and he was just as cool and casual as you see him on the screen. His wife was played by Altovisc Davis, the wife of Sammy Davis Jr. This was one of her first pictures and she was very professional, didn’t have any problems. When I fit her, I marked everything and took her outfits to my mother’s house and I had my mom do all the alterations. I’m used to working at & studio where you’ve got tailors, etc., but on Kingdom we couldn’t do that on the budget we were on. It was crazy
The budget: How low was it?
LODGE: This is how things would happen: I asked for an extra motel room to use as a wardrobe space, and when I got there, of course they didn’t have two rooms, so I ended up with all these costumes hanging in mine. Everything would happen like that; there were always lies, just to get rid of ya.
Did you like Cardos, overall?
LODGE: I gotta hand it to him, “Bud” Cardos was fine. He was very into it, he was nice, he was pleasant and he knew what he wanted. I’d never worked with him I’d never even heard of him before but he was a stuntman who had also directed a couple of little pictures before that. The scene in Kingdom where the runaway car takes out two of the legs of the water tower and it falls over and crushes the sheriff’s car—that was “Bud” Cardos; it seemed like all he was interested in was gettin’ to that stunt. They had the legs of the tower all rigged with joints and whatever, so when the car hit it, the tower would go down right where they wanted it to go. Whitey Hughes (the stunt driver) had to nail it at the right angle and so on. “Bud” was so focused on that, sometimes you almost wondered if he was really interested in the rest of the show! But he was, and he did a good job.
Where did you Hollywood folks stay when you were making the movie?
LODGE: In a motel in Sedona. It was a class place with a restaurant and bar but, as I mentioned, they didn’t have enough money for a wardrobe room, so I slept with a couple of racks of clothes. According to my diary, I was there from March 21, 1977, through April 22 month.
What was there to do in that part of Arizona when you weren’t making the movie?
LODGE: You really were always making the movie, and that included at night ’cause you were always talkin’ about what you were gonna do the next day and all that jazz. If you drank, you drank; if you met somebody you liked, you screwed… My very good friend Hoke Howell, we got him a part in that (as a thick gas station attendant), and once Hoke got there, we went out to dinner whenever we had the chance. That’s the way it is on every show you go on; it’s a vacation, not a location, for a lot of people. Especially the married ones. The married ones always have to fall in love with some of the locals!
Where did you see the movie for the first time?
LODGE: At a drive-in in Burbank where it was second-billed to a thing called The Swarm, which had Michael Caine. I believe the people liked Kingdom better. It’s hard to tell that in a drive-in, but that’s the impression I got. Nobody drove out, anyway! I went with Hoke Howell and a couple of other guys.
To your mind, which scenes worked the best?
LODGE: One scene I liked was where the lady entomologist (Bollingl gets out of the shower and, with nothing on but a towel, goes over to a dressing table and opens the drawer and finds a spider. In our original script, she opens a cabinet over the sink and it’s at eye level, staring at her which happened to me once in Simi Valley. Talk about frightening to have a spider at eye level. I had just gotten up that morning, and I went in the bathroom stark naked and opened the medicine cabinet to get my razor, and I screamed! The girl I was with walked in there, got a piece of Kleenex, squished it and threw it in the toilet. Anyway, in the original script the entomologist goes up to a cabinet and opens it and finds the spider, but they changed it to a dressing table and a drawer. In both scripts, she had the same cool and collected reaction; she was the spider expert and they were her friends. Just like they were to Bolling in real life when she called ’em “the critters.”
I also liked the gas station scene with Hoke Howell, and Bill Foster as the guy with the cow in the back seat of his car. Earl was our character, a little comedy relief thrown in. So the movie worked fine for me. First of all, as long as a movie gets made that you had something to do with, it makes you happy. There isn’t anything in it that really peeves me; and I have to be honest, I thought (the rewriters made it better by combining the two characters, the lawyer and the veterinarian, into one. It made more of a star part out of the leading man.
According to Kantor, between playing theatrically and on network TV, Kingdom made a lot of money.
LODGE: I made practically no money off of it, but I realize now that I got screwed more by myself than by them, because of my ignorance. But it was still fun. For the parade scene in The Honkers, we had 17,000 people we brought together to be on the sidelines, and we had a real 72-unit parade that we could actually control and run around the block three times to get all the shots we needed. I was on the set when that happened, and when the drums rolled and the band began playing and the spectators started screaming and the parade started down the street, I had this great feeling inside, like, ‘We’ve really done something.”
Jeffrey M. Sneller and Stephen Lodge, the producer and co writers of 1977’s “Kingdom Of The Spiders”, on “Flashback” to discuss the film. In this segment, they tell just how crucial the casting of William Shatner really turned out to be.
Jeffrey M. Sneller
You mentioned your previous science fiction work.
SNELLER:“The one that I’m most proud of and that I talk of most frequently because it was nominated for many awards including the science fiction award – and we lost the award only to Star Wars, but that made me very proud – that was called Kingdom of the Spiders, which I did with William Shatner. There have been others, but that’s the one that I talk about. That was 1977, it was released.”
Did you cast William Shatner because of his association with the SF genre?
SNELLER:“ “No, actually it was… I say yes and no, because Kingdom of the Spiders was more a sci-fi adventure than science fiction fantasy and it was a completely different role for Bill Shatner. He played something that was a counterpoint to the characters he’s associated with, and that was what attracted him to the role and what attracted us to him.”
Did you use effects spiders or did you have a spider wrangler?
SNELLER:“ “You know, in those days effects weren’t nearly as developed as they are today. It was done through the old process of generation of film after film, and creating those visual effects; it was done the old-fashioned way. So we actually imported I think 5,000 live tarantulas from Honduras, Guatemala, all over the world. Today of course we could have worked with maybe 50 and generated the rest through computer-generated animation, and had as good, if not better, results. It would have been more controllable than having 5,000 spiders crawling all over the country! So we relied on live tarantulas in that one, as well as background models to fill in space in the background. That’s the way that one was done.”
Kingdom of the Spiders was playing in London when Star Wars opened. When you first saw Star Wars, how did you react as a maker of SF/fantasy films?
SNELLER:“ “I was blown away. George Lucas was so far ahead of his time – as he has continued to be – that it was overwhelming. So I was really very proud when the Science Fiction Academy nominated us for best science fiction film of that year. And I didn’t feel too bad losing to Star Wars! But there was also a difference: Star Wars was a $9 million – today I think it’s $90 million – Twentieth Century Fox production, and ours was a $500,000 independent production, so I felt that it was in good company.”
Jeffrey Sneller and Stephen Lodge, the producer and co writers of 1977’s “Kingdom Of The Spiders” joined me on “Flashback” to discuss the film. In this segment, the infamous ending of the movie is discussed and Jeffrey Sneller reveals an amusing fact about how the ending was “re imagined” when it was released in foreign markets.
Kingdom of the Spiders – Novelization
Kingdom of the Spiders – Novelization an unauthorized audiobook recording narrated by Jon Olsen
REFERENCES and SOURCES