“Giant mutated animal” movies have made something of a comeback over the last few years thanks to the efforts of the SyFy Channel and their production cohorts, Roger Corman and The Asylum. As goofy fun as some of those films have been, though, it’s rare that any of them actually recall their ancient ancestors in 1950s science fiction in any meaningful way. Christopher Mihm, the prolific filmmaker who specializes in 50s sci-fi/horror tributes, returns with his entry into the “giant bug” subset of “giant mutated animal” movies, The Giant Spider. Shot, as always, in period appropriate black & white, Mihm aims to re-create the charms of pre-Corman low-budget sci-fi flicks (that is, pre-1950s/60s Corman, not pre-Camel Spiders Corman) and officially induct the big bug into his ever-growing “Mihmiverse.”
While out playing in the forest with his dog, Danny Johnson (Elliott Mihm) narrowly misses becoming a light snack for a gigantic spider crawling out of the dangerous caves nearby. Meanwhile, local reporter Howard Johnson (Daniel Sjerven) attempts to propose to his girlfriend Zita Marczak (Stephanie McDonough) at the malt shop where they had their first date. Unfortunately for Howard, a team of scientists send his sidekick Joe (Ware Carlton-Ford) to drag him away with the promise of a huge story. And huge it certainly is: mutated by atomic energy, the spider is massive and hungry, headed straight for the nearest town for a human smorgasbord with the drive-in and a barn dance in its path acting as convenient appetizers.
Howard and Joe head to the drive-in and the barn dance to warn everyone in the spider’s path, while General Castle (Mark Haider) preps the military option and Drs. Edwards, Gabriel, and Hackett (Michael Cooke, James Norgard, and Billie Jo Konze) try to figure out how to stop the creature without an atomic bomb. As Howard and Joe race to the drive-in, Zita and her students are just putting the finishing touches on the barn for the evening’s festivities and the spider is stomping its way across the county interacting with the locals. Will General Castle’s military might defeat the giant spider? Will the scientists find a way to save the town? Or will the giant spider take over the world one small town at a time?
The Giant Spider is Christopher Mihm’s eighth film in as many years, and like 2012’s House of Ghosts it continues to build on the “Phantom Lake”/Mihmiverse mythology established in his earlier films. Think of it as something like Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, only with monsters, aliens, and ghosts. Familiarity with those films is rewarded with each new movie, although like House of Ghosts there are perhaps a few too many in-jokes for the Mihmiverse fan that newcomers will find puzzling. Despite this, The Giant Spider remains a very entertaining ride and is one of Mihm’s best films, with some surprisingly great special effects, Mihm’s great ensemble players, and a brief run time used to maximum advantage. Highly recommended for fans of classic sci-fi/horror– if you’re not already on the Mihmiverse train, this is a great place to hop on.
The Giant Spider is available on DVD from Saint Euphoria. Special features include a blooper reel, photo gallery, five episodes of the radio series “Commander Lambent: Space Explorer… In Space!”, film introductions by director Christopher Mihm and Dr. Ivan Cryptosis, two full-length commentary tracks, trailers for other Mihmiverse films, and English and Esperanto audio and subtitle tracks.