Bonus Reviews: Earth vs the Spider (1958) and Puppet Master (1989)
Horror Bulletin Bonus Reviews for week 166
For this week’s bonus films, we’ll look at a couple of fun horror movies, “Earth vs. The Spider” from 1958, and the first film in the “Puppet Master” series that launched the whole “Killer Toy” genre of the 90s.
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Earth vs the Spider (1958)
• AKA “The Spider”
• Directed by Bert I. Gordon
• Written by Laszlo Gorog, George Worthing Yates, Bert I. Gordon
• Stars Ed Kemmer, June Kenney, Eugene Persson
• Run Time: 1 Hour 12 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
It's more A Small Town vs The Spider, but it's still a ferocious beast. It's an okay in every way entry in the attack of the giant creatures genre, but nothing really stands out.
A man drives down the road late one night. He screams as something splatters his face. The man’s daughter, Carol, is having her birthday, and her boyfriend Mike talks to her about her father not coming home last night. They go into the high school, where the teacher is talking about electricity flowing from negative to positive and other things.
After school, they go looking for her father, who has stayed out before. They find a weird rope stretched across the road and broken glass where there was an accident, but they don’t find a car. They do find her birthday gift, so they know he was here. Then they spot the pickup truck in a ravine. He’s not around, but maybe he went into that cave? The one with the do not enter sign? They go in and look around, but don’t see much– until they find skeletons and fall into a really sticky net– could it be a giant spider web?
Then a giant spider approaches, but they run away. They take a piece of the “rope” to Mr. Kingman, their science teacher, who calls the sheriff. He thinks it could be spider silk. The sheriff laughs at all this. The sheriff finally agrees to search the caves, after all Mr. Flynn is still missing. And there were human skeletons, which you'd think would be enough by itself to get his butt in gear.
Everyone, including the town’s exterminator, goes back to the cave. They do find her father, drained of all bodily fluids. Then they find the net, and now the sheriff finally believes there’s a spider. They bring in the DDT and spray the whole cavern. They shoot the spider, but it still kills the deputy.
The sheriff wants to board up the cave, but Kingman wants to study it and find out what caused it. Before long, it’s in the high school auditorium. It kicks a man, but Kingman insists that it’s dead; that was just a muscular reaction.
A band comes in and strat to play some rock-n-roll, which wakes the spider up. Kingman and the sheriff go to the high school and find the spider walking down Main Street. The sheriff tries to call in the governor and National Guard, but the phone lines are down.
Meanwhile, Carol and Mike go back to the surprisingly well-lit caves to look for her lost bracelet. They find another cave beneath the one where the spider lived. They find the bracelet and head out of the cave– just about the time the spider returns. They get lost in the cave and start finding people who starved to death in 1902.
Back in town, Kingman finds Deputy Dave’s dried-out body; he didn’t make it to the capitol. They hear that the spider has re-entered the caves and prepare to blow it up. They get all the dynamite placed and the wires run when Mike’s father shows up warning that the kids are still inside– too late to stop the explosion.
How do they open up the cave again? Picks and shovels, obviously, along with more dynamite. Kingman thinks they can run an electrical line inside and electrocute the spider.
Mike and Carol, pursued by the spider, step out onto a ledge and hide. The spider comes after them but they forget it climbs on walls. Kingman arrives on the scene, and they fry the monster with electricity. Everyone climbs out of the cave, and they blow it up again.
It’s called “Earth vs. The Spider,” but it’s really more “Spider vs. Two Blocks of the Little Town.” There’s no spider from space or invasion or anything like that. It’s just one big spider they found in a cave.
Mike’s father owns a cinema, and the posters are for “The Amazing Colossal Man” and the new film is “Attack of the Puppet People.” Both are films released by AIP the same year as this one.
The spider effects are much better than the previous giant spider films over the past few years, but it’s still not really realistic looking. The acting here is adequate at best, and the story is pretty much the same as always, only this time there was no real explanation for why the spider is so big.
It’s not exactly inspired horror, but it’s fine.
Puppet Master (1989)
• Directed by David Schmoeller
• Written by Charles Band, Kenneth J. Hall, David Schmoeller
• Stars Paul Le Mat, William Hickey, Irene Miracle
• Run Time: 1 Hour, 27 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
The puppets manage to simultaneously be cute and deadly. This is a decent start to the series, clearly leaving it open to the prequels and sequels to come. A little slow maybe, but overall well made and entertaining.
Credits roll over zoom shots of the various puppets’ faces.
Bodega Bay Inn,1939. An old man, Andre Toulon, puts the finishing touches on a Jester puppet. “Life for my life,” he says over the doll, which promptly begins to move on its own. We also get a low-to-the-ground POV shot from someone really, really short running around the hotel and two men in are black arriving.
Toulon says “don’t worry, I’ll take care of you” to the clown puppet. He prepares a large trunk, and takes a panel off a secret compartment in his room. He puts in Egyptian scrolls and his best puppets. The puppet known as “Blade” is the one that’s been running to warn Toulon, but Toulon says he already knows the men are coming for him. He places Blade in with Jester and the others. After hiding the trunk away, Toulon waits with a pistol in hand. The men break in and find that Toulon has killed himself.
At Yale University, in the present day, Alex Whitaker dreams he’s being eaten by leeches. At a carnival, a fortune teller has a severe headache accompanied by a vision of her own death. In New York City, a pair of scientists do mind-reading experiments. These strange occurrences mean that Gallagher has found the old Puppet Master’s things, and he’s calling for a meeting. They all have to go to an old hotel called Bodega Bay. The psychic, Dana, doesn’t think this is going to be a friendly meeting. This group of psychics all arrive to find that Neil Gallagher has shot himself; his widow, Megan, doesn’t have any idea why. Dana sticks him in the heart with a hatpin just to make sure he’s dead and not faking it.
Alex gets a psychic reading from an old photo of a man in a mask dancing with a girl. “You can’t save her, Alex,” says the man. Carissa sees the memory of Neil raping someone in the elevator. They all gather for dinner. Megan owns the hotel. Everyone thinks Neil married Megan for her money.
Alex describes how the ancient Egyptians found the secret of passing life on to small figurines. Andre Toulon was the last great alchemist, and he knew the method of the old ones. By combining their talents, they hope to rediscover the process.
Meanwhile, the puppet called “Pinhead” kills the hotel’s worker Theresa. A few minutes later, they all find Dead Neil sitting up in a chair. Dana warns that she thinks Neil wants to kill them all.
Frank and Carissa get ready for some kinky sex, narrating the whole thing into a tape recorder along the way. She ties him to the bed and gets to work. Right behind her, the door opens and a puppet walks in. “Tunneler” gets her with his drill-head. Leech Woman crawls up on top of the blindfolded and tied Frank and barfs up leeches to eat him alive. He screams louder, and the neighbors think he’s just having a really good time.
Dana then finds Dead Neil in her room. “You can fool the others, but you can’t fool me,” she says. Dana does battle with Pinhead, and this is the first time she’s actually seen one of the puppets. He punches her a few times, and she throws him down a few flights of steps. Blade arrives, but she escapes in the elevator. At the bottom, they both finish her off.
Megan says to Alex that she thinks Neil’s death and the old Puppet Master’s deaths are linked somehow. She takes him to a deserted ballroom where Neil awaits. He’s wearing the mask from Alex’s dream. No, this is another dream. When the real Megan comes to his door wanting to show him something, he’s not surprised. She shows him Andre Toulon’s diary, and it tells all about how he made his puppets live. Alex gets a vision of Neil shooting at him.
They go to the dining room and find Carissa, Frank, and Dana’s bodies. They also find a walking, talking Neil and all the puppets. Neil gloats that he brought himself back to life using the Puppet Master’s techniques. As a living puppet himself, he can be immortal. He says he’s tired of experimenting on silly wooden puppets and throws Jester across the room. The other puppets don’t like this. Neil brags about killing Megan’s parents. He hits her, which angers the toys.
Megan hits Neil over the head, and she and Alex make a run for it. Neil gets locked in the elevator with some of the puppets. Pinhead attacks Neil, but Neil just pops his head off– until Tunneler takes out a chunk of Neil’s leg. Blade cuts Neil’s fingers off as Pinhead squeezes his head. Tunneler goes right through Neil’s head, and Leech Woman finishes him off.
The next morning, Alex leaves the hotel, leaving Megan to manage things alone. Now, though, she has several little helpers…
One of the best theme songs going; I’ve had it for a ringtone on my phone for years. The creature design here is really top-notch, as all these multiple puppets become iconic in the following decades.
It’s really a lot slower than I remember. The good puppet stuff must have come from the sequels, as they aren’t really heavily featured here until the very end. This story is more about evil Neil than the puppets themselves.
Still, the series overall is a lot of fun, and this was a decent, although not stellar start.
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