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The Spider (1958)

When EARTH VS. THE SPIDER crawled onto theatre screens nationwide in 1958 and first appeared on television in 1963 it was under the title THE SPIDER. Thus its current label is somewhat of an enigma. Perhaps the additional prefix of EARTH VS. was part of its original intended title (with actual prints struck as such) but was deemed too ambitious for what actually transpires in the movie. Possibly because of this title’s similarity to the Ray Harryhausen epic EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (released a few years earlier) it was feared to be an infringement on the Harryhausen work (or it could be mistaken as a re-release of same) and was shortened to the more appropriate THE SPIDER.

EARTH VS. THE SPIDER has the handicap of being a steal of Jack Arnold’s TARANTULA (1955) and like all giant mutation films of the 1950’s following in the wake of the 1954 sci-fi masterpiece THEM! (trying to emulate its distinctive qualities and commercial success) but taken on its own terms it successfully establishes its own eerie atmosphere and excitement that makes it popular today.

Comparison with TARANTULA is unavoidable but while both films utilize an actual tarantula spider (for practical purposes) EARTH VS. THE SPIDER usually manipulates the title protagonist in confined, claustrophobic surroundings when pursuing its intended prey to great effect (the expansive yet enclosed underground caverns, the high school gymnasium and the climatic confrontation on the cavern ledge, etc.). Further this monster also spins a web (unlike the title menace in TARANTULA) and a great deal of suspense and tension is achieved as nosey intruders are caught in it while the wailing bellow of the approaching creature is heard.

The giant spider’s cave sanctuary is as much a character as the spider itself and it engenders a tremendous sense of foreboding and dread as the two teenagers and later as the town sheriff, his deputies and some townspeople approach and enter it (the mood is beautifully underscored by Albert Glasser’s ominous background music).

In comparison to the technical virtuosity of THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD released the same year (or any Harryhausen film of the period) the special effects in EARTH VS. THE SPIDER are thin beer indeed but adequate. These effects include rear projection, split screens, superimposures, miniatures and forced perspective utilizing photographic plates of famed Carlsbad Caverns. At the film’s suspenseful finale there appears to be an unheralded moment of stop motion animation of the giant spider dangling along a precipice and the closing image of the dead creature impaled on stalagmite on the cavern floor (actually a painting) is quite impressive.

All told EARTH VS. THE SPIDER is a film well worth looking into.