Merrill Historical Society launches new exhibit: Bill Rebane’s Hollywood Midwest


One of the giant spiders used in Rebane’s movie, The Great Spider Invasion, partially restored and on display at the Merrill Historical Society as part of the exhibit honoring Rebane’s work.

Have you heard tales that movies were filmed in Merrill or Gleason? Perhaps you’ve heard rumors about the filming of The Giant Spider Invasion and Merrill residents being involved in various scenes? Or maybe stories about the giant spider being made from a Volkswagon beetle? Are these things just stories? How much is fact, and how much is fiction?
Here’s your chance to find out. On Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, at 9:00 a.m., the Merrill Historical Society unveiled a new exhibit at the Merrill Historical Society History & Culture Center at 100 E. Third St. in Merrill, titled “Bill Rebane’s Hollywood Midwest, A Retrospective on Wisconsin’s First Feature Film Studio.” Later that day, Rebane’s most well-known film, The Great Spider Invasion was shown at the Northwoods Veterans Post, followed by Rebane’s 1998 feature called Twister’s Revenge. Food and raffle prizes were also a part of the event.
Brandon Johnson, Curator and Host of this new exhibit, spent two years researching Bill’s life and career in preparation for the event.
In addition to expressing appreciation to everyone who came out for the grand opening of the exhibit and the movies, “We also would like to express our appreciation for those who helped to partially restore the crane spider that is in our exhibit and was saved from destruction by Bill Rebane–Jeremy Fritcher, Kevin Daley, Brian Pophal, Kyle Patrick, Phillip Kretschmer, Sam Younn, and Central Carpet and Flooring,” Johnson said. The opportunity to see the giant spider is a reminder of the challenges involved in creating special features before the age of digital technology and software.
More than 100 people attended the grand opening, the Merrill Historical Society said in a press release following the event. “Thirty years of Wisconsin movie history came to life as Bill Rebane connected with old friends, cast and crew members, and the local ‘extras’ from his films,” the release also said.
In addition to The Great Spider Invasion and Twister’s Revenge, other films Rebane produced from the 1960’s through 1980’s included “Blood Harvest,” “Monster A-Go-Go,” and “Rana: Legend of Shadow Lake.”
Most of the films were made at Rebane’s The Shooting Ranch studios of Gleason for 25 years as the only full-time feature film studio in the Midwest, the Historical Society said.
Johnson compiled many archival materials and memorabilia from the studio, the films, and Rebane’s body of work, including posters and original art associated with the films and has produced a full-color catalog showcasing the materials. Copies of the catalog are available for purchase for $20 from the Merrill Historical Society and at their website,
This unique exhibit will run through summer 2023.

L to R: Paul Bentzen, an actor who was in a number of Rebane’s films, reminiscing with Bill Rebane at the Grand Opening of the new Merrill Historical Society exhibit.

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