A Web Would Indicate An Arachnoid Presence: Turning 25 today, A Look Back At Arachnophobia
Spiders have always been a fear of many people, and with that being said, making a film that would help to prey on those fears while drawing in a mainstream audience is a daunting task. In the summer of 1990, Executive Producer Steven Spielberg and Director Frank Marshall did just that with the first release from Hollywood Pictures (a Disney division for more adult themed films). While it was questioned as to whether or not to make the film a thriller or a comedy, it became known as a “thrill-omedy” that made people squirm not because of excessive gore, but due to anticipation of what was coming next and the brilliant mix of comedy.
Putting together a fantastic cast that included Jeff Daniels (Dr. Ross Jennings), Harley Jane KozakHarley (Molly Jennings), John Goodman (Delbert McClintock), Julian Sands (Doctor James Atherton), Stuart Pankin (Sheriff Lloyd Parsons), Brian McNamara (Chris Collins), Mark L. Taylor (Jerry Manley) and Henry Jones (Doctor Sam Metcalf), the movie tells the story of “A large spider from the jungles of South America is accidently transported in a crate with a dead body to America where it mates with a local spider. Soon after, the residents of a small California town disappear as the result of spider bites from the deadly spider offspring. It’s up to a couple of doctors with the help of an insect exterminator to annihilate these eight legged freaks before they take over the entire town”. The film certainly has the feeling of the old school sci-fi/horror films of the 50’s and 60’s where mankind is threatened by an invasive swarm of creatures (whether they be bugs, aliens or monsters) but the humor is what makes this film great.
In particular, the performance of John Goodman may be the best of his career. The character of Delbert McClintock is hysterical and really helps to carry the film to higher levels. Goodman plays him as a combination of a hick and a badass, even going as far to talk trash to the spiders before killing them. But before you make the mistake of thinking he is just a local rube, he shows another side of himself when he realizes that the standard method of removal is not going to work and he breaks out the baddest of bug killers. In addition, the character of Sheriff Lloyd Parsons is a great comedic foil as well. Stuart Pankin does a fantastic job in that role and he helps with the comedic breaks that the film needs to make the scares that much more fun. Julian Sands also is a welcome addition to the cast as the spider specialist, notwithstanding the fact that his fascination costs him his life.
The script and spiders were amazing to see in theaters. The story of how the spider came from a tropical climate to the U.S. may make some people roll their eyes, but little do they realize that is how many invasive species make their way here (minus the corpse, perhaps). The smaller spiders in the film were the Avondale spider (Delena Cancerides) from New Zealand, but the “king” spider was an animatronic built by Mythbusters', Jamie Hyneman. The spiders were harmless and controlled by heat and cold on set.
The film did amazing business ($53,000,000) at the box office (considering the fact that it came out just 5 days after Ghost arrived in theaters). Though the film was protested by people who love spiders, the film managed to capture the imagination and fears of a worldwide audience, including me. It is funny to look back and actually realize that this was the first film I ever took a girl on a date to see and I fail to believe that I am the only one who has that memory. In all, a highly effective film that leans a bit more towards comedy but has a foothold in horror genre and a film that manages to make you laugh and shiver at the same time…