Arachnophobia is a 1990 American horror comedy film directed by Frank Marshall from a screenplay by Don Jakoby (Lifeforce, John Carpenter’s Vampires) and Wesley Strick (Cape Fear, Wolf). Steven Spielberg executive produced along with Marshall. It stars Jeff Daniels, John Goodman (Kong: Skull Island; 10 Cloverfield Lane), Julian Sands (Boxing Helena) and Harley Jane Kozak.
Marshall apparently intended the film to be like Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, stating, “People like to be scared but laughing, like a roller coaster. No-one wants to be terrified.” The film also has similarities with the 1977 film Kingdom of the Spiders.
The film made use of 374 Avondale spiders, from New Zealand, which were picked for their large size, unusually social lifestyle, and because they are essentially harmless to humans. They were guided around the set by the use of heat and cold, but the large “general” and “queen” were articulated models.
Shooting took place in Venezuela and California and the film was released in the United States on July 18, 1990. It was a commercial success, gaining $53.21 million at the box office and an additional $30,000,000 in video rentals. It received generally positive reviews from critics.
A group of scientists, led by entomologist Doctor James Atherton (Julian Sands), head to the Amazon with the hope of discovering new species of insects and arachnids. After descending into an enormous sinkhole, they approach a tree, and set up collectors on the ground. The team then blows smoke up into the canopy of the tree, and await the results. Slowly, creatures start falling from the sky, including a variety of bugs. One of which is a very aggressive new species of spider. The spider is captured and chloroformed for research; and is later revealed to be lacking sex organs, thus making it a drone, or soldier.
A nature photographer, Jerry Manley (Mark L. Taylor), who has been suffering a fever since traveling to the area, takes a rest under the tree where the spider was found, and a fertile male spider of the same species jumps into his backpack, later sneaking into his sleeping bag and biting him on the arm. Manley promptly has a massive tetanic seizure from the venom and dies. The remainder of the scientists take his body back to the United States, in a wooden box, blaming Manley’s death on the preexisting fever. Unbeknownst to anyone, the fertile male spider crawls into the box and is sealed in with the corpse…
“Most of Arachnophobia is playful rather than macabre, with Mr. Marshall content to let a lethal spider creep into someone’s popcorn bowl or football helmet and leave the rest to his audience’s imagination. This relatively light touch rescues the film from the realm of pure horror, and places it more centrally in the category of humorously scary films an audience loves to hate.” Janet Maslin, New York Times
“Marshall delivers on the advertiser’s ‘thrill-omedy’ promise, allowing his actors to do what they do best for the sake of laughs while focusing his efforts mostly on the suspense and ‘ick’ factors. He treats the basics with a touch of flair and makes good use of more evocative, gothic lighting as the climax approaches.” Gabriel Powers, DVD Active