First a bit of background. The Giant Spider Invasion (1975) may not have been Lawrence of Arabia, or even Earth vs. The Spider, but it meant a lot to me. A much more complicated film than the title might imply, Bill Rebane’s hugely entertaining sci-fi monster picture featured a number of intertwining plot lines and character trajectories, a good dose of self-aware comedy, some crazy science involving black holes, a couple name actors (Alan Hale, Jr.) and, yes, giant spiders. Giant spiders that ATE people! What the hell more could you want as a kid? It was a film of explosive wonderment and simple damned weirdness.
The Giant Spider Invasion was a film Rebane approached with a great deal of ambition but very little money. When it came to special effects, in particular those titular giant spiders themselves, some improvisation was necessary. What his effects crew came up with was a spider body shell that fit neatly over a VW Beetle. Emerging from the shell were eight giant legs that moved vaguely like a spider’s while resembling enormous pipe cleaners. To younger audiences who’ve grown accustomed to slick and soulless CGI perfection it may look comical, but dammit he did what he needed to do to get that spider onscreen, and it’s an effect that’s gone on to become legendary in the annals of independent filmmaking. Anyone with some makeup or fishing line can throw a zombie or some ghost nonsense on the screen easy as pie, but it’s a rare and gutsy filmmaker who can deliver an actual, physical giant spider, even if its legs did look like pipe cleaners.
In the years following the completion of the film, Rebane stored the giant spider prop in a warehouse in Lincoln County, Wisconsin. At some point in the last few weeks, Rebane discovered recently, the giant spider had been stolen. He immediately reported the heist to the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department, who opened an investigation. Making the theft much trickier than stealing, say, one of Dirty Harry’s guns or an original Star Wars X-Wing fighter is that still attached to the VW chassis as it is, there’s no way to move the spider except with a flatbed truck. Rebane did tell police that in fact the last time the spider was spotted it was indeed on a flatbed truck near Merill, Wisconsin.
Even more tragic are later reports that several weeks ago parts of the spider’s skeletal framework had been sold as scrap metal to Schultz Recycling in Merrill. Given the ongoing police investigation, the identity of who sold the spider to Schultz could not be revealed, nor could any specific dates of the theft or the sale.
So what kind of heinous fiend, what kind of absolute moron would do such a thing? Drunks? Lotta those in Wisconsin. The hopped-up and drug-addled? Bored teenagers out on a hoot with a flatbed truck? And then why sell it as scrap? Granted, scrap metal’s bringing in solid cash these days, but there are easier ways to go about it. This wasn’t stealing screen doors, for godsakes, this was a fucking GIANT SPIDER! Maybe they sobered up later, realized what they had on their hands, realized they probably shouldn’t have it on their hands, and tried to get rid of the evidence by chopping it up and bringing it to the scrapyard, which is a bit like burning up a stolen Monet in an oven after learning the cops were on your trail. It just goes to show yet again that in spite of everything the movies try to tell us, most criminals are plain dumb as rocks.
To most filmgoers, as props go The Giant Spider Invasion’s spider isn’t exactly on a par with, say, Citizen Kane’s Rosebud or an original Maltese Falcon. To some of us, however, it was a symbol of cult film gumption, of an era of low-budget moviemaking long gone, of a time when truly indie films like this could still get distributed and shown in major theaters without studio backing. Most important of all, it was a reminder of a time when we were still willing and able to suspend disbelief.
And for that, if they ever do catch the responsible fiend, I hope they hang him.
Anyone with any information regarding the giant spider heist is asked to please contact the Lincoln County Crimestoppers at (715) 536-6272.