All right, so here we are again, trying to make sense of Giant Monsters. We started off with the kaiju, biologically impossible supersized animals, and the world and genre they inhabit. Then we got off tangent into regular giants - colossal animals that were genuinely animals and just inside the realms of outermost possibility.
Let's see, we've done Slurpasaurs, Giant Apes and Dinosaur Survivals. What's next? Giant Spiders?
Okay, here's what I've got in terms of the spider movie oeuvre: The giant arachnids from the films Tarantula,, The Giant Spider Invasion and Earth vs. the Spider, along with Spiega (a.k.a, Kumonga) from the Godzilla series. I think this covers the critters from the '50's through '70's.
If we open it up a little more to any multi-legged, exoskeletal, arthropod, we've got giant grasshoppers in Beginning of the End, giant ants in Them and giant scorpions in The Black Scorpion. More giant ants in Empire of the Ants. Also, a couple of giant praying mantises, some from the Godzilla series and one in its own movie, The Deadly Mantis, and Megalon from the Godzilla series.
Then there's the giant arachnids from Eight Legged Freaks, Arachnids, Arachnia, Spiders, Spiders II, Ice Spiders, Creepies, and Creepies 2 from a modern wave of giant spider movies assisted by CGI.
And I suppose there's a handful of other big ass spider appearances: In Ator, the eponymous barbarian hero finishes up his adventure fighting a temple spider the size of a volkswagon. In the One Million B.C. remake a colossal tarantula is spotted eating a cricket the size of a horse. In Webs, a giant spider is taking over humans.
In addition to the conventional giant spiders, it seems that in the 1950's sci fi space adventures, there were no shortage of cave spiders the size of large dogs on the moon or Venus or wherever. And there's Curse of the Black Widow, which seems to involve a girl who changes into a were-spider, but the less said about that, the better. There's Kingdom of the Spiders, but with all due respect to the Shatner, they're basically regular sized spiders who are swarming like mad.
Okay, so lots of big spiders around. I think we can narrow our selection by excluding the extraterrestrial cave spiders, or the big spider/rat/bat from The Angry Red Planet. And I think we can probably exclude the definite kaiju spiders and mantises since they're covered elsewhere as kaiju monsters.
This still leaves us with a decent sample of at least eleven giant spider movies, plus a handful of legitimate hangers on, like the critter from Ator.
Now, some observations. There's a pretty healthy genre of giant spider movies, but no clear explanation as to where they come from, basically, it seems to be:
Tarantula- - chemicals.
Earth vs. the Spider- - nothing, it's just been around in a cave for a long time sleeping.
The Giant Spider Invasion- - a wormhole in space/meteor.
Eight Legged Freaks- - toxic chemicals again.
Arachnids- - they seem to have come up from underground.
Arachnia- - radiation from an alien spaceship or something like that.
Spiders- - mad scientists experimenting with alien DNA on the space shuttle.
Spiders II- - a really crazy mad scientist trying to breed humans to giant spiders on a freighter in the middle of the ocean.
Creepies- - some sort of military genetic engineering project.
Creepies 2- - ditto.
Ice Spiders- - DNA experiments with prehistoric Afghan spiders.
Other arachnids' and insects; origins:
Them- - radiation makes giant ants.
Beginning of the End- - radioactive plant food makes giant grasshoppers.
Black Scorpion- - underground dwellers coming topside.
Empire of the Ants- - runaway hormones make for giant ants.
You know, you'd think that one giant spider would be enough. I mean, think about it, regular sized spiders are bad enough. One relatively tiny spider in the bathtub or the kitchen will freak out a lot of women and men. So it stands to reason that one very big ultra-spider would be all you need in a movie.
Oddly, solo spider appearances are comparatively rare. Tarantula and Earth vs. The Spider are the only 'single spider' attacks that I can think of. Setting aside movies where the giant spider is a supporting player, as in Ator, almost all the giant spider movies involve multiple spiders, sometimes quite a large number of them.
It's the multitudes that make the Giant Spider genre interesting. Let's face it, Giant Ape, Giant Dino, Big Slurpy Lizard, Super-Snake, they generally come in limited editions. One or two at the most. But spiders? Considering how creepy they are, there's a lot of apparently unnecessary ganging up. There's a hell of a lot of diversity here in the sizes. We see spiders ranging from the size of a large human/small cow all the way up to creatures at the upper end of Giant Animal ranges, and even a few kaiju specimens.
Even within the movies, we keep getting bigger and bigger spiders as we go along. Our heroes start off confronting critters the size of grapefruits, dogs or cows, but eventually, we end up with things that look like they can knock over a three story house. Clearly different sized specimen, and visibly different species co-exist within the same movie -- Eight Legged Freaks, Spiders, Arachnid, Spiders II, Creepies and The Giant Spider Invasion feature multiple animals in multiple sizes.
But look a little deeper, and it get's stranger. There's a substantial diversity of appearances even within the same movie, i.e., not variations on one species but multiple co-existing species -- this is most obvious in Spiders II, Creepies and Eight Legged Freaks. We seem to be seeing different types of giant spiders showing up, not just different sizes.
That poses a problem. A freak? Well, we can always live with a freak. Room for one more.
A freak species? Okay, sure. In Arachnids, we've got a whole race of spiders the size of pickup trucks, all recognizably the same species. I can maybe accept a freak species.
But multiple species with different variations in size and appearance, as if occupying a range of niches? As with Eight Legged Freaks, Spiders II, Creepies, etc. Now there, we have a problem. What we've got is not a freak or even a freak species, but a fully formed ecosystem.
How does that happen?
That should be impossible. On Earth we've already got a fully developed ecosystem, no competitors allowed. Okay, that sounds a bit bitchy. But here it is.
Cats and mice are part of the ecosystem. Cats and mice do their jobs, eating what they're supposed to eat, and they're good at it. They're so good at it, that no other animals fill the mouse niches or cat niches. Why? Because the mice get there first and eat all the mouse grub that, say, a mouse-sized spider would be going for. Mice outbreed their competitors, they have better survival strategies. Thus, when you look at the mouse ecological niche... all you find in it is mice. Same with cats.
Well, there's a lot of animals occupying a lot of ecological niches, putting out 'no vacancy' signs everywhere you look. There's no room for an additional line of creatures to occupy the same niches. Once in a while a new creature comes up, creates a niche for itself, or pushes another species out of its old niche into extinction, and takes the spot for itself. But the point is that the ecosystem is full up.
And for the last three hundred million years or so, it's been full up with vertebrates -- reptiles, dinosaurs, birds, mammals, fish and amphibians, for the most part. Other critters like spiders have had to make do with the little tiny margins.
Which means that if there is a competing ecology of giant spider forms...then they can't be from around here...
Okay, now let's leave you with that thought for a moment. I want to look at something else.
First, there's the big problem with spiders...they just can't get that big.
Basically, the square cube law applies. The bigger a spider gets, the more it weighs, the heavier its exoskeleton gets and so it shouldn't be able to move, much less menace. Also, there are other obstacles. Spiders and insects don't have lungs. They exchange air through spiracles in their sides. Past a certain size range, that just doesn't work very well.
The thing is, though, that all we're looking at are tiny spiders. You could make similar assumptions that it would be impossible for a mammal or reptile to get to the size ranges of blue whales or brontosaurs if all you were looking at were tiny mice and lizards. Look at these creatures, and you'd figure the upper size limits were dogs or cats.
Actually, in some ways, it seems that it's really unlikely that mammals or reptiles would ever produce any big land animals. There's a major design flaw -- the spine is at the top, which means that the body and organs hang down underneath like a set of bags. This means that you need to set the limbs out to the sides which pushes all the weight the wrong way. The whole structure is unstable.
But looking at giant spiders, it becomes apparent that they've done things differently.
The consistent anatomy of the giant spiders appears to be that they've reversed the body plan from vertebrates. Instead of trying to hang everything down from the spine, the weight of the creature actually rests on a cradle, a sort of 'underspine' or platform. The body, including organs, rests on top of the platform out of the way. The limbs and locomotion are beneath the cradle. All the muscle is in the undercarriage, and not wrapping around the torso anatomy. As a result, the levers of motion are shorter and potentially stronger. Giant spiders may well have a more efficient body plan than vertebrates.
What about the exoskeleton problem? We know that giant dinosaurs evolved lighter bones, and developed spines that were designed to be ultralightweight but to resist maximum weight. As the animals evolve to be larger, it's not likely their exoskeleton would simply grow heavier and thicker, but rather, it would evolve to adapt it to stresses, making it thicker where weight or stress lies, and thinner where no weight or stress is carried, and making it more flexible where necessary.
Along the way, spiders would have to evolve in parallel, some sort of lung or forced air circulation system, as well as a circulatory system to accommodate increasing size. Growing to giant sizes poses problems, but we know from our own history that tiny vertebrates solved these problems to produce colossal creatures.
The existence of these creatures is plausible in that sense. But it also means that they have to be the products of evolution or some sort of design. They're not just regular household spiders grown very big, that would be impossible. They're animals designed for their size. Products of an evolution. In terms of mechanics, there's no reason why evolution couldn't eventually produce a predatory spider as big as an elephant...
Except that our world's evolution very clearly did not.
I assume that while ancient spiders and arthropods were sitting around the evolutionary drawing board, trying to figure their way around problems, the vertebrates came along and filled all the big niches. They could have probably managed it given enough time, but the vertebrates got there faster and first and there just wasn't time or opportunity to make the really humongous spider critters.
There are no giant spider fossils, there was no giant T-rex sized spider in the days of the dinosaurs because there was already T-Rex and no room for a rival. There were no cave bear or sabre-toothed tiger sized giant spiders in the old days, because there were cave bears and sabre-toothed tigers, and for one to evolve there couldn't have been the other already existing, and they couldn't coexist.
Which again leads us to the conclusion that the giant spiders are not from around here...
The different movies give different explanations, or sometimes give no explanation. But are these explanations reliable? We can imagine that in a lot of cases, characters are just guessing at where these thing come from. In other movies, like Spiders or Spiders II, the characters giving explanations may have a good reason to lie to us.
But there are enough giant spider outbreaks and they show consistent enough features, that I think we can look for a common underlying explanation.
Seems to me that we've got a handful of choices:
1) They're chemical, hormone or radiation produced mutants, and that's it.
2) They're from a line of evolution which preceded our own, i.e., they're out of time, and their day was hundreds of millions of years ago, before the vertebrates crawled out of the sea and took over.
3) They're from a parallel line of evolution on some lost continent which either sank or was obliterated, where the vertebrates didn't come out.
4) They're the artificial bioengineered creations of a lost civilization.
5) They are from outer space, some planet where the local arthropods never had vertebrate competition, or beat it to the punch.
6) Or they're from a parallel universe where the arthropod line of evolution made it onto land and dominated before the lobe fin fishes really had a chance. Or they got lucky and made the right adaptations to allow them to go big and shut out the competition. Or the vertebrates never got it together and the spiders had the time to do the job. Whatever, bottom line, parallel universe.
Of these possibilities, the easiest to dismiss is the mutant theory. I admit, that this is the explanation often given: that they're the product of chemicals of some sort; Eight Legged Freaks and Tarantula are classic examples. But this clearly doesn't hold up. As noted, there's no possible way they could be ordinary spiders grown gigantic, and the growth rate makes no sense. In Spiders and in Eight Legged Freaks, for instance, the spiders visibly grow impossibly fast without anything to consume. A single mutant is possible, a species of mutants barely possible, but an entire range of mutant species.... out of the question.
It's also extremely unlikely that they were out of time -- the previous masters of the Earth. If they had managed to evolve before our current vertebrate ecosystem, the vertebrates would have never had a chance. Gasping lobe finned fishes would have merely been a beachfront lunch for already well adapted spider predators. Our ancestors, including the dinosaurs, would have never had the chance to develop. Also, how do they just show up in the middle of our world?
The next easiest to dismiss is that they're the creation of an advanced lost race. The big question, of course, is why would such a people do something like that? Why literally go back to first principles and re-engineer the wheel, when you could make giant reptiles or mammals instead? Why create not just one, but multiple creatures in multiple sizes and niches from predators to web spinners? In short, why would they create not just creatures, but a coherent ecological spectrum of creatures? Nor does a lost race explain the emergence and incidence of giant spiders -- such as outbreaks in Eight Legged Freaks or The Giant Spider Invasion, or Spiders or Spiders II.
The next possibility -- that they're a parallel evolution on our Earth, has a problem in that so far as we know, there's no place for them to grow. At the dawn of vertebrate history, all Earth's continental plates were jammed together in a single Pangean land mass. This land mass split into two big supercontinents in the north and south, and eventually these supercontinents broke up, colliding and mixing, to form the continents we know today. But there was no spare lost continent, untainted by vertebrates, on which spiders could have evolved in isolation. And without that isolation, they simply couldn't have evolved.
So, they're either alien creatures, or transdimensional creatures. There's some evidence for extraterrestriality -- the creatures of The Giant Spider Invasion arrive by a wormhole/meteor. In Spiders, it's alien DNA. In Arachnia it's a crashed alien spaceship.
On the other hand, there are indications of pandimensionality. The big clue is that the incursions seem to be scattered across our world, as if a parallel space is impinging on ours to greater or lesser degrees. And it appears that this has been going on, on a small erratic scale for a long time, as there are occasional giant spider reports through history. Ator the Barbarian, for instance, fought a giant spider which had been worshipped as a temple god.
In short, I'm basically stuck with the Giant Spiders being eruptions from Dimension X. I'm not terribly thrilled with that. The more exotic the origin, the less satisfying it is. But we're stuck. We can make an argument for giant apes to have evolved, we can make an argument for lost colonies of dinosaurs to have survived, we can justify giant snakes and super lizards. We can even make a coherent parabiological case for kaiju.
But the spiders? They're simply too big to evolve quickly, too elaborate to evolve on Earth, there are too many of them, and they have too much diversity.
We can even make some assessments of the phenomenon. The rifts seem to occur over a long period of time. Obviously the giant spider in One Million Years B.C. and Ator came through a long time ago [there was also a giant spider in the 1960 version of The Lost World, which was living among slurpasaurs-CN]. The template of the Ice Spiders are remnants of prehistoric Afghan spiders, suggesting an old rift from that time. The rift that let the spiders from Arachnids into our world seems to have been at least a couple of generations old. Obviously, these rifts seem to be natural.
The Giant Spider Invasion suggests that the rift may be some kind of wormhole phenomena. Other transitions, like Eight Legged Freaks, don't seem closely tied to anything on this side. On the other hand, radiation and exotic physics seem associated with a lot of breakthroughs -- Them, Arachnia, The Beginning of the End. It appears that the kaiju, as radioactive monsters, may be associated with small rifts -- huge insect creatures appear in Rodan, Godzilla 1985 and Cloverfield. But even where radiation is generally the culprit, it doesn't appear specific, it simply seems to suggest that high radioactivity makes the rifts easier to form.
There's some indication that the rifts can be generated artificially. This seems to have been the research in Spiders, and was almost certainly what was going on in Spiders II. Although in both cases, and particularly in Spiders II, scientists seem to have lost control of the rift and a lot more came through than they expected. In Spiders II, the freighter is completely overrun.
Depending on how big the rifts are and where they occur will determine which creatures and how many come through. Presumably longer duration rifts will allow more variety of spiders through -- as in Eight Legged Freaks, The Giant Spider Invasion and Spiders II. A brief rift may allow only a single individual of a species.
It would appear that the rifts are easier for the spiders to perceive in their world, than for us in our world. For the most part, humans and animals show very little awareness. Most encounters with giant spiders either simply assume they're already there with no real apparent origin (the temple spider that Ator fights, Spiega from the Godzilla series, the 'Arachnids', and the giant spider from Earth vs. the Spider), but this is clearly unsatisfying.
A few films -- Arachnia, The Giant Spider Invasion, and Spiders, hint at extraterrestrial or extradimensional nature. In particular, the creatures of Spiders appear to grow far, far too quickly and without apparent sustenance for any kind of biology, which suggests that they're not growing, but slipping messily into our dimension.
The most intriguing film is Spiders II, in which giant spiders overrun a freighter which is the mad scientists' lair. The mad scientist tells his victims that he's breeding giant spiders, but this may only be a cover story. A lot of the background evidence suggests that he's managed to artificially generate and maintain a rift to the spiders' universe. In the end, the freighter that he's on is overrun by gigantic spiders, some of them far too big to have been hiding on the ship at all.
It may be that the rift portals are one way, and the gates aren't visible from here... this may explain why the spiders generally can't find their way back, since there's evidence of specimens becoming trapped long term. The giant spiders of Arachnid, for instance, appear to be a long term leftover breeding colony. The spider of Earth vs. the Spider also appears to have been a long term holdover.
The rifts themselves initially seem to attract the bigger and more dangerous specimens; it's only when they appear to last for a while that the smaller varieties come through. This suggests that the emergence of a rift is probably somewhat traumatic -- with possible light and sound effects, which frightens smaller animals away and attracts the big dominant predators, who perceive the event as a challenge. They proceed to the rift, reacting as if it's another giant spider entering their territory, and fall through, after which the rift closes. Sometimes, when the rift persists, then either drawn by the absence of the dominant predator, or perhaps the quieting of the rift, smaller animals come through.
Of course, where the rift remains open longer, it appears that the smaller animals show up first, with the big one waiting in the wings. So it may be that short term rifts are louder and noisier and immediately attract dominant predators, longer term rifts may be quieter, attracting smaller creatures first before eventually triggering the dominants to investigate. Or it may be that coming through the rift produces a physiological shock, and the smaller forms recover more quickly.
A few other random thoughts on the subject.
First, if there is a full scale parallel ecology of spiders existing in a parallel world beside our own, then one of the things that it has likely produced is at least one and possibly a few intelligent species. This opens the door to the possibility of a race of thinking, technological spiders loosely equivalent to humans. Or given that spiders are arthropods, perhaps a hive spider civilization.
Or given that spiders are predators, perhaps a spider civilization built upon queen's enslaving other species for their hive.
In Webs, a Sci Fi Channel movie that plays like a nasty episode of "Sliders", we may have even caught a glimpse of such a creature or race of creatures impinging on a parallel human dominated Earth, enslaving and mutating humans. Second, an arthropod/spider world may contain other species, such as the giant mantids or grashoppers. Our world is dominated by mammals, but we still have room for birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. The spider world in Dimension X probably has subordinate populations of supersized insects.
Third, as a nod to Chris N's bioweapons theory - it's not impossible for the ancient Muans to have dimensionally harvested and enlisted a few giant spiders in their campaigns against Atlantis.
So this may be where the giant ants from Them and Empire of the Ants, the giant grasshoppers from The Beginning of the End, the giant scorpions from The Black Scorpion, etc., are really coming from. Maybe a rift opens near a giant anthill, or scorpion nest, or locust flock, and they just pour through. Fourth, it's possible and likely that in some cases individuals or even small populations crossed over and after toddling around for a while, simply went into hibernation or found some little niche or out of the way sanctuary -- a cave, a temple, or whatever, until we discover them much later. But this implies that the creatures, unlike our fast living vertebrates, may well be immensely long lived, surviving until destroyed.
Fifth, the spider world, or Dimension X, may be the true home of Arthropod Kaiju -- the Giant Mantis, the Giant Spider, Megalon, Megagurius, even Gigan [there is actually a lot of evidence for Den's theory in Godzilla vs. Megaguirus, since the initial Meganulon infestation enters the Earth dimension from a portal accidentally opened into another dimension, so some of these portals may not be natural-CN]. They may have just wandered through into our dimension and can't find their way back.
Finally, just an observation, it appears that the US military and government in the modern period are aware of the transdimensional nature of the spiders and the threat they pose.
In Eight Legged Freaks, a concerted military response is organized almost instantly. There's no long period of doubt or disbelief. Instead, it's so quick and thorough, it's as if they've already got battle plans worked out, including the types of weapons and deployment of forces against these creatures. Arachnids, Brett Piper's film, has a similar remarkably fast military response. As does Spider II. In Arachnia, a military team is sent on a reconnaissance to investigate an apparent incursion. In Spiders, the incursion appears to be the result of military/covert experiments gone wrong. In short, in modern movies, all you have to do is whisper 'Giant Spiders' into a phone, and the Marines are suiting up for battle.
In contrast, the reactions to Giant Spider incursions in earlier movies are much more piecemeal. In Tarantula it takes forever to get around to napalming that thing. In Earth vs. the Spider, the incursion is dealt with by local police and exterminators. In The Giant Spider Invasion, the incursion is handled locally.
It seems that between these early incidents and the modern period, that the US government appears to have identified giant spiders as a threat and put in place rapid response plans to deal with eruptions. And it seems that the governments got research programs of its own to identify these creatures and where they come from.
Finally, looking at the history shown in these movies, it seems that Earth is in trouble. Most of the early outbreaks were limited, many of the early monsters appear to have been left over and hibernating for long periods, even the new arrivals seemed to come as single animals or relatively small groups of similar species.
But since the 1970's, the number of crossovers, and the size of crossovers, has been increasing steadily. There are not only increasing numbers of rifts, but they seem to be larger and more durable rifts, with larger and larger numbers of and more variety of animals coming through, and larger specimens, particularly into the early 21st century.
What does this trend mean? We don't know if the rifts are artificial or natural, or both. But we do know that they're increasing apparently geometrically. If this continues, then sometime in the 21st century, our civilization may be forced to fight for its life against the invasion of a rival ecology, the giant spiders of Dimension X.
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