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In 1997, my favorite TV show ascended to a new level of comedy nirvana. Having already cut a humorous swath through a wide berth of dismal cinematic dreck for years, the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" crew singled out one of their all-time juiciest targets: 1975's The Giant Spider Invasion. My twelve-year-old brain wasn't prepared for the volley of Wisconsin in-jokes and wisecracks about the characters' destitute living conditions ("Want a piece of milk?") that still give me no end of giggles to this day. But just as I've been able to glean enjoyment from some of the Satellite of Love's prey on their own terms ( This Island Earth truly is an endearingly corny breeze), I've always had an urge to take on The Giant Spider Invasion completely and totally unriffed. Thanks to VCI Entertainment's new Blu-ray release of this '70s disasterpiece, I recently had the opportunity to do just that, and while the "quality" of the flick itself is one thing, its high-definition debut and the treasure trove of bonus goodies that accompany it will make this package a must-grab for vintage creature feature buffs.

The Giant Spider Invasion
Feature
In the darkest reaches of outer space, an eight-legged evil has set its sights on conquering our world. A rogue black hole has conjured and spit out an army of innocent-looking spiders with the potential to swell to ginormous proportions. Along come these bloodthirsty buggers to rural Wisconsin, where the populace -- including lecherous farmer Dan Kester (Robert Easton) and his alcoholic wife Ev (Leslie Parrish) -- prove to be all-too-easy appetizers to kick off their feeding frenzy. Luckily, the phenomena surrounding the spiders' arrival has caught the attention of NASA man J.R. Vance (Steve Brodie) and astronomer Jenny Langer (Barbara Hale), who head to the middle of nowhere to size up the situation. Once the scientists realize the scale of what they're dealing with, the race is on to stop the infestation and send the spiders back to oblivion before even more innocent cheeseheads pay with their lives.

I'm inclined to be more lenient towards The Giant Spider Invasion than I am for other "when animals attack" genre joints of the era. The film shares much in common with the likes of Squirm and Empire of the Ants, not the least of which include an ensemble of morally-reprehensible characters and a sweaty visual scheme so potent, you can almost smell the Billy Beer in your own living room. But while these elements are present in The Giant Spider Invasion and certainly don't do the film any favors, they aren't as glaring of a nuisance here. Perhaps the flick's scrappy disposition helped shave off a little bit of the unpleasant aura, a distinct absence of cynicism that's able to convince you that the filmmakers really are doing the best with what they have. In a weird way, The Giant Spider Invasion is a textbook example of the Great American Success Story, which saw director Bill Rebane beating the odds to deliver an unexpected hit. An immigrant whose nightmarish experiences with trying to make 1965's nigh-unwatchable Monster a-Go Go soured him on Hollywood, Rebane found more happiness in the world of industrial films and independent productions. He was only granted a measly $300K with which to make this assault of the arachnids around his own Wisconsin estate, but he ended up hitting paydirt, as the film would rake in an unexpectedly tidy sum and become one of the year's top fifty grosser. It's a patchwork picture to be sure, but Rebane's blood, sweat, and tears are evident throughout; if a bunch of kids shoved into a Volkswagen covered in tons of fuzz are all he has to create his movie's big monster, then dammit, he's going to try like the devil to make it work.

But good intentions or not, The Giant Spider Invasion's fun factor leaves it straddling the line between "amusingly slapdash" and "hopelessly miserable." This comes from being a movie that, in terms of characters, has its focus trained on either the hostile hijinks of the cartoonishly bitter and boozed-up Kester clan or Hale and Brodie sounding completely bored as they vainly attempt to sell the scientific jargon with which they've been saddled. In any case, you're not likely to give a flying flip about whoever you're looking at here, with the film's brief length assuring that at least you won't have to spend too much time with them. As far as the special effects go, I'm not about to rag on Rebane and company too much for cobbling together the most ferocious-looking spiders that a few grand and all the pipe cleaners in Lincoln County, Wisconsin would allow. Suffice it to say, the eponymous critters don't strike very much terror into one's heart, and Rebane seems to know it; he likes to cover the main monsters up by bathing them in shadow or quickly cutting away when they strike, leaving the task of giving viewers the heebie-jeebies up to the flesh-and-blood tarantulas that scurry about each scene. But again, none of these flaws really evolved into something that aggressively irritated me the way similar aspects of other Z-grade creature features have. The chintzy effects, the futility of Alan Hale's jokester sheriff, Vance's casual sexism upon learning that Langer is a -- GASP! -- lady doctor...all of this skews quaint rather than mean-spirited, blessing the production as a whole with an innocence that makes it unable to totally hate, regardless of how amateurish the enterprise looks.

The Giant Spider Invasion
Video
VCI Entertainment presents The Giant Spider Invasion in its original, 1.85:1 aspect ratio. As far as the transfer goes, the movie is too low-rent of an affair to ever look smashing in high-definition, but VCI pulled off what's probably the best-looking presentation it'll ever receive. The flick retains its clammy '70s visual scope while doing away with scratches and grain for the most part. Several sections of the film look muddy and blurred, although this is more the result of Rebane trying to execute the world's worst day-for-night shots than a faulty restoration process. The transfer isn't without its issues, but it's more or less passable and holds onto the grungy look that, for many fans, is what precisely gives the movie its appeal.

Audio
The Giant Spider Invasion comes with an English PCM 2.0 audio track. Considering the flick's meager production value, the sound is in great shape. The movie is full of eerie audio effects, from the unearthly screeching of the spiders as they rampage throughout farm country to the music itself, which is evocative of an old-school planetarium show or vintage science TV program. The track as a whole is nicely balanced, with specific dialogue easily able to be singled out amidst the buzz of angered, booze-fueled mobs heading off to be slaughtered by the spiders. English subtitles are also included.

The Giant Spider Invasion
Extras
The Giant Spider Invasion's bonus features are spread across its two discs:
Disc 1 (Blu-ray):
  • Size Does Matter (15:20), a newly-recorded interview with director Bill Rebane detailing his early days in the filmmaking business and the work he put into getting The Giant Spider Invasion off the ground.
  • A Super-8 version of the film (30:17), re-cut and mastered in HD.
  • A photo gallery
  • A montage of trailers and TV spots (8:14).

Disc 2 (DVD):
  • A montage (2:13:09) of vintage stills and archival cast/crew interviews, taken from a variety of sources (including TV news reports commemorating the movie's 30th anniversary in 2005).
  • Archival interviews with actor/dialect coach Robert Easton (17:00).
  • A clip (7:06) of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" performer Kevin Murphy and author Kristin Gilpatrick introducing Bill Rebane at a 2005 screening of the film (also seen in the aforementioned two-hour interview compilation).
  • Another Super-8 cut of the film (28:25) that's shorter and in much rougher shape than the one seen on the Blu-ray disc.
  • A news report (7:36) interviewing Bill Rebane on the set of 1981's Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake.

In addition, this set also features liner notes on the reverse side of the cover art, a small comic summarizing the movie's events, and a CD soundtrack for a musical adaptation of the story.

The Giant Spider Invasion
Overall
Saying that The Giant Spider Invasion is a little on the lousy side isn't about to stir up a whole mess of controversy, but it has its charms, and given Rebane's resources and the multitude of production problems he encountered along the way, that it got made at all is a minor miracle. But whether you're the type to scoff at the film itself or ironically enjoy it with the company of friends, VCI Entertainment's Blu-ray is a solid, lovingly-assembled package that rivals the best from genre labels like Synapse and Scream Factory. Though it's not the first cheesefest I'd have chosen to receive the royal treatment, those admirers of The Giant Spider Invasion aren't likely to be let down by its latest home media resurrection.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality


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