My grandson is four-years-old, and he loves critters -- big or small, slimy and scaly, or heavens to Betsy, even both. But he’s really fond of spiders; I am not and never have been. However, I do love horror movies about spiders, so here we are with Kiss of the Tarantula (1976), a quite mild yet interesting revenge tale of a girl and her eight-legged friends. I’m sure my grandson would like these spiders, if they weren’t busy scaring people to death.
At least I think that’s what they do; we see or hear no mention of venom or bites, so I guess our killer has luckily chosen younger victims with unfortunate cardiovascular issues. Hey whatever works, I always say! The film opened in May to poor box office and even poorer notices; it was immediately swept out the door with all the other When Animals Attack films popular at the time. When the balance sheet is tallied up, I can understand the reticence towards yet another revenge flick based around Mother Nature. (Not a lot of bite varieties on display in this sub-genre, alas.) But, this one focuses completely on the girl being wronged, with the spiders merely her fuzzy foot soldiers of fate. Oh, arachnid Carrie? I’m in.
Let’s kick things off with a shot of lovely teenager Susan (one-and-done Suzanna Ling) reminiscing -- about her past, and our plot. Ten years prior, Susan figured out that her horndog mother (Beverly Eddins -- another one-timer. Weird, right?) was having an affair with her uncle, the town lawman (Herman Wallner -- well, you know). Susan’s obsession with her tarantulas has caused her nothing but anguish at home and school. The only one who understands her is her dad, the local mortician (Ernesto Macias -- Scream Blacula Scream), who encourages his daughter and her pets.
Susan’s dad and uncle have no idea that she scared her mom to death with one of her spiders, and why should they? Besides, after this episode Susan becomes a fresh-faced, sunkissed, psychotic teenager who clearly seems disturbed to the viewer from the get-go. Everyone thinks she’s weird because of her spiders and her dad’s job, not because she walks around grinning like a lunatic, oblivious to all else.
When a local boy squishes one of her babies, she vows vengeance against those who would harm her, her dad, and her furry kids. Hell hath no fury like a woman with a dead pet.
Kiss of the Tarantula offers up a whole host of misnomers; the title and poster are pure Giallo, there’s little kissing and even less nudity, and the tarantulas are in no way horny.
I mean, they could be? It’s hard to tell with writer Warren Hamilton Jr. 's screenplay; I thought Susan was commanding them at first, then I thought they were being bitten and the mortician was covering it up, and after that I was positive the whole thing was a big old dream. Alas, none of this turns out to be true.
No, in true ‘70s fashion we get a melodrama peppered with horror… and it’s a pretty skeevy one at that.
Melodrama, that is; Susan’s uncle has had his sights set on her since she was a child, and after the death of his lover/her mother, only deepens his resolve to have her for his own. So this small town slimeball ends up being the most interesting character simply by having the most to do; running a corrupt department while trying to assault your niece is a full character docket, and Wallner gives probably the best performance in the film.
Kiss of the Tarantula gets that existential rub of the small town right in subtle ways; time is crueler when there’s no place to hide. Yet everyone's the same, just older -- but most definitely not wiser.
That decades’ nihilism -- wrap it all up, and kill the lights when you’re done -- carries much of the weight of the drama; thank the Spider Gods then for crawling around every once in a while to inflict… well, something to the mix.
Director Chris Munger gives his all to the spiders when they take the spotlight, to a fault; would you like to see a spider work its way up someone’s leg in real time? Well you’re going to, and it takes longer than you think! This is a film that even needs to trim the good stuff down a bit.
And there’s enough of it, to be sure. Kiss of the Tarantula is a “vibe” movie, with nothing ultimately affecting that wavelength one way or the other. The acting balances out, the pokiness of the spider attacks is offset by some particularly ghoulish activities at the mortuary, and in a shocking twist, lacks an effective exploitation angle. You could say it’s an “all-ages” horror film if you, you know, take out the incest and death. I don’t think I’d show it to my grandson, but not because it's wrong; rather, because he can hold off knowing for a few years how big of a chicken his Pow Pow really is.
Kiss of the Tarantula is available on Blu-ray from VCI Video.Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: Mario Bava’s LISA AND THE DEVIL (1974)