Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo (1977)

tarantulas the deadly cargo dvd cover
1 Overall Score
Story: 1/10
Acting: 1/10
Visuals: 1/10

Cheap timefiller

Not even so-bad-it-is-good, lazy, weird decision making at the end

Movie Info

Movie Name:   Tarantulas:  The Deadly Cargo

Studio:   Alan Landsburg Productions

Genre(s):   B-Movie/Horror

Release Date(s):   December 28, 1977

MPAA Rating:   Not Rated

tarantulas the deadly cargo oranges banana spiders

Oranges + Tarantulas = Deadly Cargo!!!

Fred (Howard Hesseman) and Buddy (Tom Atkins) hope to make a big profit from a shipment of Guatemalan coffee.  When their plane is secretly boarded by deadly banana spiders.  When the plane crashes in a small farming town in California, the spiders spread out and begin to kill.  It is up to the town’s security (Claude Akins), the doctor (Pat Hingle), and pilot Joe Harmon (Charles Frank) to try to stop the deadly spider invasion!

Directed by Stuart Hagmann, Tarantulas:  The Deadly Cargo was an environmental “animals attack” movie that originally aired on CBS on December 28, 1977.  The movie was nominated for Primetime Emmys for Outstanding Achievement in Film Sound Editing for a Special and Outstanding Achievement in Film Sound Mixing.

I can remember Tarantulas airing rather regularly on non-cable while growing up.  The genre popularized by Jaws and movies like The Swarm were often cheap and popular.  The do fit into a rather familiar pattern and in that sense Tarantula:  The Deadly Cargo isn’t very different.

tarantulas the deadly cargo claude akins bert remsen

I’m not closing down the beaches…I mean orange factory…for a shark…I mean spiders

These movies often start out with people (generally driven by greed) accidentally unleashing a terror.  The unsuspecting town begins to have people die and a police chief (here Claude Akins) butts heads with city officials (Bert Remsen) who wants to stop a panic.  It all unfolds here just like in Jaws and other disaster movies.  The movie does get weird at the end however when the main thrust (after multiple deaths) is saving the city’s prize orange crop with the characters risking their lives by trying to systematically eliminate the tarantulas (while actually stepping on them seems out of the question).  It is a rather dull ending to a dull predictable movie.

The cast is very ’70s.  Claude Akins takes on a diminished “Chief Brody” role as the lawman but the movie spends a lot of time with Deborah Winters and Charles Frank who are the romantic pairing.  Deborah’s brother (who is the sacrificial kid in most of these movies) is played by Little House of the Prairie’s Albert aka Matthew Laborteaux.  Tom Atkins and Howard Hesseman are written out of the movie rather quickly and Bert Remsen plays the orange grove owner willing to risk everything (which everyone ends up going along with).  Pat Hingle plays the wise doctor who figures out what is killing people, and you also get a totally misguided love triangle that does nothing…no one unfortunately really develops enough as characters.

tarantulas the deadly cargo matthew labyorteaux killed

Albert, this is the worst idea you’ve had since you and Willie smoked that pipe in the storage room of the blind school…

The movie is a rather cheap made-for-TV film.  It was shot in Moorpark, California which has frequently served as the setting for dusty California agricultural towns.  The movie used tarantulas for the shooting (and the cost of that partially explains why no one just steps on them…plus animal cruelty), but it also makes the title even more ridiculous since the spiders are supposed to be banana spiders since tarantulas aren’t particularly dangerous.

Tarantula:  The Deadly Cargo isn’t a very fun movie nor is it very good.  I have decent memories of watching it as a kid, but even then, I saw the movie as more of a time-filler and “horror-lite”.  With a lot of other animal attack movies that are better or at least scarier, Tarantulas maybe shouldn’t top the list of movies fans of the genre should seek out.  Maybe if the producers had gone with Banana Spiders:  The Deadly Cargo, it would have been more interesting.

Related Links:

Frogs (1972)

Jaws (1975)

Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)

Piranha (1977)

Day of the Animals (1977)

Ants!  It Happened at Lakewood Manor (1977)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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