12/14/06

313 Earth vs. the Spider

(1958, Horror-Giant Critter, b&w), with:

Speech: Using Your Voice
(1950, Educational, b&w)

Use plenty of lip and tongue action.

Rating: *

In a nutshell:

Short: We receive instruction on how to speak pleasingly.
Film: A young couple searches for a bracelet while a giant spider rampages.

Short Summary:

Do you find me pleasing?  Do I please you?In the short, an old man at a desk instructs us on the fundamentals of public speaking. We must be “heard, understood, and pleasing,” though he seems to put most emphasis on the “pleasing” part. He parades a number of bad examples before us, consisting of the fast-talker, the man who says “um” and “er” too much, the really nervous woman, and the drunken mumbler. After going on about “lip and tongue action” (illustrated by horrific close-ups of chipped and crooked teeth), he shows us a good example that is every bit as boring as the bad examples.

Film Summary:

A really ugly man drives home with a bracelet, a present for his teenage daughter’s birthday. Before he can arrive, however, the eponymous giant spider catches and eats him. Ignoring her boyfriend’s hypothesis that her dad must be drunk somewhere, the daughter (Carol) drags him (Mike) off to search for her erstwhile dad. They borrow a friend’s car and find her dad’s wrecked truck next to a forbidding cave. Finding the bracelet next to the cave, they venture inside where they find lots of superimposed stalactites and a processed-shot spider. They scream and run away to tell the local high school science teacher.

The science teacher calls the avuncular but incredulous sheriff, who leads a posse into the cave with hose attached to a tanker truck full of DDT. They come across the dad’s body, sucked dry, and then meet the spider itself. They spray the heck out of it and flee the cave. On the way, Carol drops the bracelet. The science teacher calls the spider an insect (I guess he’s not a biology teacher) and has its corpse moved the high school auditorium. Meanwhile, Carol and Mike sneak back to the cave to find the bracelet.

But the Spider’s not quite dead—a bunch of middle-aged high school students break into the auditorium and wake it with band practice. Everyone runs to safety, except for the crusty old janitor who cowers next to an unlocked door and lets the spider eat him rather than escape. Everyone hides indoors while the spider rampages through town, killing and draining fluids at will. Conveniently, the long distance phone lines go down, so they remain cut off from outside aid. Finally, after a long day of rampaging, the spider goes home to the cave.

The sheriff and company head out to blast the tunnel and trap the spider inside. Meanwhile, Carol’s mom and Mike’s dad figure out where their children went and rush off to stop them. They arrive too late; the cave has been sealed. So they dig in again, and the science teacher has another hare-brained scheme about electrocuting the spider with some nearby power lines. They find Mike and Carol, who have found the bracelet and are now trapped on a ledge while the spider crawls ever closer to them. The science teacher’s idea works (so I guess he’s a physical science teacher) and the spider fries between giant electrodes. Mike and Carol are saved, and the cave is sealed once more.

Introduction:

Joel's band practice is disrupting the next galaxy over.Crow hosts a talk show called “Inside the Robot Mind.” He thanks Tom profusely for being his first guest. Tom thanks him profusely right back. They never get around to the interview.

Host Segment One:

Tom told a really good show business anecdote during the commercial break, but there’s no time to repeat it now—the Mads are calling. The Mads have invented the cheese phone (combination cheese sample tray/phone) with the curdless version coming soon! Joel has invented the CD player/hair dryer. Quoth Joel, “I’m blowing my hair while I’m blowing my mind.”

Host Segment Two:

Crow has Joel and Tom read through his screenplay “Earth vs. Soup.” Joel reads the waitress character, who screams in terror for six pages straight. Tom wonders how soup can crawl on all fours. Quoth Crow, “What did you think, soup as a biped?”

Host Segment Three:

Joel and the ‘Bots are Spy-Dor, a rock band that may be like K.I.S.S., or perhaps more like Emerson, Lake and Palmer. We’ll never know, because the crusty old janitor of the seventh galaxy (Mike Nelson) tells them to keep the noise level down.

Host Segment Four:

Joel and the ‘Bots make Creeple People with a dangerous toy from the seventies. Joel goes off on a strange tangent about the world’s progress towards the manufacture of safer toys.

Host Segment Five:

Tom delivers an oral report on Bert I. Gordon (the auteur of today’s film) and then glues a dinosaur fin to Gypsy, a la King Dinosaur (another Bert I. Gordon film). Crow also delivers a report on Bert I. Gordon, but he can’t pronounce his name correctly, and mostly he just talks about Orson Welles. Down in Deep 13, Frank has eaten the entire cheese phone, plastic parts and all. He throws up on the console.

Stinger:

The mumbler from the short gives an unintelligible speech. He sounds like he’s drunk.

Thoughts:

Possessed of an amazing ability to superimpose itself on stock footage.The short, Using Your Voice, is truly a gem, if only for its awful examples, emphasis on being “pleasing,” and the plea for further use of “lip and tongue action.”

Earth vs. the Spider is horribly mistitled. It could have been called A Small Town vs. the Spider, River Falls vs. the Spider, or The Handsome High School Science Teacher and His Chunky Sheriff Sidekick vs. the Spider, but Earth vs. the Spider? We get to see the school, the police station, and the cave, but these locations cannot really be considered representative of the entire Earth.

And speaking of stupid blatant plugs (okay, we weren’t speaking of them, but I had to segue somehow), the boyfriend Mike works at a movie theater where two of Bert I. Gordon’s other films (The Amazing Colossal Man and Attack of the Puppet People) are conveniently playing. He even mentions Puppet People by name. Bert I. Gordon, have you no shame?

The movie runs entirely too long. I know that the running time is short, but we can only stand so much padding. The plot goes like this: the spider kills the dad, the kids find the spider, the teacher stuns the spider, the spider wakes up and terrorizes the town, the kids get trapped in the cave with the spider, the teacher kills the spider and rescues the kids. Almost half the movie takes place between the last two plot points. The cave collapsing and then getting dug out again, interspersed with the kids screaming, running away, and getting lost, over and over again—it just goes on forever.

Crow’s screenplay, “Earth vs. Soup,” is an MST3K classic and will be mentioned frequently in future episodes. It’s a pretty good host segment, too. None of the other segments are really worth mentioning, except for the “dangerous toys” sketch, which is strange and uncomfortable.

The commentary during the short is stellar, and it works pretty well for the first part of the movie too. When Carol’s dad gets killed in the opening sequence, Crow notes, “I guess the movie’s not about him.” One of the deputies who gets killed by the spider looks just like Dr. Erhardt from Season One, so when they find him in the giant web, Joel exclaims, “So that’s what happened to him!” But once we get to the padding, the comments die down somewhat. Since you can easily see Using Your Voice without the film on Rhino’s MST3K Shorts Volume 3, I’d recommend giving this episode a miss.