Director: Jack Arnold
Writers: Robert M. Fresco and Martin Berkeley
Cast: John Agar, Mara Corday, Leo G. Carroll, Nestor Paiva, Ross Elliott, Edwin Rand, Raymond Bailey, Hank Patterson, Bert Holland, and Steve Darrell
Composer: Joseph Gershenson
Release Date: 12/14/1955
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
While experimenting on animals, Professor Gerald Deemer (Leo G. Carroll)—hoping to increase the world’s food supply—accidentally unleashes a giant tarantula on the town of Desert Rock, Arizona. Meanwhile, Dr. Matt Hastings (John Agar) and Stephanie “Steve” Clayton (Mara Corday) investigate the death of Professor Deemer’s partner, who, based on the available evidence, appears to have developed a sudden and inexplicable manifestation of acromegaly.
A Universal Monster film, Tarantula deserves praise for joining elements of the mad-scientist and giant-insect subgenres of science fiction. Also worth acknowledging is that a fighter pilot portrayed by Clint Eastwood—an unknown actor at the time—makes a heroic appearance in the climactic scene.
By employing a live tarantula as opposed to a moving prop spider, this production embodies an air of realism that one would hardly expect of a 1950s giant-insect movie—much in contrast to Them!, the dated creature effects of which fail to make credible the concept of enormous, irradiated ants rampaging through a New Mexico desert. Tarantula does, of course, feature several close-up shots of the eponymous arachnid, during which an elaborately constructed set of eyes and fangs are interspersed with footage of an actual spider—a blending of special effects that, though attempted by many classic monster movies, produces a remarkably smooth and frightening outcome in this particular case.
On more than one occasion, the giant tarantula growls at its prey while attacking—a laughable addition to an otherwise outstanding creature feature.
A mad scientist with a benevolent nature, Professor Deemer is revealed to experiment with dangerous or unpredictable forces for exclusively humanitarian reasons—a plot twist that, when accentuated by the deformities of Professor Deemer (eventually resembling a cross between the Incredible Melting Man and a person with severe acromegaly), compels the viewer to feel tremendous sympathy for his character.
Preying upon a primal fear shared by the vast majority of people, Tarantula is a suspenseful, well-made monster movie from Universal Pictures. Sci-fi/horror buffs young and old should therefore enjoy this film, which maintains a creepy, engaging atmosphere from start to finish.
Overall Quality: 9/10
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