Our editor-in-chief Nate Yapp is proud to have contributed to the new book Hidden Horror: A Celebration of 101 Underrated and Overlooked Fright Flicks, edited by Aaron Christensen. Another contributors include Anthony Timpone, B.J. Colangelo, Dave Alexander, Classic-Horror.com's own Robert C. Ring and John W. Bowen. Pick up a copy today from Amazon.com!
Tarantula was one of Universal’s first "giant-animal-type-monster wreaks havock on helpless civilians" movie. The times of the more humanistic monsters, like Frankenstein and Dracula, have passed and now bigger = better. As far as mutant monsters go, Tarantula is one of the most solid films ever created.
Professor Gerald Deemer (played by the brilliant Leo G. Carroll. *bursts into song* Leo G Carroll was over a barrel, when Tarantula took to the hill... er... sorry) is a typical mad scientist who is working on a formula to end world hunger. Mainly, he is injecting animals with this serum that make them larger. For some reason, his lab is full of animals most humans would not eat despite famishment, such as rats and oh, say, giant tarantulas. But whatever. The tarantula escapes and gets exponentially larger. This is complicated by the fact that Professor Deemer has injected himself with the serum (the first Viagra, apparently) and only has several days to live. So, like all monster movies, it is up to some hot guy and some beautiful chick to save the day.
Atomic creatures were all the rage in this period because science was just understanding the capability of the atom (atomic bombs, etc.). Today, most of these monster movies seem dated, but Tarantula still seems to hold up. This is probably due to the fact that we are still battling many of these issues today (i.e. world hunger, and when I leave my aquarium cage unlocked - giant tarantulas on the loose). Not to mention, everything came to a frightful conclusion that involved nukes which is surely a modern day issue. And here’s a little trivia point for the rest of you. Look very closely at the pilot of the plane in the climax. It’s none other, than a very young Clint Eastwood.
I can see how this movie was considered absolutely terrifying in its time. For a 1950s film, the special effects were excellent. Sure, there were some blatant use of movie screens, but some shots -- especially when the giant spider is off in the distance -- are absolutely chilling. Even for me, a person who has tarantulas as pets, the film was downright eerie. I can’t imagine what it would be like for someone who is terrified or even apprehensive of all things arachnid. I’m pretty sure some of my friends would slip into terror-induced comas.
Special effects alone do not make terror; there are many lesser giant spider films. The plot of Tarantula is what sold me. I always gives a thumbs up for creativity, and inflating animals in an attempt to stop world hunger is something I couldn’t think of. And I have all sorts of strange things going on in my head (shut up, Nate). Sure the tarantulas were a bit of a stretch, but tarantulas are a delicacy in some countries (pauses for readers to cringe. Better? Proceeding…). Tarantula has a trio of storylines that dovetail nicely into each other. The giant tarantula on the loose was the primary story, but Prof Gerald Deemer’s struggle with his science, and the two main heroes’ struggle with their love for each other braided together into a film that was “more than your typical monster movie.“ This film had heart and soul as well as scares which is what made it a step above the rest.
Tarantula is a staple in the classic horror community and a movie you absolutely should have seen by now. It is monster movie cinema at its absolute finest. It has its share of comic relief (keep an evil eye out for the tarantula training video in the middle of the movie -a personal favorite arbitrary piece of celluloid). It’s especially fun to watch with someone is an arachnaphobe. Especially if they do not know that you have no qualms about holding your pet tarantula at all.