12 December 2011


Twelve Things about Arachnophobia

12. "Just what the world needs. More bugs." But does the Horror genre need "more bugs"? I'd say no--but that's because I'm not a huge fan of Creature Features. I like it when a threat has a human face. In my n=1 opinion, Man vs. Nature isn't half as scary as Man vs. Man or Man vs. Self--both of which, in Horror, are actually Man vs. Devil.

11. That's why I would have said, twenty minutes into this movie, that the real villain was the single-minded scientist whose research expedition enables the heretofore isolated arachnids to penetrate human civilisation. He's definitely the type trope who'd put his private aims over the welfare of others.

10. Honestly, though, the lone escapee spider has far more personality. It seems to know exactly what it's doing when it hitches a ride to the United States. Both Charles Darwin and H.G. Wells would be proud.

9. But this South American spider isn't the only character making a big move . . .

Jeff Daniels plays Dr. Ross Jennings, a general practitioner who has just moved his family from the big city to a small town. I personally think it was a wise decision--but they're the ones who have to live with it here, and everything about their new life starts to go wrong almost immediately.

What does this have to do with spider imagery?
Absolutely nothing! =P

8. I'm not crazy about the small town setting, either. It's just not enough of a "tangled web" to be a real foil to the spider infestation.

Nor does the rotten wood of the Jennings family's new home (which they at first attribute to termites) make much of a metaphor. There's no real significance to their house falling apart--not even as foreshadowing. (I dare spoil no more.) You all know how I feel about settings, and Arachnophobia just doesn't deliver.

Arachnophobia would have been more gripping with a big city setting. Think impersonal apartment buildings instead of cozy old houses. But then it would have been a completely different film. I wonder if the filmmakers found small towns to be more sinister than spiders!

7. On the other hand, I love all the scene stealing supporting characters, most of whom you'd never get outside of such a setting.

John Goodman is made of awesome.
He turns all his dialogue into gold.

My favourite part is when Delbert, the exterminator infestation manager, meets Dr. Atherton, the arachnologist, and says, with full confidence, "Always a pleasure to meet a colleague." ROFLMAO!

6. Given all the men of science in this story, I thought we would get more conflict out of the divide between the "pure" science of research and the "applied" sciences of medicine and extermination (Yes, we're all colleagues here--LOL!) . . . but we just get a (cliched) irony or two.

5. We also get some very confusing spider science. Not that I expect complete accuracy, but when I'm willing to suspend disbelief, I'd like to be met halfway, you know?

So I think it really trips the viewer up when Dr. Atherton examines one dead spider at the beginning, observing aloud that it has no sex organs, but then the living spider that makes its way to the US is immediately given a local spider to mate with. Only after the movie was over did I realise I was hung up on the wrong "lesson" . . . What I was supposed to come away with was the idea of the asexual spiders as drones or "soldiers," so that when someone finally mentions the existence of a "general," I'd get nicely chilled. Oh, okay.

But really, telling people what they were supposed to think
instead of actually getting them to think it
is just sloppy writing.

4. Nothing ages a movie like pop culture references, but I really liked the spiders interrupting Family Ties and crawling over Michael J. Fox's face.

On the other hand, who would have guessed back in 1990 that Wheel of Fortune would be so timeless? Over twenty years later, it could make another "cameo" and be the most classic thing in the film!

3. When I saw that Steven Spielberg helped produce this movie, I kept my eyes peeled for his fingerprints and ended up feeling exactly as I did when watching Poltergeist (See my Twelve Things!). Whether it's because director Frank Marshall had been producing for Spielberg for over a decade and unconsciously picked up his style or because Spielberg was guiding Marshall's "painting" hand the way he had guided Tobe Hooper's, I don't know. But does Spielberg have reach or what?

2. So does Arachnophobia pass as a modern morality play?

I'm afraid there is no Devil here, only spiders. And a man who must get over his fear of spiders. Yes, these spiders are real killers and so the danger isn't just in his own mind . . . but all the same, it's just in his own mind. His main opponent was himself and yet there wasn't actually anything wrong with him. Morality Play Fail.

1. Now for an Ethical Animals connection, just because I'd really like to start using badges again . . .

If only I could remember the name of the 80s cartoon in which a character wonders why some troublesome insects don't have more respect for human civilisation (which, after all, gave the world "roll on deodorant")--and another character points out that humans haven't exactly given insects credit for their own highly organised societies, either.

It is this little exchange I have in mind whenever it seems that people and insects (including their cousins the arachnids) are about to face off. I envision not an elemental return to nature, but a true clash of civilisations. If this is what you hope for as well, then Arachnophobia probably isn't the movie for you.

Image Sources: a) Arachnophobia poster, b) Arachnophobia screen cap


Paul Stilwell said...

Yes. There just was never much there in that movie, even when I first saw it in 90. Of course we all liked it still. The characters being paralyzed in front of the spiders and all didn't work very well. But I rememeber how the movie was billed as being this scary jump-out-of-your-seat thrill ride. LOL!

Enbrethiliel said...


It is likeable. And that's a good thing, because it's riding on little more than its native charm. =P

I had a lot invested in the Jennings' family's transition to small town living, but absolutely nothing invested in Dr. Jennings' ability to conquer his fear of spiders. So the ending kind of bummed me out. I wonder how many other viewers had similar sentiments.

Angie Tusa said...

I'm going to have to give this one a watch sometime. I am a fan of creature features.. from the real like in Deep Blue Sea and Jaws (apparently I have only seen shark films in this respect!) to the fantastical in Pitch Black and the Alien series. I have a fairly large real life fear of insects, so it'll be interesting to see if this movie effects me at all in that way. I'm kind of surprised I never saw it when it first came out, given how popular it was.

Lesa said...

Oh, I liked this back in 1990-- it was on tv awhile back and I watched most of the middle and still liked it. I wanted to see the end but we have bad spiders around and it was too creepy for my little boy.

That 'colleagues' line was funny! I love goofy characters like that.

Angie: I love Pitch Black! I've never heard anyone else ever mention it!

Enbrethiliel said...


Angie -- I like alien movies because they usually come with that "clash of civilisations" conflict that we don't usually (in my limited experience) get with Creature Features. If you like Pitch Black, I should check it out!

Also, I find that I like Killer Creatures more when they're in the water. Sharks, alligators/crocodiles, the Loch Ness monster, the Creature from the Black Lagoon . . . just not piranhas, for some reason! =P

Lesa -- And another recommendation for Pitch Black! It must really be good!

If you think the colleagues line is funny written here, then just imagine how hilarious it sounds coming from John Goodman himself. (Goodman provided so many LOL moments here!)

Poor Talon! =( We're not that scared of spiders over here, but a few months ago we had an incident very much like the cockroach short in Creepshow . . . And I don't even want to finish that story. LOL!

Bob Wallace said...

I saw this when it first came out and I thought it was hysterical. But then, I don't like spiders. Worse, there are tarantulas where I live.

The Mike said...

Man, I don't even remember this movie. I know I saw it way back, but it left NO impression. On ME...the most impressionable dude I know!

But hey, your comment "telling people what they were supposed to think instead of actually getting them to think it is just sloppy writing" reminds me of things I didn't like about Insidious. Hooray for cross-post comment webs!

(Also, my CAPTCHA is "later", which is probably bloggers way of telling me to go away.)

Enbrethiliel said...


Bob -- I take it that you mean hysterical in a bad way rather than a good way. ;-)

Mike -- No impression at all? Not even a bad one? That's definitely the kiss of death for any movie. Better to be remembered as a turkey than not to be remembered at all, you know?

And I wasn't crazy about Insidious, either. The first half was okay; the second was too much of a Poltergeist rip-off. I should probably do a "Twelve Things" post on it, but it's not that inspiring . . .

Don't listen to the captcha! Come baaaaaaaack!!! I'll review another Horror movie if you do!

Brandon said...

I think, in a way, that this was an almost-good movie that missed its calling. The movie just has so much fun with Delbert, and John Goodman plays him so well, and the theme music for Delbert is so perfect, that it really should have been a pseudo-horror comedy, with a few creepy scenes, Delbert and the Spider Invasion, but whenever it tried to be a real Creature Feature, it fell flat.

Bob Wallace said...

It was funny. "Pitch Black," however, is not.

Enbrethiliel said...


Brandon -- Welcome to Shredded Cheddar! Thanks for your comment. =)

I totally agree that Arachnophobia is really more of a Pseudo-Horror/Comedy!

Bob -- Do you also recommend Pitch Black?