If you’ve read this blog for any period of time you probably know that I’m a sucker for movies like the 1990 bug-fest, Arachnophobia. Creepy-crawlies? Yep, I’m there. And this one is a gem.
Is Arachnophobia a horror movie? Well, yeah. Is it a comedy? For sure. Back then the advertisers, being unsure how to sell it, called the film a “thrill-omedy.” That’s a cross-genre reference I’ve never heard.
EIGHT LEGS, TWO FANGS, AND AN ATTITUDE
Quick plot synopsis, with a spoiler alert firmly in place: an entomologist named Atherton leads an expedition to a South American jungle looking for new species of spiders. One such arachnid, a huge, fertile male, kills the group’s photographer, then stows away in the guy’s coffin when it is shipped back to his small hometown of Canaima, CA.
Enter young Dr. Ross Jennings (Jeff Daniels), who has just arrived in Canaima from the big city with his wife and two children. They’ve bought a big house, replete with a
barn and lots of land, and look forward to country life, with Ross inheriting the patients of ancient Doc Metcalf, who is retiring. But surprise, Metcalf decides to keep working, much to Ross’s dismay.
The coffin from South America winds up with the town’s mortician, who finds the body inside to be drained of all fluids. When the spider escapes (out the dog door), it is picked up by a crow, which drops it on Ross’s property after the spider bites it dead. It crawls into Ross’s barn and sets up a nest with a large female spider. Soon a new breed of deadly spiders spreads out around the countryside.
The desperate Ross, who has a deathly fear of spiders (arachnophobia), lands his first patient, an elderly woman named Margaret. She is convinced that Metcalf is senile and incompetent. Ross takes her off an unnecessary medication, and her health improves. Margaret throws a party for Ross and his family in the hope of drumming up some more business. The same night, Margaret is fatally bitten by one of killer spiders in her house. Metcalf blames Ross for taking her off the medication.
Ross’s only other patients are the town high school’s football players. When one of the boys is bitten and dies, the townsfolk begin calling Ross “Dr. Death.” But Ross suspects that the deaths were caused by spider bites, and with the help of the county coroner he confirms this. Still, old Metcalf remains dubious—until one of the little beasties kills him. Too late, dude.
If all of this up till now sounds kind of serious, be assured there are many humorous
scenes in the first half of the film. What nails it as a comedy is the appearance of the outrageous John Goodman as Terminator-like exterminator Delbert McClintock. He is determined to waste all bugs that crawl or fly. His scenes are more than worth the price of admission.
Entomologist Atherton is called in to help the town. He deduces that the killer spiders are offshoots of the breed he had discovered in South America, especially after he learns that his photographer’s body had been shipped back here. Before the mortician can be questioned he is bitten and killed, along with his wife, as they watch Wheel of Fortune.
The original spider, now called the “general,” has mated with one of its offspring, and a second nest has been established in Ross’s wine cellar, with the female guarding the pulsating egg sac. Atherton is killed in the barn by the general while searching for the first nest. Delbert shows up, bypassing the general while doing battle with numerous offspring. Many of the latter are now in Ross’s house, terrorizing his family. His wife and kids escape, but Ross falls through rotted floorboards into the wine cellar as some of the house collapses.
On his own now, the spider-challenged Ross must first do battle with the female, and then, of course, the general, before the egg sac hatches and sends hundreds of super-deadly spiders into the world. Yeah, of course he succeeds, but the way he does it is
way over the top and totally outrageous—and, of course, I loved it. Delbert breaks through and pulls Ross out of the debris. Goodbye Canaima—it’s back to San Francisco, earthquakes and all, for the relieved family.
Given that it’s been around for over two decades, you likely have seen Arachnophobia. But just in case you haven’t—or if you’ve not viewed it for a long time—check it out. You’ll get your share of thrills, chills, and laughs.