So I decided to go ahead and continue watching/reviewing some old TV movies from the 70’s this month. Today’s movie is one that I remember watching once as a kid back in the 2nd/3rd grade. The problem is, I kind of mixed portions of this movie with Kingdom Of The Spiders, which came out in theaters the same year and I had seen about the same time. When I obtained my copy of Kingdom Of The Spiders, and realized that some of the scenes I remembered where not in that movie, I considered trying to locate the movie that had those scenes in it, but will admit that I didn’t put much effort into it. Then I came across a couple of old movies on YouTube and realized that one of them was the movie I remembered. That is how I came to find myself watching Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo today.
The plot: At a small airstrip in Ecuador, some farmers are loading sacks of coffee beans onto a plane, not noticing that some tarantulas are getting into the bags with the beans. The two pilots, Buddy and Fred, are discussing how much money they will make selling the coffee back in the states when some Federales show up, telling them that they owe $300 as an export tax. Having no money between them, Buddy and Fred try to bribe the officers with some of the coffee but when the men refuse, they get the money buy agreeing to smuggle some men into the US on their plane. After paying off the officials, they get their plane ready to take off, sneaking the men on board as they move the plane to the runway. As they fly through the night, the fly into a storm, where the turbulence causes the bags to fall over and the tarantulas escape and bite one of the men in the cargo hold. The next day, one of the engines goes out on their plane and Buddy and Fred attempt an emergency landing near the small town of Finleyville, CA, but some of the tarantulas had made it into the cockpit when Fred had gone to check on the men in the hold and begin attacking the two pilots, causing them to lose control of the plane and crash. Cindy Beck and Joe Harmon, who had been in contact with the plane when it crashed, call the town’s emergency services and then head out to see if they can help. As a crowd starts to form in the area, Joe talks with Bert Springer, one of the town leaders and head of the volunteer fire department, and when they notice fuel leaking from the wing, the work on getting a trench built around the plane to contain the fuel. As the trench is finished, a kid riding a dirt bike rides up but loses control of his bike, crashing into the trench and causing the fuel to ignite. The fire department works on getting the fire under control, not noticing that the tarantulas are escaping from the plane. Once the fire is contained, Joe and Bert head inside to check if anyone is inside, finding one survivor, while Doc Hodgins oversees getting Buddy and Fred out of the cockpit, with Fred being the only one still alive. As Mayor Douglas talks with Hodgins to ask what could have caused the crash and the mens deaths, worrying that any negative press or possible plague could have an impact on their orange harvest, a man that had been stealing some of the coffee from the plane is bitten by a spider and goes into convulsions, though nobody saw the spider. The next day, a teacher is bitten by a tarantula and dies and when another teacher finds the spider and takes it to Hodgins, he checks the teacher and compares it’s fangs to the wound he found on her leg. Hodgins contacts Joe, who was riding in the ambulance with the two survivors, and when they find bites on them as well, Joe tells Hodgins to have Cindy pick him up, then has the ambulance pull over so he can get out. Joe and Cindy head to the plane to see if they can find some more spiders there and after finding one, they take it to a friend of Joe’s in L.A., who identifies it as a Banana Spider, one of the most venomous and aggressive spiders in the world. As Hodgins talks with Bert about the spider, Cindy’s brother Matthew attempts to grab one that was in a truck full of oranges that was leaving the packaging plant, and ends up getting bitten and dies. Meanwhile, Mayor Chad Douglas is with an inspector, who approves of the plant’s oranges, and he makes plans to get them shipped out, unaware that all of the spiders have been drawn to the plant due to all of the oranges inside. When Joe and Cindy arrive back in town and learn about Matthew’s death, Joe heads to the plant with a container of strong pesticide so he can kill the spiders but Bert stops him, as it would ruin the crop. As the townsfolk gather at the plant and argue over what they should do, Chad says that they have only 16 hours to before the train arrives to pick up the oranges and if they don’t make it on the train, the town will be monetarily finished. Joe gets the book his friend loaned him about the spiders and learns that they will become paralyzed when they hear the droning of wasps, their mortal enemy, so the townsfolk come up with a plan to get rid of the spiders. Recording the droning of angry bees, they place speakers inside the warehouse, then place some fruit in the middle of an open area to lure in some insects, which will attract the spiders. When a large group of spiders converges on the fruit, they begin playing the recording, causing the spiders to freeze up. After they are sure the spiders are paralyzed, Bert, Joe, Cindy, and some other people head inside and begin grabbing the paralyzed spiders, dropping them in buckets of gasoline and alcohol to kill them. As the people outside watch their progress, Rich, who is part owner of the warehouse, attempts to burn the warehouse down to collect on the insurance money but trips on the roof and falls off, taking out the power lines as he falls. With the power out, the automatic doors close, trapping the people inside the warehouse just as the spiders start moving again. Steve, who had seen Rich head up to the roof, decides to head up the same way and enters the warehouse, then leads the trapped people back outside. As they make it outside, Chad manages to get some people to repair the lines so that they can continue getting rid of the spiders and save the oranges.
You know, sometimes you have to give props to the simplistic approach to movies, especially the made-for-TV variety. This was actually a pretty decent movie, because they went with a more simple, and somewhat realistic approach to it instead of going for a more flashy/showy style like with Kingdom Of The Spiders. The acting was pretty good, with Claude Akins (Bert), Charles Frank (Joe), Deborah Winters (Cindy), and Pat Hingle (Hodgins) doing good jobs in their roles. Even though they had smaller roles, I also liked Tom Atkins (Buddy) and Howard Hesseman (Fred), but I did wish they could have done more in the movie. The story was pretty simplistic in it’s scope, with the idea that the venomous spiders were accidentally scooped into the bags with the coffee, then got free after the crash being pretty believable. Since they had such a simple plot to follow, the actors really had to ramp up the tension and drama to help sell the movie. There wasn’t much in the way of special effects outside of the plane crash, as mostly you had people just interacting with the spiders, which honestly wasn’t too scary unless you suffer from arachnaphobia. A decent TV movie that is worth watching if you are in the mood for a “bug” movie, but not one that is an absolutely must see.
Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5