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It's just a spider, man
on 3 May 2013
Ah, Summer 1990 - what a time to be a kid, or even just a film fan in general. There were so many classics out that summer (Gremlins 2, RoboCop 2, BTTF 3, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), Arachnophobia wasn't one of them but I was excited by the trailer (which used a weird, alternate version of the Gremlin Rag) and I was a fan of John Goodman and Julian Sands, having recently seen Raising Arizona and Warlock at the time. I didn't actually get to see the movie until the next summer when it was on in a bar in Gran Canaria though. On my way back to the hotel I ran up some steps, which made a tassel from my shorts flip up into my face. I thought it was a spider. I freaked.
Many people are afraid of spiders, actually. Including you. There's probably a spider in your bed right now. That tickle on your arm a minute ago - that was probably a spider. You know that packet of grapes you've been munching on? I think maybe an exotic arachnid hitched a ride here from some far off land in it. I'd sleep with your mouth closed tonight if I were you.
A fear of spiders has been in our blood since cave man days. It's a common sense in our DNA that won't go away. They have made easy villains in movies for many years, from the awful Tarantula to the awful Kingdom of the Spiders (which is still a very enjoyable film) and the overlooked Eight Legged Freaks. Frank Marshall tackled the er...eight-legged freaks before the advent of CGI, when creature effects were brought to life with puppetry and animatronics (done here by Chris Walas who seems to have retired now that his craft is obsolete) and it helps the movie feel real and tangible, but it's just not creepy or disgusting enough.
Jeff Daniels plays an affable GP who moves to sleepy rural Canaima, California to escape the city life. The very day he arrives is the moment when a newly-discovered, highly aggressive species of spider arrives in a coffin from Venezuela. It mates with a local right under his nose and sets up a nest in his barn and basement. The locals begin to die of bites from their young and Daniels gradually figures it out as a spectacularly small amount of bodies piles up.
Goodman (channeling Carl Spackler from Caddyshack, for some reason) and Sands come and go, the latter making some truly moronic decisions, while the spiders remain mostly off-screen. Much of the running time is devoted to all the boring bits in-between. Arachnophobia plays it safe when it really should have overwhelmed us.
Even by 1990 PG-13 standards it could have set the bar pretty high for any spider-flicks that followed. Instead we get the occasional glimpse, a few deaths, and a couple of scenes of tension before the action-packed finale which, thankfully, saves it.
Had David Cronenberg (who, strangely, went on to direct a movie called Spider) or John Carpenter tackled the story we might have had a classic, as it is Arachnophobia is merely mindless entertainment with the familiar Amblin touch.
The Blu-ray features a nice 1.85:1 1080p picture with a good DTS HD-MA soundtrack. There are a small amount of tepid extras and promotional fluff included.