Updated: Jul 19, 2021
The 274th review overall!
When my friends and I are waiting in line or on a road trip we often play a game. One person says the name of an actor or actress, the next person has to name a movie that person was in, then the next person has to pick an actor or actress from that movie and it goes on and on. One night we were playing the game in front of a fire and I’m pretty sure we were drinking. When Jeff Daniels came up, my brother called out “The Spider” as a joke. For the rest of the night people kept trying to work their way around back to that movie so they could call it that. Now I can’t see the title and not unconsciously call it by the wrong name. So for today I’m going with the wonderful...
Arachnophobia, or The Spider (1990). Netflix.
The movie opens with an expedition to Venezuela. A group of scientists and an American photographer are searching for new types of spiders and insects. In a bit of a weird scene, the scientists gasses the area killing a whole bunch of butterflies, spiders and anything else caught in the gas’ path. It’s just an odd way to start a search for new life by killing everything around you. Eventually they find a new spider that survives the gas, kills the American and hitches a ride in the man’s coffin to Small Town, America.
Jeff Daniels has moved from San Francisco to a small town to become the doctor. He had an agreement with the current physician that the older fellow would retire and then would give up all his clients. Problem is, old doctor had a change of heart and decided he’s not giving up his job leaving Daniels in a bad place. From there the old man becomes almost a cartoon character with his level of dickishness. He’s going out of his way to try and make Daniels look bad because the few people Daniels has managed to examine have dropped dead shortly after. Unbeknownst to them, that spider set up shop and has mated, so now his kiddos are wreaking havoc on the small town. The worst part, they’ve made their home in Daniels’ new home, not good when the character has a crippling case of arachnophobia.
That’s the story in a nutshell, it was originally a straight horror, but it was apparently terrible. Daniels had trashed the thing saying you could tell the lines were written by a computer. So he and the director started making changes and made it into a horror but with more comedy. I don’t know if these rewrites are what made John Goodman’s character so great, but in any case, they made the right move. This movie works so much better than a straight up horror would have.
For a lot of this movie, they’re using actual spiders. Including the huge one at the end, which was a living bird-eating tarantula. Since they were real spiders everyone was on a very strict no-kill order. At the end when Daniels is trapped throwing wine bottles at the creature, he’s intentionally missing by about three feet, which explains his terrible aim. But for certain shots where the things are killed, or where you have the flaming spider attack (yes, that happened) it was done by animatronics. I also pretty surprised to find out those were created by Jamie Hyneman of “Mythbusters” fame in one of his earliest movies.
I don’t mind spiders, much like squirrels and George Constanza, spiders and I have a deal. They leave me alone, I leave them alone. With that said there are moments in this movie that make your skin crawl. The first time someone gets bit is an incredibly effective scene. The man is laying there as the spider crawls under his blanket. He starts to feel something moving so he looks under and as soon as he eyes the giant spider is bites down. I KNEW exactly what was coming but I jumped anyways. People can say they’re not scared of spiders, but no one is going to like a giant spider crawling on them. Plus, there’s one scene where one of them crawls into a football player’s helmet, and while running a play, he just drops dead. I’m not kidding when I say that scene still sticks with me to this day. I watched it when I was much younger and after playing football for two years, in the back of my mind I was always worried about that. Plus, during the finale, it’s just wonderfully scary seeing spiders crawling out of literally everywhere in this house to get to the family. It’s very well done and gives me shivers thinking about it.
I mentioned him earlier, but Goodman is by far the best thing about this film. He plays the town’s exterminator and he’s fantastic. They have a goofy little song that plays whenever he shows up in a scene that is so tonally different than everything going on, you can’t help but laugh. Adding to the effect is the look of him, with his curly hair, beer gut and glasses everything about him is wonderful. Not only does he kill pests he also gives helpful advice like, “Tear out bad wood. Put in good wood.”
The movie is already pretty great, but it’s just so much better when he’s on screen. In one scene he keeps spraying a spider with insecticide, but it won’t die, so he finally gives up and just squishes the thing. It’s a throwaway scene made wonderful by him telling a barking dog, “That’s right. I’m bad.” Plus, when he gets his badass moment when walking into the infected barn it’s just perfect. Although he’s the standout character, his screen time is limited. Thinking about it more, I believe that was for the best. If you have too much of him you run the risk of lessening his impact. With the little you do get he manages to steal every scene he’s in.
Good story, creepy effects, extremely effective baddies and it’s a great time. Although if you suffer from the affliction, it may be difficult to watch, because Becca absolutely refuses to watch it.