I first became familiar with THE SPIDERS in David Shepard's 1999 version on Image DVD. It will always have a special place in my silent film collection as it was my introduction to the exotic pulp fiction serials of the silent era that would culminate years later in the INDIANA JONES films of Steven Spielberg. After seeing the 2 silent features that make up THE SPIDERS (THE GOLDEN SEA and THE DIAMOND SHIP), I was primed for THE INDIAN TOMB (which Fritz Lang co-wrote but missed out on directing until he made his own version 40 years later) and the earlier serials of Louis Feuillade (THE VAMPIRES, JUDEX, FANTOMAS) which inspired this film. In the company of the Feuillade serials and the later silent films of Lang, THE SPIDERS gets unfairly dismissed which is unfortunate as it has much to offer especially in this new transfer.
The biggest knock against the old version was that the print was not in great shape. Shepard explained that we were lucky to have the film at all and that it took a lot of work to put it back together from materials found in Czech archives. The new version appears to use the same Czech materials but has the advantage of new restoration techniques developed in the last 10 years. Nevertheless those expecting a complete restoration are bound to be disappointed as compared to NOSFERATU, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA or the 2003 version of METROPOLIS, this still looks pretty rough. It is longer (173 minutes -vs- 137 minutes) and, as much as I love Gaylord Carter organ scores, the new Ben Model score will be more audience friendly as will the print improvement and new title cards.
For those unfamiliar with the scenario, it involves intrepid adventurer Kay Hoog (pronounced HOAG - Carl de Vogt) and his confrontations with the international criminal organization The Spiders headed up by the remarkably intense femme fatale Lio Sha (Ressel Orla). Separately they seek to recover Incan treasure and later a priceless diamond known as the "Buddha's Head". Murders, betrayals, escapes, exotic locales are all there in the mix along with Lang's eye for striking visual composition which is what separates THE SPIDERS from the serials of Feuillade. The sets are fabulous, the costumes elaborate, and the performances (most notably Ressel Orla's) are deliriously intense. This more complete version is a welcome addition to the Fritz Lang filmography just don't expect M or METROPOLIS or for it to look like it was shot yesterday.