A 'deliciously diabolical' Northern Irish animation about spides and their wicked ways

Spiderland is the latest ingenious offering from talented Northern Irish puppeteer and comedian, Paul Currie. Together with fellow puppeteers, Michael McNulty and Mike Smith, a filmmaker and carnival artist respectively, these three creative – and some may say twisted – individuals joined up to produce a curious and decidedly adult puppet show.

Featuring a motley crew of characters named Wab, Zombie, Ears and Troink, Spiderland follows the misadventures of this surreal band of ‘spides’. The group is completed by Rocky, a German Shepherd dog who likes to read The National Geographic, and Chantell, the terrifying Mother Spide who resides under the kitchen sink, living on bloody raw meat and trashy magazines.

As Currie describes in a short – and very funny – introduction to this Belfast Film Festival screening at the Queen's Film Theatre, the characters were born from the popular notion that ‘all spides look the same’.

The Spiderland puppets are endowed with that peculiar spide look we’ve all come to know and detest: the dubious, sartorial combo of shiny sportswear and baseball cap, the hair greased forward and cut straight across so that the fringe looks like the teeth of a slimy comb, the ubiquitous ‘bum-fluff’ tache.

And let’s not forget the random assorted paraphernalia scattered around the typical spide’s lair: a bottle of Buckfast (with a straw), black bin bags full of rubbish, Nintendo, a glue collection, crude graffiti everywhere. It’s all here and captured with quite brilliant attention to detail.

Wab, Zombie and Ears are Belfast spides, whereas Troink is from Glasgow, which makes him a ‘Ned’. And this is where Currie, Smith and McNulty succeed where many other Northern Irish comedy writers have failed: Spiderland will translate outside of the country.

Even though the short film is set in Northern Ireland, anyone throughout the UK or Ireland who has ever sighed with exasperation at their particular brand of local hooligan trash - Neds, Knackers, Chavs etc – will get the humour. Thankfully, there are no Belfast in-jokes or references to local personalities.

Spiderland is darned funny. There are laugh-out-loud moments aplenty throughout the 15-minute show, with the viewing crowd emitting a few gargantuan belly laughs, particularly at the superbly grotesque denouement. There are nods to a diverse range of influences.

The opening and closing credits hint at Woody Allen and doff a cap to Larry David, whilst the film itself is reminiscent of TV shows Spaced and The Mighty Boosh, radio’s The Goons Show and even Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s surreally dark film Delicatessen.

Each character displays his own little idiosyncrasies – for example, one of the spides ‘gets off’ on quoting Shakespeare in private – which helps lift the humour from a straight parody to something altogether more deliciously diabolical.

The Spiderland team possesses an impressive pedigree as puppeteers. Currie has been collaborating with McNulty since 2001, and both work together on Northern Ireland’s hugely successful Sesame Tree, a Sesame Street co-production, in which Currie plays lead Muppet ‘Potto’.

Currie also creates weird and wonderful puppets through his accomplished Sirkus on Foot escapades, and he’s an old hand at putting on a show, having played at many prestigious events and festivals including the Edinburgh Fringe.

Having said that, it is still quite mind-boggling that Spiderland is written, designed, built, filmed, edited, directed, produced and performed by just these three puppeteers… with little to no budget. It’s a wonderful example of what creative minds are capable of with some smart writing and a can-do attitude. More episodes of Spiderland will be coming to YouTube shortly. I, for one, can’t wait to see what happens next.

The Belfast Film Festival runs until April 14.