August 25, 2014

ARACHNOPHOBIA and the Well-Timed Punch

Starring Jeff Daniels, John Goodman, Harley Jane Kozak, Julian Sands, Brian McNamara, Stuart Pankin, Peter Jason. Directed by Frank Marshall. (1990, 110 min).

I am not, nor have ever been, a violent man. The only time I ever feel aggression towards another human being is when I’m behind the wheel (perhaps because I’m secure within the confines of a speedy, half-ton vehicle). Aside from that, I generally try to avoid any situation which has a chance of escalating beyond verbal confrontation and have backed-down from a fight on numerous occasions.

While I don’t consider myself a coward, the fact is I’ve been in two fights in my entire life and lost them both, so I prefer to look at my avoidance of physical conflict as simply having a realistic assessment of my own meager fighting skills. What’s the point of standing up to someone who’s probably far more accustomed to solving problems with his fists?

There’s only been one moment in my entire life when my instinctive sense of self-preservation was overwhelmed by blind rage, when I beat the living shit out of a classmate in eighth grade. I don’t count this among the two fights mentioned before because fights require two participants, and this kid never had a chance.

His name was Peter, a somewhat strange kid who always wore a winter jacket even when it was 80 degrees outside. He was heavily into Star Trek, science class and the Death Merchant, an extremely violent series of pulp novels about a martial arts mercenary. Peter enjoyed reading the gorier passages out-loud to us during homeroom, which was pretty cool (what free-thinking middle school boy isn’t into gore?). Peter and I weren’t exactly friends, but until he brought his pet tarantula (which he named Sulu) to school, we generally got along okay.

Sulu was a big problem for me because I’ve always hated spiders. To this day, they are my Kryptonite. Whenever I see one, my knees get weak. If one of those furry bastards tries to make a break across my living room floor, I grab the nearest object and use roughly eight hundred times the necessary force needed to send the fucking thing back to Spider Hell, because any less might make it mad enough to come at me later, in my sleep, crawl into my mouth to lay millions of eggs in my throat, which’ll eventually hatch and devour me from the inside out. So yeah, I guess it is safe to say I’m a tad arachnophobic.

Anyway, Peter took Sulu to all his classes, occasionally tapping the plastic container to make him move, which seldom happened because one of the few endearing qualities of the average tarantula is they are the laziest, least active creatures ever to scurry the Earth. But I didn’t know that at the time, convinced Sulu was simply laying-in-wait for the opportunity to pop the lid open and lunge at the nearest neck in order to bury its fangs into an artery.

"Spiders in love. How sweet," said no person ever.
Peter may have loved reading about death, but it’s doubtful he completely fathomed the concept because Sulu died over the weekend, yet Peter brought him back to school anyway, apparently unfazed. In fact, he seemed to find even more enjoyment by dropping Sulu’s lifeless carcass into people’s laps, one of which was mine during homeroom…

Despite my usual mantra of avoiding physical confrontation whenever possible, phobic instinct took over. Screaming like a schoolgirl as I leaped from my seat, I grabbed Peter by his jacket and repeatedly punched him in the face, stopping only after blood began spewing from his nose like a faucet. He never put up much of a fight. In fact, it looked like he was actually smiling while being pummeled by my fists of fury, as though the abject horror on my face was worth the beating. I was called to the principal’s office to account for my actions, but considering Peter was already establishing himself as a somewhat-antisocial freak (this incident was one of many), I was let-off with a slap on the wrist.

Last time I saw Peter was freshman year, shortly before he was given a lengthy vacation because an incident in which his science project involved clocking how long it would take for a frog to die if sealed in an airtight jar. Clearly, he was one maladjusted motherfucker, but unlike today, when even the most potentially-homicidal kid is legally permitted to frolic among us until he actually kills someone, Peter was expelled faster than shit through a goose.

The dead spider Peter giddily dropped in my lap was indicative of everything I always feared-about and expected-from spiders…they exist solely to pop-up without warning so you'll fill your pants with fudge.

Hence, as a lifelong horror movie fan, long-since desensitized to the usual slashers, zombies, vampires and ghosts, 1990’s Arachnophobia was especially horrifying. Not only did it tap into my worst phobia, these weren’t mutated monsters or alien arachnids of days gone by (such as Tarantula or The Giant Spider Invasion), but spiders just like those we spot on our bedroom walls…the ones which make us piss ourselves even though we are hundreds of times their size. But unlike the occasional rogue arachnid easily dispatched by the blunt force trauma of a slipper or rolled-up copy of People Magazine, Arachnophobia throws thousands of them at us, all hell-bent on leaping from the places we always dreaded they would…showers, ceilings, boxes, hats, shoes, etc.

So yeah, I went to see it because it had literally been years since a horror film truly terrified me. And yeah, it scared me shitless, just as I dared it to, even though the film itself is a fairly conventional comedy-thriller (and not an especially artful one at that). I’m pretty sure there were occasions when I screamed out-loud, simply due to my inherent fear of these ungodly creatures, which likely caused surrounding patrons to crane their heads in my direction.

In the end, much like the six or seven folks worldwide who where actually scared by Snakes on a Plane, Arachnophobia provides me with a taste of personal terror, which I appreciate from time to time, just to keep me from becoming too cocky about the world around me.

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