Bill Rebane has lived in Wisconsin since the early 1960's, but has always had a love for film and movies. What he created became one of the biggest grossing films of the 1970's, and one you probably have never seen, "The Giant Spider Invasion".
Rebane says the film was something people had never really seen. "It started growing. The distributor wanted a 25 foot spider." So that’s just what Bill did, created huge spiders.
The way the spider was made is what really sets the film apart. "We came up with a brainstorm. What if we took a VW chassis and put a giant spider on top of it.”
That 25 foot spider on the Volkswagen was supposed to compete with the shark in “Jaws.”
"The distributor came up with a great campaign saying the spider had a bigger bite than the Jaws. That was all the advertising he put out,” said Rebane.
The Giant Spider Invasion was shot on just a $300,000 budget, a very small budget compared to other films, like Jaws, which was in production at the same time. Also saving on costs, the movie was filmed in Merrill or surrounding areas like Gleason. It wasn’t only the sights of Merrill, it was also the people. Many in the community were actors or background extras, all excited to be a part of Hollywood, says Rebane. "The cooperation was another big asset to the endeavor we did. People cooperated and they loved it."
The film also brought in some great professional actors, such as Alan Hale Jr. more commonly known as the “Skipper” on Gilligan’s Island. Rebane says those actors really helped put the movie on the map. "I had some great connections in Hollywood. It was basically sitting down for coffee and saying should we do this."
Bill says he's not really sure what made The Giant Spider Invasion so famous or infamous. The film didn't really become a big hit until it became something of a Cult Classic. It’s grossed millions of dollars over the past 35 years, but Bill says he hasn’t seen a fraction of that money. "It doesn’t feel good. The worst part is that it became one of the most pirated movies in history,” says Rebane.
Although he didn’t make the big bucks off The Giant Spider Invasion, Bill says he is proud of the impact the film had on Merrill. "As the studio involved it employed local people. It put money in the local economy. It evolved to be quite a successful operation."
If you would like to be apart of a special viewing of the Giant Spider Invasion, you can do so on Wednesday night. All you have to do is bring two nonperishable items to the Cosmo Theater in downtown Merrill. That showing will begin at 5 p.m.