I enjoy a good 1950s scifi B-movie. Or a bad one, for that matter. In the last couple of decades, we’ve seen an interesting wave of nostalgia for older horror in the indie scene, going all the way back to the silent film era with Andrew Leman’s adaptation of The Call of Cthulhu. Of these, my favorite is the Larry Blamire’s parody The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra. For me, the jokes were on point, the satire of the genre and time period were well done, and the effects were believable from an era that gave us the likes of Robot Monster and The Screaming Skull.
The Giant Spider is one of these throwbacks, and it’s what director Christopher R. Mihm has built his career around. He’s been making these kinds of movies regularly for over a decade now, and The Giant Spider comes in roughly halfway through his journey as a screenwriter, producer, director, and sometimes actor. The premise is simple: a giant spider has been spotted moving towards a town, eating everyone in its path. When the military fails to stop it, a local journalist and a team of scientists band together to find a way to end the terror. Yes, it sounds similar to the movie Tarantula, which is pretty much what this low budget indie flick is a direct homage to. As for whether it’s entirely successful, well, I’m a bit on the fence.
What does this movie get right? Well, the toys, automobiles, clothing, the use of stock footage, and in some cases the music are all reminiscent of the era or directly culled from it. One small touch was a general with Eisenhower’s photograph on the wall. If this is the 1950s, then that’s a good touch. Other moments include references to atomic radiation as well as “the war”, meaning World War II. The journalist character was a war correspondent, and his fiancee is a polish immigrant he met while in Europe; these things are believable from the setting and add to the feeling that this film is really of its era.
Where does it go wrong? Well, there are a few places where it feels satirical of the era, particularly of the sexism in ’50s society. The trouble is that it comes off too blatant; I would have appreciated at least a little subtlety, even though I recognize it’s a ripe target. Then there are attempts at humor which just didn’t work for me. Some of the jokes just weren’t funny, and they don’t capture how serious these movies portrayed themselves to be in the time period. As ridiculous as his pictures are, Ed Wood didn’t make Plan 9 from Outer Space with his tongue in his cheek. There is also a theme song to this movie, but it sounds more like it was written in the ’60s. I know, that’s a small thing, but it did irk me.
Above all though, the one thing that really bugged me is that The Giant Spider just felt too clean. The film quality didn’t feel like a low budget, cheaply-made production; instead, the director relied on the sets to do that, and while those sets are at times ridiculously cheap, the way the spider is put in seems far nicer than it should have.
Now this was my introduction to Mihm’s work, and I don’t want to seem like I disliked the whole picture; what I liked, I liked a lot, and I have a heck of a lot of respect for Mihm and his desire to recreate a style of film that’s largely been lost. I have also read on IMDB that he’s steadily improved as a writer and filmmaker over time, so perhaps his more recent offerings would be better to check out.
One quick note: the spider has a puppet face that is occasionally used when it’s about to eat someone, and you know what? It’s pure fangy gold.