There’s something strangely endearing about Salem Kapsaski’s Spidarlings, a low-budget LGBTQ musical about British culture on the skids. It’s the story of two lovers, Eden and Matilda, just trying to get by, trapped in a subculture they never made. The girls are two years behind on their rent, much to the chagrin of their landlord. In a doomed effort to catch up on the bills and avoid eviction, Matilda (Rahel Kapsaski) takes a job at a club called Juicy Girls. This isn’t a terrible gig. The headliner, known as the Diva (Jeff Kristian), sings catchy original songs and looks good in a blue dress.
Problems abound for Eden and Matilda, though. Their relationship is rocky, and Eden (Sophia Disgrace) is becoming lonely and jealous. In order to focus her affection somewhere, Eden buys a pet tarantula from Lloyd Kaufman, because why not? At the club, Matilda and the other performers have to deal with a regular customer named Ticks (Lee Mark Jones) who might be acting out on his murderous impulses.
That’s a relatively vague description of everything going on in Spidarlings, and that’s because a lot of the story elements bounce in from obtuse angles. There are animated sequences, including a sweetly stylized bit of interspecies erotica. In one scene, police officers speak with the trumpet-mute sounds of Charlie Brown’s teacher from the old Peanuts cartoons. It isn’t a straightforward form of storytelling, but there isn’t much straight about Spidarlings to begin with.
The absurdity Kapsaski injects into the film is its greatest strength, and there are times during Spidarlings when there are so many ideas flying around the screen, it is hard to keep up. But with all that weirdness whizzing around, there’s no reason for Spidarlings to clock in at just over two hours. A tendency for certain shots to linger brings down the overall tempo of the movie. There’s a potential energy to the script that never quite reaches full kinesis. Some faster cuts and slight editing would have quickened the pace and made Spidarlings more gonzo.
But still, there’s ever so much to like here. The music by Jeff Kristian is appropriately fabulous, particularly a clever tune about the wonders of capitalism. Sophia Disgrace gives a quietly bemused performance which is fun to watch. As the Landlord, Chris Repps is angry and threatening, yet possesses a perfectly gruff and wonderful singing voice. Lee Mark Jones (aka Gypsy Lee Pistolero) has an interesting screen presence as the mad Ticks, a volatile mixture of Dave Edmonds and Elvis Presley. He seems to be having the most fun, twitching and shouting his way through scenes like Joe Strummer in an Alex Cox film.
Director Kapsaski dedicates to the film to Ken Russell, and that makes sense. It is reminiscent of the late director’s work, with its visual distractions, audio anomalies, and refusal to collapse under the thumb of conservative societal norms. The visual influence of Dario Argento is also obvious, with walls painted red and blue, shocking pastels against stark primary colors. There’s also a giant poster for The Stendahl Syndrome on the wall of the girls’ apartment, so it’s safe to assume Kapsaski is an Argento fan.
Spidarlings revels in the fact that it is not a movie for everyone, and that alone may be enough to help it find its target audience. If you like your musicals with a rounded scoop of sex, blood, and some of the largest false eyelashes ever filmed, then pull your pet tarantula onto your lap and give this movie a go.
Spidarlings is available on Blu-Ray from Amazon and wherever fine films are sold.