Spidarlings is an extremely creative British punk rock/feminist horror musical, distributed by Troma, that entertains while delivering clever social commentary.
If you scan the Internet for reviews on Spidarlings, you’ll essentially find two very divided camps: Those who adore the film’s quirky, subversive sentiment and those who loathe every minute of the movie’s off-putting wackiness and lack of narrative structure. Which camp you fall into will depend entirely on your tastes and tolerance for the strange and unusual.
My wonderful writer recently reviewed the film, and he falls into the group who finds little to love amidst the frenetic oddity of a film that features an animated sex scene between a spider and a woman (you read that right) and a modern day Jack the Ripper with a drill bit attached to his penis.
As someone with a taste for the off-kilter — and a deep affection for fringe cinema — I thought I’d offer you a second opinion.
Spidarlings is the story of lesbian lovers Eden (performance artist Sophia Disgrace) and Matilda (Rahel Kapsaski, the sister of the director Salem Kapsaski). The two are casualties of ‘Broken Britain’ and are struggling to make ends meet. Eden is unemployed, and Matilda works at a seedy strip club/brothel called “Juicy Girls” — that also happens to (for some strange reason) feature drag and burlesque performances.
They spend their time trying to make the most out of life, enjoying what little they have, while trying to avoid their landlord who is threatening to kick them out since they haven’t paid rent in two years!
I fell in love with this movie right from the animated opening credits, which establishes the film’s offbeat punk sensibility. This wonderful animation is used throughout the film — typically during the darkest points of the narrative. It’s an extremely clever way for Kapsaski to sidestep his limited budget and illustrate scenes that would otherwise be complicated (if not impossible) to film.
For example, it’s used once to great effect to illustrate the pivotal scene when Eden’s new pet spider rapes her while she’s sleeping. It’s used again during a scene where Eden tells Matilda about the tragic death of her father, who fell out a window. It’s a darkly comedic scene that makes the sad story all the more twisted.
That scene is followed by one of my favorite lines in the film. After hearing about the death of Eden’s father, Matilda tries to relate by explaining how she’s always been afraid of the Easter Bunny. She exclaims, “Damn you, Watership Down!” before abruptly leaving for work.
We talk about low budget horror a lot on this site and often marvel how well some talented indie filmmakers make maximum use of a minimal budget. But there’s low budget, and then there’s (virtually) NO budget. Spidarlings definitely falls in the latter camp. As a result, I urge you to go into this viewing with an open mind and a willingness to forgive cinematic flaws you’d otherwise scoff at.
What Spidarlings lacks in production values, it makes up for with enormous creativity and heart.
This is a film that wears its iconic inspirations on its sleeve. I loved the attention to detail shown in the minimalist setting. Much of the film takes place in the loft the couple shares. The walls are decorated with posters of the director’s influences — Andy Warhol’s Flesh, David Lynch’s Eraserhead, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the screen work of John Waters and Divine. There’s also a dedication to the late Ken Russell at the end of the film.
Spidarlings itself is a loving homage to the zero-budget school of transgressive, cult cinema.
There’s also a lot to love with regards to the film’s eclectic musical numbers, composed by Jeff Kristain. Drawing upon a wide range of styles — including punk, pop, doo-wop and cabaret — Kristian creates a wonderfully eccentric score with several stand-out numbers. My favorite was “The Hammer Will Fall” at the end of the film.
Beneath the glitzy, silly exterior, there’s a bit more substance to this film than meets the eye. At its core, this is a progressive film about the underrepresented minorities — from the LGBT community to the poor and desolate underbelly of the bustling city. However, the very real and often bleak subject matter is handled with a spirit of irreverent fun, and the movie maintains both wit and watchability.
For example, in one delightful and memorable scene, the girls are grocery shopping. Suddenly, they break out into a whimsical song about rampant consumerism and the evil machine that drives our need to incessantly buy the ridiculous things we don’t need.
Of course, the film is far from perfect.
For starters, it’s two hours long. And, while never boring, it does drag a bit in places, especially during the first 45 minutes. It’s at this point when the pivotal plot device is introduced, a spider purchased in an occult store from an unusual store owner (played by none other than Lloyd Kaufman himself). From here, things really get nuts.
It’s not until the final act when we’re introduced to any real horror elements — and even those are played more for wackiness than scares. Thus, traditional horror fans are likely to be severely disappointed. The songs, while entertaining, do little to nothing to move the plot forward. And they do, of course, add to the unnecessary length of the film.
The acting, as you’d probably expect with a shlocky b-movie, is very far from polished. For me, this added to the film’s charm. And I really enjoyed the chemistry between the two leads, Disgrace and Kapsaski. I loved that their relationship was portrayed in a way that felt genuine, and not exploited for shock value.
The strange cast of supporting characters were also a great deal of fun. The standout was Lee Mark Jones as a club regular named Ticks who develops an unhealthy obsession with Matilda. He has an unexpected and entertaining character arc, and his musical numbers were the highlight for me.
‘Spidarlings’ took five years to make, and it’s an obvious labor of love from Kapsaski. It’s not for everyone. In fact, it’s probably not for most. But if you’re a fan of DIY filmmaking, off-kilter black comedies, and Troma’s unique flavor of envelope-pushing wackiness, you may find a lot to love in this outrageous and ambitious genre mashup.