TONY'S ONLINE TIPS for Thursday, December 24, 2009
It's not exactly holiday entertainment, but the Kingdom of the Spiders Special Edition from the Shout! Factory [$19.99] is good creepy fun. Scheduled for release on January 19 and starring William Shatner and 5000 live tarantulas, it's one of the socially-conscious "nature bites back" movies of the 1970s.
The excessive use of pesticides has severely reduced both the natural food supply of the spiders and their natural predators. So the usually solitary tarantulas have started working together and migrated to a new food supply: livestock, pets, and us. The death of a prize calf puzzles local veterinarian "Rack" Hansen (Shatner) and his inquires bring entomologist Diane Ashley [Tiffany Bolling] to his rural Arizona town.
While you'll find a little over-the-top acting from Shatner - it's one of the reasons we love him - the movie is an entertaining reflection on its times. Yes, we get the mayor who's so concerned about the impact of any bad publicity on their town fair - "Did you know Amity means 'friendship'?" - but the film also has a moving romantic triangle. Shatner looks out for the wife and daughter of his brother, who died in Vietnam, and, though clearly interested in his sister-in-law [Marcy Lafferty], and she in him, is held back by the memory of his brother and romances Bolling instead. Lafferty was married to Shatner at the time.
There are several good performances from Shatner's human co-stars, mostly notably Woody Strode and Altovise Davis as the owners of the calf, David McLean as a gruff sheriff, and Lieux Dressler as the proprietor of a hotel besieged by the tarantulas. There is a whole lot of mayhem when the spiders attack the town and plenty of even scarier moments back at the hotel.
The movie's budget was $500,000 and a tenth of that went for the purchase of the tarantulas. The town victims were friends and family members of the crew. Several of the spiders were harmed in the filming, either run over by cars or stomped on by the actors, but Wikipedia says the worst human injury was "troublesome itching caused by the spiders shedding their hair."
Kingdom of the Spiders is well worth watching. It was nominated for best horror film of 1977 by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films. This special edition has a new widescreen transfer of the movie and several extras. The best of these: a new interview with Shatner and a featurette on spider-wrangler Jim Brockett. I give this new release an impressive four out of five Tonys.
Several readers wondered if Tuesday's birthday column was some sort of self-written eulogy. Though this birthday felt and still feels weird, I want to assure those concerned folks that, unless I suddenly take up gardening, there will be no pushing up of daisies in my immediate future.
I had an absolutely terrific birthday celebration on the 22nd. Sainted Wife Barb, Eddie, and Kelly with help from neighbors Greg and Giselle Luppino wouldn't let me lift a finger as they prepared a feast of pizza, ribs, wings, and some sinfully delicious deserts. Joining us were some of my dearest friends:
Mike W. Barr, the noted writer of so many fine comics, among them Batman, Batman and the Outsiders, Mantra, the Maze Agency, and Star Trek;
Tom Batiuk, creator, writer, artist, and all-around driving force behind two of my favorite newspaper strips, "Crankshaft" and "Funky Winkerbean";
Terry Fairbanks, one of my best friends since grade school and the uncle of Sainted Wife Barb;
Brian Fairbanks, writer, teacher, and younger brother of the afore-mentioned Fairbanks;
Bob Ingersoll, my best friend and collaborator on two novels and a bunch of shorter works;
Roger Price, founder of Mid-Ohio-Con and a very spiffy voice over actor;
Dave Massaro, retired high-school teacher. Dave was never my teacher - I went to St. Edward High School and he taught English at West Tech - but I met him when Terry was one of his students. In my teen years, Dave ran a monthly movie club at a local rec center and introduced me to some of the best works of cinema, comic books, and science fiction.
A fine time was had by all, especially me. I hope the coming year offers me many more opportunities to get together with these dear friends and others across the country.
Later, after our guests had left, and Barb and the kids took off on various holiday-related errands, I treated myself to a mini-marathon of "The Big Bang Theory," watching the final five episodes of the brilliant show's first season. My cat Simba watched a few episodes with me, but her clear preference is for sci-fi movies in which giant creatures devour humans.
Wishful thinking, I assume.
Scary wishful thinking.
When I got back online, I was knocked on my cheesecake-filled keister by the hundreds of birthday greetings I received via e-mail and on my message board, the Comics Buyer's Guide forums, Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. I feel more beloved than usual.
Thanks for spending a part of your day with me. I'll be back tomorrow with a hopefully special Christmas column.
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
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