Earth vs. the Spider/War of the Colossal Beast

What’s in a name? Or, more specifically a set of initials? In Bert I. Gordon’s case, everything. His parents might not have known it when they named him, but Bert would one day become synonymous with BIG things. GIANT SPIDERS. COLOSSAL MEN. HUMONGOUS ANTS. GARGANTUAN LIZARDS. My God, even CHICKENS THE SIZE OF SKYSCRAPERS!!! With this in mind, I recently sat down to view two movies from Mr. B.I.G. himself, Earth vs. the Spider and War of the Colossal Beast.

Earth vs. the Spider is the first movie on the disc. After a neat opening credit sequence shot over a spider web, the movie starts off with Jack Flynn driving home through the desert with a present for his daughter. On the highway he meets a violent demise. When he doesn’t arrive home the next day, his daughter Carol cajoles her boyfriend Mike to borrow a friend’s car so they can investigate. When they come across his destroyed truck in the desert, they head into a cave, where they find a giant web, and then its giant resident. Escaping, they involve their science teacher and the police in a hunt for the gargantuan arachnid. Thinking they killed it, the townsfolk drag it back to the high school auditorium for examination. That turns out to be a bad move.

Though not really scary by today’s standards, Earth vs. the Spider does a lot of things right. The music establishes the ominous tone right from the opening credits. The acting is decent for this sort of movie, with Carol delivering some actual pathos as the distraught daughter, and Mike as the frustrated boyfriend. The plot moves along swiftly, from beginning to end. And it’s quite a bit gorier than I had expected. Most important, though, are the effective scenes with the giant spider. Though a real spider was filmed and then projected over footage of the actors, it’s better than one might expect. It sells well enough, especially when a bunch of reporters look over the huge beast in the auditorium, where it lays dormant on its back; and when the spider rampages through the town. The movie also provides a cool inside joke; Mike works at his dad’s theatre, which is showing a revue of Bert I. Gordon films. Overall the film would make for a great date movie back in its heyday. For throwaway entertainment, it’s a cut above.

I do have one quibble with the film, however. It seems AIP pictures almost always have a music scene. In this one, a bunch of swinging cats choose to play a song in the auditorium where the dreaded beast rests. The drama class joins them, and cuts a rug as they play. Not only is the song terrible, but there’s no way this would ever happen in a room occupied by a giant, sleeping spider. AIP should really have thought twice before forcing all these musical numbers on the audience; though I know they were aimed at the target crowd of teens likely to go to a Friday drive-in, they stop the movies dead. And they’re just plain silly.

One more thing I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention. Though it doesn’t detract from the film itself, a little research brought me to an interesting fact: tarantulas don’t spin webs. The movie hinges on the spider, and as people associate spiders with webs, I forgave this small inaccuracy.

Earth vs. the Spider was a lot of fun. War of the Colossal Beast, however, was a colossal bore. After a driver crashes a truck in a large puddle, the truck’s owner talks to a policeman. They then talk over the catatonic body of the driver. They talk near the site of the truck’s disappearance. The colossal man’s sister talks to the truck owner and a colonel. More talk ensues. Followed by talk. And then people talk. At about the 26 minute mark, the colossal man appears. Surprisingly, he doesn’t talk. Instead, he groans and attacks a bread truck, loaded with drugged loaves! (I can’t make this stuff up.) The military flies him off to California, so they can strap him down and talk over his groggy body.

In case one doesn’t get the drift, not much happens in this flick. A lot of conversation makes for an interminable 69 minutes of movie. The only real action occurs more than a half hour into the movie, and those scenes are flashbacks to The Amazing Colossal Man, this movie’s prequel. The other scene that qualifies for monster drama of any real sort takes place in the last 30 seconds of the film, when the colossal man holds up a bus full of children and stands there, listless. Perhaps he was confused that these last seconds turn from black-and-white into color for no good reason. Or perhaps he’d watched the dailies from the rest of the film and was bored.

Mr. B.I.G. got extremely lazy with this one, and it shows throughout this dull production. The performances never rise above what one would expect from a programmer. The dialogue is preposterous, even for a film of this sort (at one point, upon examining the requisite giant footprint, a doctor mentions it must be the imprint of a 60 foot man; to which the sister conveniently replies, "Glen was 60 feet tall!") Even when the colossal man finally does appear, he’s just a tall bald guy with a loincloth and a really bad makeup job that’s supposed to portray a missing eye. Whereas the giant spider succeeded in playing up scares, there’s nothing frightening about the colossal man at all. This flick was an utter disappointment.

B.I.G. movies. Small extras. Except for a screen that offers you a choice between flicks, Lions Gate has released this set without a single add-on. As Bert I. Gordon is still alive (in fact, I met him recently at a convention), it’s a travesty that there’s no oversized commentary or documentary.

Bert I. Gordon’s flicks are pretty much all the same. Very large beasts maraud across the screen, and very average sized humans try to combat them. Because of the titular aracnid, this simple formula works with Earth vs. the Spiders. But the very talk War of the Colossal Beast fails because of its inaction. If you’re a fan of all things large, give this one a look, but only for the spider. –Phil Fasso

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