Arachnophobia (1990)

What a delight this movie was. It has great characters, a strong story, and genuinely terrifying conclusion. This is a horror movie for people who don’t like horror movies. It is creepy and fun without being too intense. This one deserves to be checked out this Halloween.

The film opens with a team of researchers in the remotest parts of Venezuela. They encounter a new species of spider. They’re big, ill tempered, and smart. They are the top of the food chain and prime horror movie monster material. One of these spiders hitches a ride back home with one of the researchers to a small California town called Canaima. Also moving into Canaima is Dr. Ross Jennings, played by Jeff Daniels, and his wife and kids. They are getting out of the big city life and settling into a quiet life in the country. He is set to take over the patients for the retiring town doctor. Little does he know that the evil spider has set up shop in his barn.

The spiders multiply and spread throughout the town claiming victims of every person they encounter. It’s classic monster movie fair, but this movie improves upon the formula with a strong story and cast. The spiders become almost background to the story of the Jennings settling into their house with rotting wood. The retiring doctor reneges on his promise to Jennings and doesn’t retire leaving Jennings high and dry. And finally, the glorious John Goodman shows up at about the halfway point playing the most eccentric and hilarious exterminator in movies. He is absolutely wonderful. His name is Delbert and every line he has is hilarious. He is so much fun to watch.

This movie is a lot of fun, but it also made me jump out of my seat twice. The climactic scene takes place in the cellar. The big mama spider is coming after Jennings. This scene is so effective because we’ve spent so much time with Jennings that I really cared about him and his family. And because it’s so well executed that I couldn’t help but jump. Really great stuff.

The other thing that impressed me throughout the film is that they used real spiders throughout it. There was no cgi in 1990 (at least not of the caliber that could have convincingly rendered thousands of spiders.) There were puppets used only for a couple of more intense stunt work. For 90% of the movie we’re seeing real spiders running around threatening the actors. It adds a level of intensity knowing that these are real spiders actually on set with the characters. It’s great.

I first saw this movie probably 25 years ago. My family rented the VHS, and we all huddled around the TV one night. I remember loving it then. The spiders were creepy. Delbert was hilarious. The story was compelling even to a 6 year old. It was scary without being nightmare inducing. I vividly remember my dad’s stern warning never to turn a can of spray paint into a flame thrower like one character does in this movie. I asked if I could if there was an evil spider infestation. My dad said, “No, not even then.”

I say all of this to illustrate that the movie isn’t too scary or intense for younger viewers and families. If you don’t like horror this is going to be a perfect movie for you this Halloween. It has enough creep factor and enough scares to satisfy without pushing it too far. This is a fun Halloween movie. It’s currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

I loved it. It’s for sure my cup of tea and my favorite horror movie I’d watched so far this year. A+

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