‘Giant spider strikes! Crawling terror 100 feet high!’
Tarantula is a 1955 American science-fiction horror film directed by Jack Arnold (The Incredible Shrinking Man; Creature from the Black Lagoon; It Came from Outer Space) from a screenplay written by Robert M. Fresco and Martin Berkeley; it was promoted as Tarantula! (with an exclamation mark) on publicity material.
On April 30, 2019, Tarantula will be released in the USA on Blu-ray by Scream Factory via a new 2K scan of the original film elements.
Audio commentary with film historians Tom Weaver, Doctor Robert J. Kiss, and David Schecter (new)
In the Arizona desert, a scientist is frantically trying to solve the world’s overpopulation by atomically adapting food that only animals can feed on. The results have the added side-effect of ballooning the creatures to unnaturally large sizes.
An ill-advised test on humans sends the victim loopy and results in several of the caged giant beasts being set free, including hairy spiders. It’s not long until the picked-clean carcasses of cattle found scattered in the desert are linked to an enormous tarantula…
Following hot on the heels of the giant ant movie, Them!, this is one of the first American films to use the breeding paranoia regarding the Cold War and atomic developments to scare audiences into surrendering their money. Tarantula also used another ingenious trick to pack out movie houses: everybody of sound mind hates or is terrified of big spiders.
Tarantula almost exclusively uses a real tarantula but miniature sets or matte composites, combining shots of actors with footage of the enlarged spider, thus delivering an increased dose of the heebie-jeebies. The spider wranglers used jets of air to direct the spider in the required directions. Models were used for close-up shots and though not utterly convincing, you’ve already got a bad case of the itches by this stage. However, the tarantula does have a rather eyebrow-raising tendency to ‘roar’.
The sign of a top-notch 50s/60s B-movie is an appearance by John Agar, and here he is in his element. Not content with dealing with 8-legged beasts with an admirably straight face, he went on to tackle Puppet People, Mole People, brains (from Arous), Zontar and towards the end of his career, no lesser personage than Amazing Mr. No Legs.
Also, appearing uncredited as a fighter pilot is Clint Eastwood, fresh from his very first film role in another monster classic, Revenge of the Creature (of Black Lagoon infamy). Mr. Eastwood’s future flirtations with the darker side of cinema include The Beguiled, Play Misty for Me, High Plains Drifter and The Dead Pool.
Tarantula is far better than it should be – the special effects really are a credit to the team behind them and the austere desert backdrop is suitably eerie and alien enough to make a giant tarantula a viable threat, though at an alleged 100 feet tall, according to the posters, you wonder how well hidden from view they could have been.
The soundtrack score, delivered by Herman Stein and Henry ‘Pink Panther’ Mancini, both of whom churned out endless themes for Universal sci-fi and horror films, remains largely uncredited. Portentous strings battle with booming brass blasts, alternating between quiet and loud to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. The writer of the story the film is based upon was also uncredited (!) – master of the sci-fi genre, Ray Bradbury.
Daz Lawrence, MOVIES and MANIA
Buy Tarantula on Universal Class Vault DVD from Amazon.com
“For a 1950s film, the special effects were excellent. Sure, there was 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.” Classic Horror
Buy Tarantula, The Mole People, The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Monolith Monsters, Monster on the Campus, Doctor Cyclops, Cult of the Cobra, The Land Unknown, The Deadly Mantis and The Leech Woman Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection from Amazon.com
“Despite certain elements that are quite good (the back story involving acromegaly is quite interesting), and the occasional very nice scene, I find the movie fairly dull on occasions. A lot of it has to do with the lack of interesting characters; the only two characters who capture my interest is Leo G. Carroll’s scientist and Hank Patterson’s comic-relief character role.” Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings
“As a monster movie of this era goes, Tarantula is reasonably good. The effects are decent and Jack Arnold directs with customary efficiency, although ultimately Tarantula is a film that lacks many of the more subtle, often poetic shadings and subtexts that Arnold’s other films had.” Moria
“Part of the reason the movie works so well is the use of real tarantulas, photographically enlarged […] this enhancement helped to put the movie in the top tier of Them! follow-ups. This is the Big Bug movie with the best Big Bug; outside of the Gill-Man, it’s Universal’s best ’50s monster. Certainly their biggest.” Tom Weaver, Universal Terrors 1951 – 1955
Universal Terrors 1951 – 1955 contains over fifty pages of in-depth background, day-by-day filming details and release analysis relating to Tarantula. Highly recommended!
Dr Matt Hastings (John Agar): “I dunno. Freaks of any kind give me the willies.”
On 24 April 2017, Tarantula was released in the UK as a Blu-ray + DVD combo by 101 Films.
Buy Blu-ray + DVD: Amazon.co.uk
Cast and characters:
- John Agar … Doctor Matt Hastings – Revenge of the Creature, The Mole People, Daughter of Doctor Jekyll; et al
- Mara Corday … Stephanie ‘Steve’ Clayton – The Giant Claw; The Black Scorpion
- Leo G. Carroll … Professor Gerald Deemer
- Nestor Paiva … Sheriff Jack Andrews – The Mole People; Creature from the Black Lagoon
- Ross Elliott … Joe Burch
- Edwin Rand … Lt. John Nolan
- Raymond Bailey … Townsend
- Hank Patterson … Josh
- Bert Holland … Barney Russell
- Steve Darrell … Andy Andersen
- Wag Blesing … Townsman (uncredited)
- Dee Carroll … Telephone Operator (uncredited)
- Edgar Dearing … Second Tramp (uncredited)
- George DeNormand … Arizona State Trooper (uncredited)
- Don Dillaway … Jim Bagny (uncredited)
- Clint Eastwood … Jet Squadron Leader (uncredited) – The Dead Pool; Revenge of the Creature
- Jack Hendricks … Ranch Hand (uncredited)
- Jane Howard … Jean – Professor Townsend’s Assistant (uncredited)
- James Hyland … Trooper Grayson (uncredited)
- Tom London … Jeb – First Tramp (uncredited)
- Robert Nelson … State Trooper (uncredited)
- Eddie Parker … Paul Lund / Eric Jacobs (uncredited)
- Ray Quinn … State Trooper (uncredited)
- Vernon Rich … Ridley (uncredited)
- Robert Robinson … Charlie – Castle Rock Townsman (uncredited)
- Bing Russell … Deputized Townsman (uncredited)
- Robert R. Stephenson … Warehouseman (uncredited)
- Jack Stoney … Pickup Passenger (uncredited)
- Sailor Vincent … Townsman (uncredited)
- Billy Wayne … Murphy (uncredited)
- Rusty Wescoatt … Pickup Driver (uncredited)
- Bud Wolfe … Bus Driver (uncredited)