The 1950’s. Perhaps my all-time favorite decade when it comes to movies. This was one of the most prolific times in movie history when it comes to science fiction and horror movies (according to Wikipedia there were almost 200 science fiction films released during this 10-year period). So many great movies came from this time and though many were forced to be made on miniscule budgets, the movies were oftentimes very original and above all else, they were all a lot of fun to watch. Because of the almost non-existent budgets and short production schedules, film crews had to be more creative with what little they had and this oftentimes lead to very atmospheric films that may not have worked as well if more money and time was available.
For the most part there were two types of science fiction films in the 50’s; alien invasion films and the big bug films. I am a huge fan of both types as they had so much charm and entertainment value. Films like this just aren’t made any more…or are they? Recently I was looking through the various movie offerings on Amazon Prime and came across a movie from 2013 called THE GIANT SPIDER. I wasn’t sure what to expect but since it only had a 71 minute run time I figured I would give it a shot. I was not disappointed.
What unfolded before me was a perfect representation of some of my favorite films of the past. Filmed in black and white and taking place in the 50’s, director Christopher R. Mihm captured the essence of the very films that were such a huge part of my childhood. From the cheesy dialogue and sexist attitudes of some of the men to the practical effects of using an actual tarantula filmed in closeup to simulate the giant spider, this movie captured something that is often missing in the films of today; innocence.
Mihm is obviously a huge fan of the very films he is imitating. The estimated budget of this movie, according to IMDB, was $7,500 and yet I found this movie to be more entertaining than many of Hollywood’s big budget releases of recent years. The effects work perfectly for this film, looking comparable to the 1955 film TARANTULA and EARTH VS. THE SPIDER (1958), which were the obvious influences for this movie. Less is definitely more here as he has a lot of story to cram into that 71 minutes. The pacing is quick and the movie is never dull.
The quality of the acting is varied as was often the case with the movies of this time period. Mihm tends to work with the same people in all of his films and with good reason; they share his vision and want to create something people can have fun watching. When you work with people over and over, the chemistry shows through.
The tarantula effects are actually really good. Mihm was able to blend pretty seamlessly live actors with the live tarantula creating some fun images. The closeup of the tarantula’s face, though looking nothing like a real tarantula, is entertaining in its own right, with way too many teeth and not enough eyes, that constantly dart back and forth. It is details like this that give this movie so much charm. Mitch Gonzales did an excellent job on the creature effects and not for nothing, I would love to have one of these spider puppets! This method of using a completely different face for the spider was actually used in TARANTULA as well. One thing that the older films were never able to get right was the lighting on the real tarantula used for filming so they would often come out looking much darker than they should. This is not the case here as the live tarantula was always well-lit, showing great detail. Though most of the scenes feature the tarantula walking from one side of the screen to the other, a scene of the giant spider climbing up and over a drive-in movie screen is very inventive.
The music in THE GIANT SPIDER also perfectly captures the time period of this film. The score is overstated at times and works wonderfully to capture the mood and atmosphere. During the opening and end credits there are also two fun songs called “Giant Spider Theme” and “Spider Smash,” both written and performed by The Night Hobs.
I also want to mention how Christopher R. Mihm loves to reference his other films in all of his movies. He has created his own universe here and that just adds to the fun, especially if you can pick up on the references. He is a prolific film-maker and if you are a fan of the movies of the 50’s, then you will definitely enjoy his movies. I also want to talk about the lobby cards he creates for his films, many of which are shown here. He creates them by colorizing a black and white lobby card, just like in the old days. To find out more about Christopher and his films you can visit his official website HERE!