There once was a spider I hated,
A creature that God had created.
It helped to cull pests,
The most useful of guests,
But I didn’t care so I slayed it.
MPA rating: PG-13
I may not be a fan of the horror genre in general, but Halloween is a good excuse to seek out some new scary movies I might actually like. Supernatural horror is usually my preferred cup of tea, with a greater focus on tension over gore, but there’s one subgenre that often gets overshadowed by all the zombies and vampires out there – the nature creature feature.
When I was a kid, two things truly terrified me: the clown from Poltergeist and spiders. And unfortunately, I could only reassure myself that one of those wasn’t real. I would freak out at the mere sight of a spider on the playground, and I used to paper-clip notecards over the spider pictures in my biology book. So it’s no surprise at all that I never expected to see a film titled Arachnophobia in my life. I don’t know if this is common, but my once-severe antipathy toward spiders eased over time. I’ll still kill any that dare cross my threshold, but I can at least look at them without cringing. Maybe I just got used to Shelob and Charlotte.
The debut of director Frank Marshall, Arachnophobia is basically Jaws for spiders, taking an intimidating but largely non-threatening animal and turning them into a bloodthirsty monster seemingly targeting humans. An unfortunate American photographer (Mark L. Taylor) goes with a British spider expert (Julian Sands) to investigate new species in the Amazon rain forest before being bitten and killed by an unusually aggressive and resilient specimen. When his body is sent back to small-town California, the spider hitches a ride, beginning a series of unexplained deaths for new arachnophobic doctor Ross Jennings (Jeff Daniels) to figure out.
I was prepared for Arachnophobia to bring back my discomfort with arachnids, and certain scenes with large numbers of the crawlies emerging from throughout a house did give me the willies. The fact that much of the lurking and eventual confrontations with the spiders take place in everyday home locations add to the squirm factor, since you never know what could be prowling just out of sight in the places you feel safest.
Yet I found myself more entertained than scared, thanks to the unrealistic lethality of the spiders and the slight camp of the plot. John Goodman plays a scene-stealing pest control expert, whose arrogance belies an unusual competence for someone in this kind of movie, and there’s an undercurrent of dark irony as Dr. Jennings’ patients keep getting killed right after he examines them. The film never fully embraces its comedy label, but somehow it totally sells a face-off between Jeff Daniels and a tarantula. With Amblin Entertainment as one of its production companies, Arachnophobia has a Spielbergian vibe to it that feels more like E.T. than Jaws. I might have been able to handle it as a kid too, but then again it might have just made me even more skittish. At least now I know I’m over my fear of those eight-legged freaks… I mean, friends. See, no repressed spider hatred around here….
Best line: (Ross, after killing a spider) “Therapy.”
Rank: List Runner-Up
© 2021 S.G. Liput
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