In this new column, SHOCK takes a look at some of the coolest and weirdest music from horror’s strangest flicks.
One of the great nature gone nuts horror films of the 1970s is director John “Bud” Cardos 1977 William Shatner-starring shocker KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS. In it, Shat plays rugged, macho veterinarian Rack Hanson, a Stetson wearing cowboy cow-curer who is suddenly thrust into an eight-legged apocalypse (or, as the awesome theatrical poster screamed A Living, Breathing, Hell on Earth!) when pissed off, pesticide soaked spiders begin organizing and then annihilating every animal in site. And of course, humans being animals, well, they gotta go too
Although rated PG upon release, KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS is an intense piece of work; it builds to what is, in essence, a tarantula-tainted riff on NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, with truckloads of confused (and sadly, much to many animal rights activists chagrin, legitimately murdered) spiders trapping our heroes (including actress Tiffany Bolling from the exploitation classic THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS) in a house where they come-a-crawling through every crevice, cocooning their victims for easy eating later
The action goes down in Verde Valley, a very real and very beautiful valley in Arizona located at the base of the Mongolian Rim. Cardos (who previously directed the skeezy Cameron Mitchell flick NIGHTMARE IN WAX and later, the equally environmentally affected NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD nod, MUTANT) captures the arachnid atrocities with a steady eye and some of the attacks are genuinely traumatic, especially if you were, like this writer, one of the legion of very young children who caught KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS during one of its multiple prime time network TV screenings in the early 1980s.
Gelling all of this web-smothered weirdness together is a deeply strange soundtrack, most of which is made up of recycled library music cues, most recognizably, Jerry Goldsmiths score from the classic THE TWILIGHT ZONE episode The Invaders (itself recycled in the later episode To Serve Man) and select stings and passages from the old KPM scratch library, including blasts of sound that fans of Ralph Bakshis late 60s SPIDER-MAN TV cartoon will recognize.
But the most effective music in the film is the stuff that was produced for the picture, dirty, rough and tumble country ditties composed and performed by rockabilly legend Dorsey Burnette (his son, Billy Burnette, was one of the members of FLEETWOOD MAC after guitarist/vocalist Lindsey Buckingham left in the late 1980s). Specifically, the piece that truly stands out, is the haunting ballad Peaceful Verde Valley, a melancholy, atmospheric song that recalls vintage Hoyt Axton by way of Johnny Cash.
The use of Peaceful Verde Valley is incredibly effective. When it is used to open the film, the tune creates a sense of warmth as we are introduced to, in a series of dissolves, the beautiful sun-baked desert and surrounding farming community. And yet, that mellow intro is laced with foreboding as, we are well aware, that we are watching a horror film, one in which presumably bad things will happen to good people.
When the track is reprised over the closing credits, its something straight out of a nightmare, as the camera locks on the spider-web-enveloped remains of Verde Valley, whats left of its populace resorted to cowering inside what will be their cocooned tomb.
KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS is a classic (you can find it via a now out of print DVD from SHOUT! Factory) and Dorsey Burnetts Peaceful Verde Valley is the Sound SHOCK at its core.
Have a listen