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The Giant Spider Restoration by ED Tucker
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Garth .... Strike One .... Down By The Lazy River .... Passing On .... Whatever Happened To--? Chapter 32: Next Week: Sean Connery by Mike Smith
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Once during a phone conversation with Wisconsin film producer / director Bill Rebane, I turned the subject to the whereabouts of the props used in his most recognizable film, 1975’s The Giant Spider Invasion. To my surprise, some thirty years after the fact, the remains of one of the spiders were essentially in Rebane’s back yard! With a little bit of negotiating, we struck a deal for what was left of the spider to be sent to me in Florida where it could be restored to its former goofy-creepy glory. Undertakings like this never go smoothly but now, several years later, one of the giant spiders lives again!
For those unfamiliar with the cult classic film starring Alan “The Skipper from Gilligan’s Island” Hale and Barbara “Perry Mason and no relation to Alan” Hale, The Giant Spider Invasion tells the story of a small Wisconsin town besieged by oversized hairy spiders after a meteor carrying them crashes on an outlying farm. That’s probably the most concise plot synopsis ever given to this film, which features lots of fictional science and outlandish special effects. As originally conceived, the largest of the “giant” spiders were intended to be about eight feet in body length but while the film was underway, the producers demanded a change. It seems a little movie called Jaws had recently hit theaters and was doing great box office thanks to its star, a huge shark. The producers felt their film needed a spider larger than the shark in Jaws to make any money, so the low budget feature had to be reworked to feature a spider so large that a car chassis was used as the base to power it! Two scenes still exist from the original script that feature a more manageable giant sized spider, Leslie Parrish’s death in the barn and the attack on Paul Bentzen’s car as it crashes into web spun across the road. The spider in these scenes is the one that eventually found its way into Bill Rebane’s back yard.
When production wrapped on the film, Rebane prepared to move on to other projects and the spider ended up on the roof of his studio, The Shooting Ranch, in Wisconsin. The spider sat perched there for years, exposed to the elements - especially the harsh winters, until Rebane sold the studio to foreign investors and moved his personal effects. It was then that the spider, now nothing more than a steel and plastic frame of its former self, found a supposed final resting place in the tall grass behind Rebane’s home. It would have probably remained there to if some horror fan like me had not come along and decided to save it for posterity!
Part of the deal I struck with Bill Rebane involved him being responsible for the transportation of the spider remains from Wisconsin to Florida. This was initially thought to be no problem since Bill had a friend who was a long haul truck driver and regularly made trips to the Sunshine State. By the time Bill approached his friend though, it turned out his route had changed and other arrangements would have to be made for the bulky item. While we were waiting for adequate transportation to be found, Bill was kind enough to spend one long winter re-furring the spider’s body with materials I shipped to him.
Late into 2006, I received word that Bill had found another friend who was traveling to South Florida to stay in his winter home for several months and could transport the remains. Unfortunately his plans to contact me on his way through my area, Jacksonville, failed and I ended up having to meet him in Tampa in January of 2007. The good news was I finally had the partially restored spider in my possession where I could work on it in my spare time. The bad news was it was in worse condition than I had anticipated and was going to require considerably more repair.
Up to this point I had only seen one photo of the remains that Bill had sent me and, while the picture was close up and at an odd angle, it basically resembled a metal and plastic jungle gym that would look like a giant spider if you covered it with fur. By the time it arrived in Florida though, what was left of the brittle plastic legs had all snapped apart and were no longer usable. The closest approximation I could come up with to the original black plastic was white PVC pipe which was much sturdier but also harder to work with. Using the old leg portions as a guide for length and design, I was able duplicate the hinging mechanisms of the originals and after a great deal of cutting, sanding, painting, gluing, and furring, the legs were all replaced.
I can’t give enough credit to my wife Cindy for assisting me with this project and keeping me from having a giant spider bonfire a couple of times when we hit road blocks and setbacks. She also single handedly designed the new eyes for creature using red LED automotive lights covered with clear plastic domes. This glowing multi-eyes effect looks great in dim light and is very similar to what the original eyes looked like in the barn sequence. I also reworked the creature’s fangs to some more in scale with the body using some left over fur and a couple of latex devil horns from a costume supply shop.