MERRILL – Just in time for Halloween, the Merrill Historical Society will pay homage to a Wisconsin filmmaker who produced strange, kitschy and thoroughly entertaining B-movies.
The grand opening of the exhibit, “Bill Rebane’s Hollywood Midwest,” will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Merrill Historical Society, 100 E. Third St.
After the opening event, Merrill’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary will host a free showing of two of Rebane’s films at the Northwoods Veterans Post, 601 Johnson St.Rebane’s most famous film, “The Giant Spider Invasion,” will show at 1 p.m. “Twister’s Revenge” will be screened at 3 p.m.
The exhibit will feature archived materials and memorabilia from Rebane’s producing career. Included in the materials will be one of the original giant spiders from “Spider Invasion,” recreated in its original state. The showpiece will underscore how Rebane created special effects and outlandish creatures before the digital age offered computer-generated graphics.
In an interview with Rebane in 2019, the producer told USA TODAY-Wisconsin that he was born in Latvia, and as a young child, uprooted with his family due to World War II. After the war, he and his family immigrated to the United States and settled in the Chicago area.
READ THE FULL BILL REBANE INTERVIEW: ‘The Giant Spider Invasion,’ Wisconsin’s kinda-creepy, really campy cult film, still bites
By the time he was an adult, he was working in the Chicago-area’s film industry. While on a fishing vacation in Wisconsin’s Northwoods, he bought a Gleason farm that would become his Shooting Ranch Studios.
“The Giant Spider Invasion” was shot there and at other north central Wisconsin locales, including downtown Merrill. The movie had a budget of about $300,000 and starred Alan Hale Jr., who portrayed the Skipper on “Gilligan’s Island,” and Barbara Hale (no relation to her co-star), who played legal secretary Della Street in “Perry Mason.”
The flick was one of the top 50 money-making films in 1975, according to the website IMDB. Rebane said it made a total of about $24 million, much of it in rental fees after it was featured on the movie-riffing TV show “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”
Contact Keith Uhlig at 715-845-0651 or email@example.com. Follow him at @UhligK on Twitter and Instagram or on Facebook.