“The Giant Spider Invasion”: A very large angry, hairy arachnid terrorizes a tiny Wisconsin town

By on January 4, 2019

Bill Rebane‘s low-budget 1975 sci-fi horror cult classic The Giant Spider Invasion — a fun little throwback to those 1950s monster movies where oversized creatures go on the attack — is just one of the movies you’ll find streaming in our New Cult Arrivals section over on Night Flight Plus.

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The Giant Spider Invasion was filmed in Wisconsin, in and around Gleason and the local county seat, Merrill — located about twenty-five miles north of Wausau, off Highway 17, population circa 9500 — which is certainly one way to cut down on production costs.

The title of this Grade Z monster movie tells you all you really need to know about plot, unless you count the sub-plots about the characters and their various hang-ups.

Expect to see sad adulterous drunks, trailer trash, creepy stepfathers, and a bible-thumpin’ sermon-spewing fundamentalist preacher leading a revival meeting.

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We start with a meteorite crash-landing outside a small town, creating a hole in the earth that someone calls “a doorway into a parallel universe.”

Normal-sized spiders begin crawling out of crystal space geodes (they also contain diamonds!) and they start marching around, looking for food.

About an hour in, the real star of The Giant Spider Invasion shows up, a very large angry, hairy arachnid — looking like a VW Beetle with giant fake-fur legs attached in some scenes — and it begins terrorizing the tiny Wisconsin town.

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Sharp-eyed viewers may notice the cast features a lot of has-been veteran TV actors, memorable from 1960s TV sitcoms and black & white episodic dramas.

Alan Hale Jr. — the guy who played “The Skipper” on “Gilligan’s Island” — plays the town’s local pink-faced constable, “Sheriff Jeff Jones.”

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Hale’s hearty sheriff (he’s called a “jolly red giant” at one point) gets the movie’s best line: “Did you ever see that movie Jaws? — this makes that shark look like a goldfish!”

The film’s distributor, acutely aware of Jaws‘ box-office success earlier that same year, ran a great campaign saying the spider had a bigger bite than Jaws‘ rogue shark.

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A couple of NASA scientists — “Dr. Jenny Langer” (played by “Perry Mason”‘s secretary Barbara Hale) and “Dr. J.R. Vance” (Steve Brodie, from TV’s “Wyatt Earp”) — offer sage advice which mostly goes ignored.

That’s mainly because these small town locals aren’t the kind of folks who let these sweater-vest wearin’ cityslickers who make their living from “science” try to explain things to them.

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The townsfolk do what they always do, they form a vigilante-style posse, a truly unruly mob who decide to tackle the spider problem themselves.

Meanwhile, The Giant Spider grabs some snacks (i.e. townsfolk) at the Gleason Days Festival, and then it attacks a crowd assembled on a local baseball field.

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That’s right about the time that the Skipper…er, Sheriff Jones… calls in the National Guard, but not before The Giant Spider kills off the Sheriff’s deputy, who fires his gun at the monster while yelling out his brave final words:

“Eat lead, you!”

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Read more about The Giant Spider Invasion below.

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Awhile back — in our blog post about another of his films (Blood Harvest, starring Tiny Tim!) — we mentioned that Estonian-by-birth filmmaker Bill Rebane was born “Ito” Rebane in Riga, the capital of Latvia, in 1937.

The first film he directed was 1965’s Monster A Go-Go, which Rebane says is “the worst picture ever made.”

He’d actually run out of money during filming and sold the footage he’d shot to director Herschel Gordon Lewis, the King of Gore, who got the film finished and distributed to drive-in movie theaters across America.

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By the time he made The Great Spider Invasion, Rebane had made several more low-budget sci-fi horror films — 1974’s Invasion from Inner Earth and ’75s Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake — doing much of the post-production work himself.

By then he’d bought a farm while on a fishing trip and he’d begun building his sets and shooting his movies on the eighty acres of land he now owned in rural Wisconsin.

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Eventually the studio/farm — which he called The Shooting Ranch Ltd. — grew to some two hundred acres.

The Rebane family raised cattle and horses there, becoming the only full-time feature film studio in the Midwest for a time.

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Rebane has said that the idea for The Giant Spider Invasion (Rebane’s best known film) came from his friend Richard Huff, with whom he had made TV commercials.

Another friend, actor Robert Easton (who plays the town drunk “Dan Kester”) offered to help out with the writing, but by the time they began production, though, both men had been at eachother’s throats and they hadn’t gotten very much down on paper.

Rebane began filming without a script, not knowing where his movie was going to end up going, right from the start.

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Leslie Parrish played “Lieutenant Carolyn Palamas” in the “Star Trek” episode “Who Mourns for Adonais?”

Nevertheless, despite all the obvious poor planning, Rebane’s independently-financed film — budgeted somewhere between $320,000-$340,00 — ended up making millions at the box-office in 1975 (some sources claim it was $15 million profit, while others say it was more like $23 million).

The Giant Spider Invasion, in fact, became one of the Top Fifty grossing films of 1975, the very same year that Steven Spielberg‘s blockbuster Jaws was released (The Giant Spider Invasion didn’t hit screens until October, though, so that giant shark got a bit of a head start).

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Watch The Giant Spider Invasion — which was also spoofed on a 1997 episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (Season 8, Episode 10) — on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.