Friday, August 22, 2014

I saw a Giant Spider...

"The Giant Spider" is the most recent venture from filmmaker Christopher R. Mihm, who specializes in such '50s monster-movie salutes as "Cave Women on Mars", "House of Ghosts" and "Monster of Phantom Lake". "Giant Spider" is his answer to "Earth vs the Spider" and "Tarantula", and like those endearing, drive-in classics, it's shot in black-and-white, with only a color title image in the vein of "Them!", accompanied by a catchy tune in the style of "The Blob".

Mihm's favorite leading man, Daniel Sjerven stars as reporter Howard Johnson (ha, ha): a Clark Kent-ish type who's also reminiscent of the monster-chasing characters portrayed by Richard Carlson and John Agar. Johnson is an all-around good guy, who loves his girlfriend/fiance, Zita, portrayed by Shannon McDonough, who sports a Polish accent in homage to the foreign beauties of "Giant Gila Monster" and "Killer Shrews".

Johnson learns of the giant spider via an urgent lead, discovering the mutant is on a bee-line trek into Phantom Lake County and will pass right through the local drive-in theater and from there, the barn where Zita is graciously setting up a community dance. Oh, my!

The spider is hungry, or so the evidence conveys, which is further detailed in a briefing where former Mihm movie characters congregate to speculate on what caused the specimen to become so large. They consist of Dr. Vincent Edwards (yep, we're talkin' Ben Casey, for those in the know), Dr. Gabriel and Dr. Hackett (played by Michael Cook, James Norgard and Billie Jo Konze respectively), who spill all the unsavory beans. This doesn't settle well with General Castle (you got it--another swell tribute), robustly played by Mark Halder, whose character was previously introduced in "House of Ghosts" and whose primary focus here is to see the monster dead. However, will military weaponry penetrate the spider's powerful skin, or is there a more effective way to do it in? It's up to Johnson to risk his life in pursuit of that alternate method, which results in an electrifying "War of the Colossal Beast" inspired climax.

Interspersed among the events are subtle, inside references to Mihm's prior productions and loads of quirky characters, including an initially disbelieving drive-in owner, played with engaging chagrin by none other than Mihm. There's also funny, elongated dialogue exchanges, setting the story ever more in tune with our beloved, low-budget '50s entries.

"Giant Spider", in the latter regard, also atmospherically boasts the ambiance of "It Conquered the World" and "Teenagers from Outer Space". It's also lovingly padded with Army stock footage, which at times gives it an Ed Wood feel. Additionally and above all, it exudes an admirable, old-fashion let's-get-it-done sensibility, even if the general is blatantly, though good-naturally, politically incorrect in his zeal to save lives.

The spider effects are expertly rendered, most consisting of a projected tarantula (in actuality, Mihm's son's), but always looking smooth and seamless. A puppet, used in close-ups, is creepily detailed and consistently mounts the amusing tension, invoking similar shots from "Black Scorpion".

Indeed, "Giant Spider" nails the '50s drive-in, horror scene so much so that I wonder how it may have played straight: betcha it would've worked. Nonetheless, like Mihm's other films (or the "Lost Skeleton of Cadavra" movies, which take the same tongue-in-cheek approach), its humor is only ever affectionate, which should please fans ardently devoted to the giant insect/arachnid sub-genre.

This one's certainly worthy of cult status, and as it gradually makes the rounds, it should further establish Mihm as one of the best, modern "B-film" directors around. He's adoringly fashioned a product that most insightful aficionados will not only enjoy viewing, but (like myself) be damn proud owning. 

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