As is tradition, I was so wrapped up in Ren faire that I almost missed that there was a live RiffTrax this month, but I did make it out. It’s the thing I traditionally do with my good friend Cara; we may not see each other a lot, for people who live in the same town, but we see every RiffTrax together. This month’s offering was The Giant Spider Invasion. Now, I don’t know a lot about the making of that movie, but it was apparently filmed on a budget of $300,000, and a quick Last Name Check shows that there sure are a lot of family members working on the movie. There are four Rebanes, several of whom did more than one thing, and three Brodies. So yeah. However, while that excuses all the people killed by spiders clearly bought at a Spirit Halloween Store, there’s a lot about the movie that it doesn’t forgive.
In fact, as we left the theatre, Cara commented on the worst of it; she observed that it was always interesting to her to see what gets trimmed from movies before their appearances on Mystery Science Theater 3000. This isn’t even the infamous rape-and-murder sequence from Sidehackers. In this case, it was a lot of gore—well, you get that in a monster movie of this era—and a whole lot of awfully sleazy jokes about Terry (Diane Lee Hart). Now, I can’t find how old Hart actually is, but since one of the “jokes” suggests that her brother-in-law Dan (Robert Easton) should’ve married her, not her sister—and she was eleven at the time—it kind of doesn’t matter?
This is the thing. When you’ve got a low budget, a bunch of people crammed inside a backwards-driving VW, operating spider legs, is actually a pretty decent workaround, and I honestly kind of admire it. Well done, Bill Rebane. And you figure an awful lot of their budget went toward hiring Steve Brodie, Barbara Hale, Alan Hale, Jr. (no relation, since Hale was his father’s stage name), and Leslie Parrish, even if none of them were exactly in their working prime. But cutting out the misogyny surely wouldn’t have cost all that much, and they didn’t do that. Not even close.
Even in a movie of this sort, budget only counts for so much, and I much prefer talking about the things they get wrong that they could have fixed on their budget. Okay, so they couldn’t manage actual night filming, but they could have maybe not tinted their day-for-night shooting so much that it’s pretty well impossible to see what’s going on. Sure, maybe they blew more of their budget than they should have on Alan Hale, Jr., in a minor role, but then they appear to have used a different person entirely for the scenes where he’s actually outside—and they definitely shouldn’t have called attention to it by literally having him say, “Hey, little buddy!”
And let’s not just pick on the one movie, come to that; I’m using it as an example, but let’s go straight for the infamous, here. Manos: The Hands of Fate was filmed using a camera that didn’t record sound and could only hold 32 seconds of film. But then maybe don’t record all the voices with three people, making the little girl from the movie (Jackey Neyman) cry when she hears her own voice. And certainly don’t pad the film with a wrestling match among a half-dozen women clad in flowing white robes. And maybe the guy playing a major role shouldn’t have been on LSD the whole time, though I’m not sure if that actually influenced anything about the finished production. Basically, the problem with the movie has little to do with the budget and so much to do with just not trying.
Goodness knows low-budget movies aren’t the only offenders, here, but that’s not the point. The point is, these movies have a reputation for being bad that they deserve, but their worst failings are almost never due to their budget. There are probably plenty of examples of outstanding movies made on similar budgets, and it’s not even just that they know how to work within their budgets. Cheesy special effects can, after all, have their own sort of charm—but the script has to have charm going in, and that’s not a budgetary issue.