By Collin Lueck, Foto News Editor
After lying dormant for over 30 years, the giant spiders that terrorized Lincoln County in 1975 are being resurrected. The original creatures used as props in the Lincoln County-made feature film, “The Giant Spider Invasion,” have been relocated by their creator, former Gleason Filmmaker Bill Rebane.
Rebane’s cult classic film featured numerous spiders – both real and fabricated – of varying sizes. The biggest of the bunch were a pair of 30-footers, one built around the chassis of a Volkswagen Beetle to make it mobile and the other made to be hoisted by a crane. The VW spider was filmed in chase scenes in the Gleason area and the crane-bound creature besieged the city of Merrill.
All that currently remains of the oversized movie monsters are their metal skeletons, the handiwork of Irma welder Carl Pfantz. Rebane had commissioned Pfantz to produce the giant spiders after the movie’s distributor insisted that the film have props to rival Jaws, which was being filmed at the same time.
“That was never planned,” Rebane said. “We had a VW sitting at the studio and a friend of mine said ‘can we make a spider out of that?’ Carl Pfantz figured it out.”
Pfantz’s steel framework was covered with black Fun Fur to make the spiders both hairy and scary. The mechanical nature of the beast required seven people to be stuffed within the cramped confines of the VW floorpan – a driver and six children to work the spider’s legs.
“It was about 100 degrees under there,” Rebane said.
That spider’s non-motorized twin has been removed from Rebane’s former studio property by Gleason’s resident historian Bill Dexter, a local film maker in his own right. Dexter said Gleason should rightfully claim its place in Wisconsin movie-making history. With that in mind, the second spider will be displayed in Gleason along Hwy. 17 as a tourist attraction.
That spider is now in the hands of Chris Hill and Laurie Stine at The Living Room in Gleason. The sisters have taken on the task of refurbishing the giant spider to its former glory.
“It’s going to be fun,” Laurie said. “We have a lot of work cut out for us.”
The big spider’s new home is an empty lot along Hwy. 17 between The Living Room and the Gleason Post Office. There it will serve as a tourist attraction, a spider big enough to eat all the trout in Gleason’s claim-to-fame Prairie River.
Laurie Stine will employ her artistic talents to get the spider back in shape to meet its public. A whole new skin will need to be applied, something more durable to the elements than the original Fun Fur.
“We have to make it look real,” she said.
Laurie said she hopes to have the spider back together for the July 4th parade in Tomahawk and certainly installed in its new home by Labor Day. Both Laurie and Chris have a certain connection to the Giant Spider. Laurie was 20 years old during the filming of the movie and served as an extra in the downtown Merrill scenes. Chris was living down the road from Rebane’s studio and the giant spider would drive down the road at the end of a day’s filming much to her young daughter’s distress.
“It’s kind of neat to have (the spider) here.” Chris said.
Laurie and Chris said the spider, sitting in two pieces next to their green house, is already generating a lot of community interest.
Rebane said he’s already ordered post cards proclaiming Gleason as the home of the Giant Spider Invasion.
The Giant Spider Invasion was filmed entirely in Lincoln County over the course of four weeks on a $300,000 budget. It grossed $22 million, placing it among the top 50 grossing films of 1975, when creature features ruled the drive-ins.
“This was great drive-in faire,” Rebane said. “That was the genre of the day.”
The film has stood the test of time, becoming the most pirated cult classic internationally. The rather primitive special effects, particularly the mechanical spiders, are a big part of the movie’s charm.
“That’s what really made it the cult classic,” Rebane said.
The movie’s story line was assembled by Rebane as he was shooting. The original story was written by himself and Richard Huff, but the distributor wasn’t satisfied. They hired acclaimed writer Robert Easton to rewrite the script, which he attempted to do while the picture was being shot. Some of the classic lines in the movie are Easton’s work, but overall Rebane was left to put the story together on the fly.
“I pretty much shot the whole thing off the cuff,” he said.
The Giant Spider Invasion was one of 10 feature films Rebane directed while operating The Shooting Range studio near Gleason. His was the only fulltime feature film studio in the Midwest for about 35 years.
Rebane, who now lives in Saxon, Wis., is currently working to re-release the Giant Spider Invasion as a deluxe director’s cut DVD. Original newsreel footage taken during the filming along with some new footage of the spiders’ resurrection, are planned special features of the new DVD. They’re shooting for a Halloween release date. A new movie – something of a Giant Spider sequel – is also under discussion, but this time using computer generated imaging rather than mechanical means to provide the special effects.
“We don’t ever want to recreate the VW Beetle,” Rebane said.
The new movie would be “brand new and very contemporary,” Rebane promises. A distributor in New York is very interested in the idea, he added. The new movie would be directed by Rebane and shot in Lincoln County.
“It’s a natural,” he said. “The story would revolve around the Gleason area.”
The budget and funding for the new picture are still up in the air. Rebane says he won’t make the movie unless he has the budget to do it right. The days of putting together a movie in four weeks on a $300,000 are long gone.
Three of Rebane’s films, including Giant Spider Invasion, will be featured in a film festival at the Cosmo on Crazy Daze, Aug 6. Some of Dexter’s documentaries covering facets of Lincoln County’s history will also be featured.
JUNE 18, 2008