Vita is a pretty young girl who, after encountering an artist who wants her to model as the Virgin Mary, begins to undergo a number of scary experiences with a giant spider that may or may not be hallucinations of her sexual repression. The film explores her own exploration of her body, her fears, and the sexuality that is awakening within her. There’s also some spider sex.
AKA: Zirneklis Director: Vasili Mass Actors: Aurelija Anuzhite, Romualds Ancans, Saulius Balandis Genre: Erotica/Horror Year of Release: 1991/2017 (Blu-Ray)
Director Vasili Mass calls his erotic horror film Spider classy rather than exploitative, and that’s actually quite true despite the sadomasochistic ideas that run through the film. Mass’ direction is sexual and sometimes provocative, highlighting the beauty of natural vistas and of main actress Aurelija Anuzhite, but it never feels like the film is attempting to capitalize on the fetishistic fantasies of its villain. Instead, Spider is a tale about the sexual awakening of a young woman, and its tenderness is also perhaps its biggest flaw.
The movie follows Anuzhite’s character Vita after she experiences an odd art studio and the eccentric artist who is obsessed with attempting to paint, and then also own, Vita’s body. Despite the strangeness of this opening scene, the rest of Spider kind of falls right in line with expectation: Vita begins to either hallucinate or truly experience the depraved artist’s attempts at raping her when he becomes a giant spider and infiltrates her bedroom, and she is soon sent away to live with her aunt to get some fresh country air. While there she finds a love interest and eventually truly experiences a sensual encounter.
Mass is attempting to dive into Freudian territory with his own psychosexual fascination with Vita; the psychologist’s words are the opening quote, and the surreal territory solidifies the idea that fear can often drive sexual repression. However, Spider doesn’t do a good job of showing how Vita’s been so repressed by her mother; besides an early scene, Vita seems quite flirtatious outside of her home life and doesn’t act embarrassed or surprised by her own sexuality. This makes it tough to truly sell her “awakening” later in the film, despite the obviously alarming encounters with sexually-deviant spiders.
Unfortunately, Spider is often quite slow, especially in its second act when the spider’s presence is lessened while Vita courts a lover. Mass includes a lot of body horror during spider transformations and even adopts Japanese-influenced erotica here with spider molestations, but all of that is few and far between during the film’s middle. Spider begins to drag despite Anuzhite’s naked beauty, and the film’s plotting ultimately gets muddled in its own religious symbolism (like Vita’s self-baptism during the conclusion).
While there is some merit to this artistic and tender work, Spider is probably both too surreal and too slow to appeal to most audiences. The spider effects do stand out and een Anuzhite’s first performance does help carry the film to its conclusion, but Mass’ bloated story saps the film of its strengths.
Not too much violence per se; however, the artist is set on fire at one point leaving garish burnt flesh. The spider effects rely heavily on practical special effects, too, and they’re often quite gooey.
Sex and nudity are present throughout much of the film. The beginning features a couple of naked ladies posing for the artist’s paintings, and Anuzhite herself spends a lot of time in the buff – however, the film strangely used body doubles in some areas. Still, the curtains match the drapes.
Lots of swimming in translucent clothing
Real spiders are replaced with claymation
First ever U.S. release of this rare film
World Blu-ray premiere
Newly created English subtitles
Interview with director
Rare on set footage
Cover art from Gilles Vranckx
Mondo Macabro previews
Mondo Macabro presents Spider on Blu-Ray with a 1.37:1 aspect ratio, with a new transfer that’s the first available for US audiences. The image quality looks very good overall, with some nice color presence and a light layering of grain that’s often barely visible. The film does seem a little dark, but that may also have been an intentional decision from the director: Spider often features colorful lighting and a focus on the contrast between light (sometimes glaring) and dark. Overall a great presentation of the film.
The audio is presented in linear PCM and sounds surprisingly robust thanks to a heavy bass track and clear, crisp dialogue. No crackles or other issues are present. New English subtitles are also provided, though I wish they made use of punctuation at the end of sentences.
The special features are limited; however, there’s a new interview with director Vasili Mass who focuses on almost all parts of the production process and speaks about Anuzhite’s film debut, the erotic nature of the plot, and more. This is a 30-minute interview. There’s also a newly-unearthed vintage on-set featurette that shows some behind-the-scenes work on the film; it’s only about three minutes long but interesting nonetheless.
Overall this is a quality release from Mondo Macabro provided the viewer is truly interested in Spider as a film. Cinephiles will want to experience this if only because of its relative US obscurity; regular viewers will want to read the above film review before making a purchasing decision to see if they find it interesting.
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