Welcome to Canaima, California. A small Rockwellian town where a new doctor and his family have just settled down. But another neighbor is moving in and this one isn’t as charming.
Arachnophobia was filmed in 1990 and directed by Frank Marshall and stars Jeff Daniels, Julan Sands and John Goodman. It’s a more modern take on the classic B creature features that were vastly popular during the 60’s. Arachnophobia is pretty much Alfred Hitchocks The Birds, but with a comical touch.
I always found this movie to be very appealing. It came out in 1990 the same year Misery and Tremors came out, which are two awesome films. Arachnophobia deserves some recognition though. It’s not the scariest of films, it’s actually rated PG but that doesn’t make it bad horror. It’s a good entry-level horror film and one I would say is ok for younger viewers. But seriously
In the film Dr. Jennings (Jeff Daniels) and his family have just moved to the town. Jennings is in want to leave the city and live a more rural life. But the older doctor he’s replacing is a stubborn jackass and chooses not to retire. He doesn’t trust Jennings and this disapproval is the overall arch to the story. It creates the problematic theme found in good horror.
Jennings is the only one that is on to the spider invasion but know one trusts or believes him. People die from spider bites and Jennings is the only voice of reality. That’s a great Body Snatchers tactic that makes the movie work. You’re automatically connected to Jennings and feel for his plight. He’s our hero. Our Luke Skywalker, our Indiana Jones, our Ash Williams! The people around them don’t see him as the hero but we do. He goes on a great heroes journey. Forging on in the face of rejection, mockery and distrust. Conquering his fears since childhood and fighting a terrible evil bent on death! Seriously, this is story making 101 right here.
Arachnophobia may be PG but it does deliver on the horror factor. What I love is how there is a nail biting build for each death scene. You know it’s coming. Someone is about to get bit. But it takes a while and we’re shown this slow and tense moment before the actual bite. The spiders aren’t really fast and they’re small. They don’t pick their victims off quickly. They have to travel a long ways to get there and Frank Marshall uses this to build up the terror. These moments work extremely well even in fake outs. Certain scenes like the slumber party or the shower scene bring on this sense of slow building terror.
“Oh man, someones about to get bit while singing Itsy Bitsy Spider! HERE IT COMES!! NOOOO, the spider gets squashed. Oh man, what a relief. That was close. BUT OH NO THAT GUY IS ABOUT TO GET BIT!! AHHH HE GOT BIT!!!” – me as a kid
Like I said, the movie has a touch of humor. I think it kind of pokes fun at small town living a little. The people (as nice and family-centered as they are) are kind of clueless to the realities around them. The chief of police is a fat moron that only dreams of drawing his gun but never will. The senior doctor thinks he knows everything when in fact he’s actually wrong about everything. Everyone in the town is just ignorant but in an innocent kind of manner. But in the end it has Dr. Jennings back in the city and being relieved to be away from the rural life. He’s feeling kind of “high and mighty” while drinking wine and listening to music. But then an earthquake happens and he’s back to being scared again. The jokes on him! I loved that from the film.
John Goodman is a great presence in terms of comedy. He plays this bug exterminator that takes his job way too seriously. I don’t think he’s necessarily the best at his job, just the only one in town that does it. But Goodman is funny by nature, his mannerisms bring the movie to a more uplifting level.
In the end, Arachnophobia is a great film that should be given a tad bit more recognition. The movie was in the age before CG so they used real spiders in most of the shots and even the ones that were fake were animated by use of magnets. I can remember this film sparking a higher fear in spiders and rightly so. They’re terrifying with their eight furry legs, crazy black eyes and fangs. It’s a thing of nightmares.
Spiders are an image used in our fables/stories over and over again. From Shelob in The Two Towers, to 1958’s The Spider, to Stephen Kings IT. We’ve all heard the lie that you swallow six or more spiders while sleeping throughout your life. We go on Google and type in “World’s Deadliest Spiders.” Why does that scare us? Knowing these eight legged creatures are crawling on us, possibly drinking our blood at night, coming after us to hatch their babies in our hair. Halloween decorations always have spiders. It’s gut wrenching! All that may not be true but spiders are still a dominating symbol for fear and dread. Outside my house right now is a giant spider web with big spiders all over the place! There’s a human skeleton caught in the webbing! Even though in reality they are timid non-threatening creatures we’re still freaked out by them. It’s why Arachnophobia is such a good film. We accept our fear of them and watch a movie that plays on it. It may be stupid but I think the movie knows this and just keeps us on this wild ride. That’s why Arachnophobia is a good horror film!