Sunday Afternoon Movie Arachnophobia [1990]

There’s a reason I can only watch this movie once every few years, and that reason is it forces me to start checking my shoes, slippers, the shower, my bed, the toilet and any hats I might have for spiders. I saw this outstanding comic chiller at the cinema aged 9, and it has left a lasting impression. 

Forget Freddy, Vampires, ghosts, Jason, Michael Myers, Leatherface or a plague of zombies; Arachnophobia scared the life out of me and if I’m honest with myself, it’s the main reason I never pursued a career in American Football. Well, that and zero physical capability or desire to do so. I’m not afraid of spiders; I can’t say I love them either and would prefer to live a peaceful co-existence that involves as little interaction as possible. 

The twisted nature of horror movies has the comfort of knowing it was make-believe; the scary things are unbelievable, for the most part. Sure, it’s creepy that a dead killer can come back to haunt the dreams of the next generation of kids of Elm Street; Michael Myers is a seemingly unkillable mass of evil, but spiders are real, and they live in my garden! They’re in my house right now!!

Deep in the Amazon jungle entomologist, Dr Atherton (a dashing Julian Sands) leads a team of scientists on an expedition to discover new species of insects. After deploying their smoke machine to capture some specimens, a new highly poisonous spider is found and stowed away within the coffin of a photographer who was the first victim.

The photographer’s body is shipped to his home town Canaima; by the time his coffin arrives at the local funeral home, his body has been drained of blood, and the massive spider is long gone. Wasting no time getting to know the locals, The General spider breeds with the domestic spider, creating a deadly new offspring that threatens the entire town. What follows is a skin scratching exercise in family-friendly terror; toilets, showers, football helmets and cereal boxes are all used to unnerving effect. This does for spiders what Jaws did for sharks, which isn’t surprising as Steven Spielberg’s Amblin is behind this. Jeff Daniels is perfectly cast as the everyman Doctor who moves his family out to the sticks for a slower paced life away from the city. The recent plum role on The Newsroom reminded us all what a compelling actor he still is. 

Naturally, as this is a kids’ film a comedy character is needed to defuse frights. In step John Goodman as lovable exterminator Delbert McClintock, bumbling through the movie; he is the polar opposite of Robert Shaw’s Quint from Jaws but still gives off a sense of the same heroic vibe. Frank Marshall is better known for his producing credits, and Arachnophobia marked his feature directorial debut. Spielberg might be an Executive Producer, but his fingerprints are all over this. Much like Jaws instantly became the best shark movie of all time, and every other shark flick can only aim for second place. Arachnophobia is the ultimate killer spider movie, and in my opinion this remains Frank Marshall’s best work as a director, he has yet to recapture the thrills in his other projects, including survival drama Alive, and action-adventure (and underrated) Congo. He recently a documentary on iconic band The Bee Gees titled The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart. His most recent movie remains the 2006 family adventure Eight Below

If you’re still in need of some family-friendly spiders vs humans based frights and laughs, check out William Shatner in the gloriously 70s Kingdom of the Spiders. It lacks the class, wit, budget, special effects, and believable acting of Arachnophobia (despite having several plot similarities), but it is tremendous fun.

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