One of several ’70s shockers about disturbed young people controlling animals for nefarious purposes—alongside Willard (1971) and Jennifer (1978)—the cheaply made but somewhat effective Kiss of the Tarantula combines creature-feature thrills with the icky sexual shenanigans of a screwed-up family. At the beginning of the picture, young Susan Bradley (shown at ages five and 10), develops a weird preoccupation with spiders and eventually trains one of her tarantulas to attack and kill Susan’s mother. No one suspects Susan’s involvement, so when the story proper catches up with Susan as a young adult, her father perceives Susan’s spider fixation as a peculiar but harmless hobby. Yet when various people start causing trouble in Susan’s life—a boy plays with her affections, a mean girl taunts her at school, an uncle tries to get inappropriately intimate—she unleashes her arachnids in a series of attacks. Starring ethereal and willowy Suzanna Ling as the grown-up Susan, Kiss of the Tarantula does fairly well in terms of character development, at least by the low standards of drive-in horror pictures. Susan’s behavior makes sense in a deranged sort of way because we see all the events that trigger her homicidal outbursts, and the way Susan reacts with guilt whenever her attacks go too far show that she’s a victim as well, suffering from epic mental problems. Herman Walter gives a decent performance as Susan’s meek father, who can’t read the obvious clues about trouble within his own family, and Eric Mason makes a solid villain as the lascivious uncle. To be clear, none of the acting in Kiss of the Tarantula is memorable, but the cast helps realize the impact of a highly efficient script credited to Daniel Cady and Warren Hamilton Jr. And even though the jolts in the movie are relatively timid, there’s something enjoyably creepy about the spider-attack scenes that take place in an air vent and in a car at a drive-in theater. Plus, the filmmakers get points for taking an unexpected direction during the finale, utilizing the central location of a funeral home—the family business run by Susan’s father—instead of taking the obvious route by presenting a final spider attack.
Kiss of the Tarantula: FUNKY