Eight Legged Shrieks

Come on, let's go find that spider. And let's find your mom to take care of that spider - Dr. Ross

Julian Sands as Doctor James Atherton in Arachnophobia (1990)

"Arachnophobia" may have a PG certificate but if you are in anyway scared of spiders it is going to feel like an 18, seriously because whilst the movie is nothing special the fear factor is spot on. But as I said "Arachnophobia" isn't really anything special, it is a comical creature feature where you know what is going to happen, the characters are on the quirky side of normal and the spiders themselves are occasionally comical. But director Frank Marshall has done such a nice job of putting it together that whilst all very obvious it works with a mix of frights and comedy.

When a photographer is killed by a spider whilst on a trip to South America his body is shipped back home to where he lived in California. That is not the only thing which got shipped back as in the coffin with him is the killer spider which slips away when the coffin is opened. It slips away to the barn of spider fearing Dr. Ross Jennings (Jeff Daniels - Terms of Endearment) and mates with a local spider. Before long people in the small town are dying including the existing Doctor, Sam Metcalf (Henry Jones) and so it is up to Jennings to discover what is causing these deaths and stop it, not easy when you are scared still of spiders.

Jeff Daniels as Dr. Ross Jennings in Arachnophobia (1990)

I remember the first time I watched "Arachnophobia" and was genuinely scared during the opening, I was even shocked that what I was watching passed for a PG because we watch as the photographer is killed by a spider and then a short while later we see his body drained of blood. But then to be honest that is probably the most graphic things get because after that "Arachnophobia" becomes a very typical and obvious creature feature. It uses a familiar formula that something is causing deaths in a small town, one man proves what it is and then a small group including that man must stop it. There are no surprises when it comes to how the story plays out and it almost feels that director Frank Marshall has purposefully over played the stereotypical elements to add to the fun.

But the thing is that whilst "Arachnophobia" may not venture a way from a formula it does work with a nice blend of humour and horror. You could say the humour is typical because to start with we have characters just on the quirky side of normal from Dr. Jennings being a glass half empty type to Dr. Metcalf being a typical crafty and cantankerous type. Add to that exterminator Delbert McClintock who is lackadaisical and entomologist Atherton who is more concerned with capturing a sample and you have a lot of character comedy. Even the actual spiders, or at least the big spiders have a comical element to them and when it comes to the final battle the comical aspect is dialled up.

But whilst you have all this comedy going on there is also the horror or at least that should be frights because Frank Marshall delivers plenty of frights. In those opening scenes it is all about the atmosphere, standing underneath those big trees as insects cascade down with a large spider making a thunking noise, it is meant to be dead or is it. It is text book stuff but every time something happens out of the blue it makes you jump because the atmosphere is spot on. Even when we watch a spider moving towards a victim that sense of atmosphere is still there as Marshall toys with us as to whether someone will get bitten.

What this all boils down to is that "Arachnophobia" is a surprisingly effective little creature feature which if you are scared of spiders is going to be 10 times more frightening than if you're not. There is nothing new or different about it but it is nicely put together so that the atmosphere leads to frights but the characters lead to laughs.

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