In horror, there are many things to be afraid of. Serial killers of all shapes and sizes, demons, the undead... you name it, horror probably has it. Even snakes, sharks, birds and spiders. Yes, spiders. Arachnophobia, released in 1990, is a terrifying film about those lovely eight-legged creatures. And let me tell you this, if you’re afraid of spiders or even creeped out by them, then this movie will haunt you for days. If you’re not afraid of spiders, then it’s still a kickass movie.
Executive produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Frank Marshall, this film tells the tale of a rare South American spider that hops a ride in a coffin to California. Upon arrival, this blood-sucking spider finds an old barn to live in and hooks up with a normal house spider. The result is a whole lot of spider hybrids with the power to take down a human with their venom. Spiders - unlike Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees or aliens - are real. We see spiders everyday; we even allegedly swallow eight of them in our lifetime. This is a villain every person has encountered or knows of which makes this movie far more realistic than most. That’s the thing about horror films featuring animals/insects/whatever, they are inherently more realistic than any other horror plot and it’s left up to the film to maintain realistic integrity throughout. Sometimes this goes awry, often with shark films, and the creators opt out of realism and make their villain far less believable. Arachnophobia is not one of those films. Given that I’m not a spider expert, I have no clue if such a South American spider exists or if it could mate with a house spider and create deadly spawn. I don’t know if this is possible, but it seems possible. And because the film uses 99% real spiders for the shots it sure as hell feels possible. The viewer isn’t looking at some crazy CGI spider that looks nothing like any spider they’ve seen before. Instead, they’re looking at the real deal and the real deal is scary.
If you don’t think spiders are scary, fear not, because this movie is still nearly flawless. The acting, writing and plot development are all there and the characters are riveting to watch. You’ve got the city family moving to the small town, the small town asshole doctor, the sharp-shooting exterminator (played wonderfully by John Goodman) and a host of other small town treasures. Each character is exciting and furthers the plot in some way. As you know, I’m all about the death sequences. Many horror films fall flat with lame deaths. And some of you may think, how can a tiny spider create an epic death scene? Well, it can. Using spiders is a great way to prey on people’s worst nightmares about them, i.e. running into a spider in the shower or finding one in your shoe. This film uses these fears and creates many memorable death scenes. Not to mention, the anxiety and suspense in this movie is absurd. I am creeped out by spiders and when the film slid into the last twenty or so minutes, I was on the edge of my seat and I stayed there. You could find me closing one eye or shrieking. All of the hard work put into this film pays off in the end and gives the viewer a nice, big scare.
Great films that are also great horrors are few and far between, but Arachnophobia manages to achieve this. A terrifying film for those that fear spiders, it should also creep out those who don’t. At the very least, you’ll have a damn good time watching this film. I struggled to shower the next day, frantically searching for anything that didn’t belong. And two days later, when a spider crawled across my living room floor, I crushed it immediately and with a fervor one can only attribute to PTSD from this movie. Horror creatures beware, the master animal on land has arrived.
If you liked Arachnophobia, you might also like The Birds, Jaws or Night Wolf.