April 12, 2019

TARANTULA: A Childhood Nightmare Returns

Starring John Agar, Mara Corday (mee-ow!), Leo G. Carroll, Nestor Paiva, Ross Elliott and a very young Clint Eastwood (the fighter pilot behind the mask!). Directed by Jack Arnold. (1955/81 min).

Review by Mr. Paws😸

For me, a 'large spider' is defined as one visible to the naked eye, and always do my part by using 8,000 times the necessary force required to kill them, usually with a shoe or book. I whack them more than once...often several times to make certain they don't return to torment me in the next life. While I haven't yet resorted to using fire, I did once make the mistake of smashing one with a hammer, leaving a permanent dent in our dining room floor.

Spiders are scary because...well, they're spiders. They exist for the sole purpose of being squashed by a paperback (a good reason not to switch to e-books). If God didn't intend us to kill them on sight, he would have made spiders look more like rabbits. Instead, they're stealthy, silent, hairy, venomous and equipped with more eyes and appendages than any creature has a right to possess. I'm certain if a spider were to catch its own reflection in a mirror, it would try to squash itself.

"Have I ever told you how much I love smoking?"
But some spiders you just can’t squash, like the epic arachnid in Tarantula, one of the better ‘big bug’ movies of the 50s. I first saw it on TV late one night in the early 70s and spent half the time with my head buried under blankets. This was absolute nightmare fuel for an arachnophobic nine-year-old, especially since the special effects were pretty convincing for the time (and still relatively impressive today).

In Tarantula, Professor Gerald Deemer (Leo G. Carroll) has good intentions, trying to create a synthetic nutrient that will help feed the world's increasing population. But like all well-meaning scientists with radioactive chemicals at their disposal, his experiment results in oversized lab animals, such as mice, guinea pigs and a tarantula. Apparently intrigued by this side effect, Deemer keeps injecting them...including the fucking tarantula.

"Fuck this. I'm outta here."
Sure, the idea of a dog sized guinea pig has a certain cuddle appeal (imagine one curled up at the foot of your bed). But a spider? What exactly would be the possible motivation for bulking-up a creature which already makes the average person pee themselves when they spot one in the shower? Perhaps Deemer was also looking for an effective constipation cure. After all, your bowels could be impacted with a rack of billiard balls, but upon seeing a barn-sized tarantula scurrying up the highway, those suckers would shoot from your ass like rounds from an M-16. So Deemer's either totally insane or simply worst person ever.

Whatever the case, it's now up to Dr. Matt Hastings (John Agar) and "Stevie" Clayton (Mara Corday) to unfuck Deemer’s fuckery. After killing a bunch of farmers and their cattle, the title creature threatens an entire Arizona town. Guns don’t work, nor does dynamite, which I’ve always suspected would be the case.

Guess who?

As everyone knows, the only effective solution to getting rid of a spider is total overkill, just to make sure it doesn’t come back twice-as-big and plenty pissed. So while I totally concur with the final decision to bring in jet fighters armed with a heaping helping of napalm (Hell, I’d bug-bomb my own house with napalm if Walmart carried it), perhaps Tarantula doesn’t go far enough. Fuck the napalm and unleash a warhead to nuke that bastard into oblivion. Sure, the Arizona desert would be a radioactive wasteland for a few decades, but it ain't like I know anybody who lives there, anyway.

Tarantula is mostly remembered today for featuring a young Clint Eastwood near the start of his career (unbilled as one of the jet pilots). Despite not being as widely revered as Them!, it holds up better than a lot of similar films from the era (though the abundance of sexist dialogue is pretty cringe-worthy). This Blu-ray from Shout Factory is light on bonus features, but does feature one of the better audio commentaries I’ve heard in awhile and the picture quality is outstanding. This eight-legged childhood nightmare has never looked or sounded better.

AUDIO COMMENTARY – By film historians Tom Weaver, Dr. Robert Kiss and David Schector. Also includes comments from Mara Corday, as spoken by another actress (!). A lot of great info and fun trivia in this one.

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