Richard Hyatt

Richard Hyatt: CSU resurrects 'Kiss of the Tarantula' for Halloween

John Suhr was an eccentric advertising man who created TV commercials that featured talking Fiats and designed newspaper ads that made the pages scream for mercy.

Weekends he lived in another world, powering up a projector in his living room and sharing with unsuspecting friends some of the worst horror movies ever put to film.

His favorite was “Kiss of the Tarantula.” He was partial to that one for it was filmed three blocks away from him on Macon Road and featured a cast of local characters — including John Suhr himself.

It was financed by Curt Drady, who ran the first drive-in theater in town. Shot in 10 days in 1974 with a budget of $60,000, “Kiss of the Tarantula” is a horror movie that makes you laugh, not scream. It is 97 minutes of campy fun.

Halloween is coming and Columbus State University is presenting free screenings this week. You can see it at the main campus library Wednesday and at CSU’s River Park Campus in Room 114 on Thursday. Each showing starts at 7:30 p.m.

Live spiders from Oxbow Meadows will be special guests Wednesday, and on Thursday Gary Sprayberry, head of CSU’s History Department, speaks on “American Film and Culture in the 1970s.”

He said “Kiss of the Tarantula” is a throwback to horror films of the 1950s and one of a series of local horror flicks made in the 1970s. “They were fodder for drive-in movies,” he said. “This was before the homogenization of local cultures, so each had a distinct local flavor.”

The movie takes you back to  Columbus 1974. It was shot at “Hilton,” the historic home of the late Nora Eakle on Hilton Avenue, the house John Wayne  used in “The Green Berets.”

More than 20 locals — many now deceased — show up on screen but the only one with a feature role was oversized psychiatrist Herman Wallner, remembered for his cheesy mustache and Frankenstein feet. Suhr portrayed a minister reading Psalm 23 at the funeral of one of the spider’s victims.

CSU archivist David Owings is behind the screenings. He discovered movie posters among the artifacts donated by Drady’s family after his death in 1997. The box includes three scripts Drady dreamed of producing.

If you’ve never seen “Kiss of the Tarantula,” check it out. It’s so bad that it’s good.

Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at hyatt31906@knology.net.

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