TV Terror Guide: Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo (1977)


How can a movie about the creepiest, crawliest, most shiver-inducing creatures on Earth have no suspense, thrills, or chills? It seems impossible… you have only to show the hairy legs of those nasty tarantulas crawling up someone’s leg. Nevertheless, we have Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo (1977), which aired less than three weeks after Ants, making it look like a masterpiece.

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Two fortune-hunters load a plane in Nicaragua with burlap bags full of coffee beans… and tarantulas. When they crash land in the United States, it’s not long before “the most dangerous spiders in the world,” the “wandering” or “banana” spiders, are inching their way toward a nearby orange grove, threatening a big sale of the town’s produce.

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Every part of Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo provides a win-lose situation. For example, spending its first 22 minutes in Nicaragua lets us enjoy Tom Atkins and Howard Hesseman having a good ol’ time. However, it’s also 22 long minutes with little action. Besides, you know they’re bound to be killed by either the spiders or the plane crash.

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It’s another win that the film uses a common trope from Jaws, the townsperson who refuses to cooperate because it would be a threat to the town’s economy. It’s a loss that the economic threat is simply a shipment of fruit. Doc Hodgins (Pat Hingle) must tell Mayor Douglas (Bert Remsen), “We’re talking about people, not oranges.”

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It’s a win that the annoying kid, Matthew (Matthew Labyorteaux), falls into a truck full of oranges and spiders, then actually (spoiler alert!) dies. It’s a loss that the same thing happened in Ants (except it was a trash dumpster and the boy lived), which was written by the co-writer of this, Guerdon Trueblood. (Since we mentioned Jaws, he also wrote the story for Jaws 3-D.)

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The climax is so ridiculous that Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo may very well have been intended as a spoof. The townspeople concoct a plan to draw the spiders to the middle of the warehouse, then bombard them with the sound of wasps to immobilize them. Then, they’ll simply pick them up one by one and drop them into jars of alcohol.

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I have no idea why someone is climbing on the roof, but when he falls off and creates an electrical explosion, people are trapped inside with tarantulas that come back to life. It’s a huge warehouse. Spiders crawl slowly. There are shelves everywhere on which to climb. It just doesn’t seem like much of a threat.

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Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo has no all-star cast of recognizable faces; the headliner is Claude Akins as Bert Springer, the volunteer fire chief. No one shines or goes enough over the top to provide any fun, intentional or not… not even the spiders. When they spend more time crawling over crates of oranges instead of people, they, and the movie, are simply misguided.

Visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV on YouTube to watch Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo, as well as all the great movies from this series.

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