South American killer spider hitches a lift to the US in a coffin and starts to breed and kill.
Whilst this can hardly be defined as a horror film (it actually ended up being marketed as a ‘thrill-omedy’), there were still several moments which genuinely made my skin crawl. There’s just something about spiders which are inherently scary for many people, and so Arachnophobia did not have to try too hard to unsettle the most squeamish of folk.
The director, Frank Marshall, has been responsible for producing a vast number of classic movies which is far too extensive to go into here (such as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Poltergeist, Back to the Future, Who Framed Roget Rabbit, Hook, The Sixth Sense, The Bourne Identity, etc). From this alone, it is clear that Frank Marshall knows what it takes to make a good movie – and indeed, Arachnophobia is a deliciously fun film, suitable for all the family (with a rating of just PG (Parental Guidance)). Frank Marshall said that he wanted the film to be like Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, and that ‘people like to be scared but laughing, like a roller coaster’. Fair play to him then, because this is exactly what Arachnophobia achieves. Just replace the birds with spiders, and you’re pretty much there.
The film begins with a bunch of scientists in Venezuela, who are all bug enthusiasts (entomologists is the exact term for it, I believe). Lead by a guide (who will only go part of the way – always a bad omen), they soon discover a new species of spider, one which turns out to be exceedingly dangerous. When one of their party dies back at the camp for seemingly ‘unknown reasons’, no foul play is discovered and his body is sent back to America to his home town. Little does anyone know that they have another passenger on board – you know it, one of those deadly spiders. Once it gets to the small town of Canaima, it mates with a domestic house spider and establishes a nest, spawning lots and lots and lots of little friends which proceed to attack the entire town. At first, suspicion is not really aroused, but as the death toll starts to rise, the spiders finally come into question. What happens next is an adrenalin-fuelled confrontation with the ‘general’ and the ‘queen’ spiders. The ending really is worth waiting for.
I’ll refrain here from making a comparison with Eight Legged Freaks, although I must admit it did come screaming into my mind from the very beginning. However, Arachnophobia actually came before Eight Legged Freaks, and so the influence should really be said to be the other way round. The difference with Arachnophobia is that the spiders remain relatively small – but still deadly! Apparently, 374 real-life spiders were used for the film, and they were picked because they are essentially harmless to humans and because of their large size.
As well as the problem of the spiders in Arachnophobia, there is also an aspect of overcoming change in a different respect. Ross Jennings (played by Jeff Daniels) and his family have just moved into this remote part of the country from the bustling city, and find it hard to adjust to this new lifestyle. Despite the fact that Ross Jennings is an aspiring and exceptional doctor, he has trouble getting accepted by the local people – especially as the old doctor is determined to give him a hard time. This added ‘drama’ heightens the suspense for the viewer, as we are all aware that the cause of deaths is spider bite, and yet no one is prepared to believe Jennings when he discovers this. As the frustration begins to mount to a nail-biting level, actions are finally taken to rid the town of these god-forsaken creatures.
I love the fact that there’s both horror and comedy in Arachnophobia, and this film really acts as some light relief between all of the serious messed up horrors out there at the moment! This movie is solidly made, and I really can’t find any gaping problems with it – not that I’d expect to, with Frank Marshall at the helm!
If you fancy something light-hearted and fun, then definitely give Arachnophobia a watch. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, especially John Goodman (who plays a rather bizarre exterminator). It’s not going to blow you away, but I guarantee it’ll make you smile at the very least. And perhaps make you a bit more wary of your surroundings…just in case there are any unwelcome visitors lurking!