Look, anyone who knows me is aware of my severe lack of fondness for spiders, as well as my love for movies about them. (I am riddled with inconsistency.) 1977 was a vintage year for arachnids; in addition to one of my all time favorite movies, Kingdom of the Spiders, the small screen offered up the telefilm Curse of the Black Widow, a Dan Curtis effort that never fails to entertain. Just keep the buggers away from me, okay?
Originally broadcast September 16th as part of The ABC Friday Night Movie, Curse went up against Logan’s Run/Switch! on CBS, and the much tougher competition, NBC’s The Rockford Files/Quincy, M.E. For those not inclined to have Jack Klugman yell in their face for an hour, Curtis’ Curse offered a fun, goofy alternative.
Let’s crack open our cobwebbed faux TV GUIDE and have a look see:
CURSE OF THE BLACK WIDOW (Friday, 9pm, ABC)
A private eye investigates a series of murders in which the victims are mysteriously wrapped in spider webbing. Anthony Franciosa, Patty Duke, Donna Mills star.
We open in a seedy California bar as the regulars, including P.I. Mark Higbie (Franciosa – Tenebrae), encounter a European woman named Valerie who needs a ride home. One of the gents obliges, and meets his demise at the hands (and glowing eyes) of Valerie right in the parking lot. Enter Lt. Gully Conti (Vic Morrow – Humanoids from the Deep) and medical examiner Ragsdale (Max Gail – Barney Miller), none too keen to let Higbie in on the investigation.
But he does his own digging, and finds out that there have been several murders through the years in the same area; men wrapped in a silken cocoon with two huge puncture marks in their chest – and all their blood drained. Oh, and replaced with black widow venom. Into his life comes Leigh (Mills – Knots Landing), who wants Higbie to find out why the cops are questioning her about the bar death. Well, as it turns out Leigh was either married to, or dated, every one of the punctured spider beaus. Our intrepid sleuth presses further, and finds out that Leigh and her twin sister Laura (Duke – The Swarm) were in an airplane crash as babies, and one of them was bitten several times by a horde (cache? Gaggle? Pod?) of black widow spiders. Perhaps there’s something to the Native American folklore of the Spider Woman who preys during the full moon…
You simply have to be on board with Dan Curtis to enjoy Curse of the Black Widow; ubiquitous throughout the ‘70s, if you watched the daytime soap Dark Shadows, the Carl Kolchak TV movies The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler, the theatrical (and personal favorite) Burnt Offerings, and Karen Black’s TV tour de force Trilogy of Terror, you were weaned on a whole lot of Curtis, be it as a producer and/or director. While he always put together top notch talent, he was underrated as a director; not the most visually stylish perhaps, but he always drew solid work from his casts and could tell a hell of a story.
Much like this one. One part ‘50s giant monster movie, two parts Raymond Chandler, Curse has enough plot for three horror films yet somehow Curtis makes it all work. Is it silly? Of course it is. How could the tale of a femme fatale cum giant spider be anything but? His work is firmly focused on character, even if they’re thinly drawn; Curtis knows he’s giving us outlines here, but so do a lot of noirs that deal in types, not people. Look at the character names: Higbie. Gully. Leigh and Laura Lockwood. Ragsdale. Higbie’s assistant, played wonderfully by Roz Kelly (New Year’s Evil) is called Flaps. The teleplay by Robert Blees (Frogs) and Earl W. Wallace (Witness) knows exactly what it is, unapologetically so; they lean into the ridiculous even while the actors play it straight, making it even funnier. Curse often plays like a stretched out Kolchak episode without Darren McGavin; and while that may seem disappointing, it still offers as much charm as Curtis can cram onto the screen.
Franciosa is especially energetic as Higbie, Duke shows off a few new flavors I never noticed before, and if Morrow is in, so am I. My favorite bit part is awarded to that legendary Native American actor *checks notes* Jeff Corey (Battle Beyond the Stars), who offers up an exposition dump near the end, caterpillar eyebrows and all.
As for that ending: Curtis lets it all hang out in a fiery climax, and if you were just sticking around to see a less than convincing monstrous arachnid, you’re in luck. Curtis makes no apologies for that either, nor does he hide it. Curse of the Black Widow has no time to wallow in its shortcomings; when you’re this busy being entertaining, why bother?