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Title: Tarantula
Year Of Release: 1955
Running Time: 80 minutes
DVD Released By: Universal Home Video
Directed By: Jack Arnold
Writing Credits: Robert M. Fresco, Martin Berkeley (screenplay),
Jack Arnold, Robert M. Fresco (story)
Starring: John Agar, Mara Corday, Leo G. Carroll, Nestor Paiva, Ross Elliott
1. Bullets Can't Stop It! Dynamite Can't Kill It!
2. Giant spider strikes! Crawling terror 100 feet high!
3. Even Science was stunned!
Science-fiction's most terrifying thrill!
Alternate Titles:
The Giant Tarantula

Review Date: 7.20.10

Shadow's Title: "Big-Ass Spider: The Movie"

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The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection, Vols. 1 & 2

Doctor Matt Hastings - The local MD in the small Arizona town of Desert Rock. He has quite the area to cover and often reaches his outlaying patients by flying his own single engine plane out to their homes. He’s the one who realizes something funny is going on out in the desert.
Stephanie "Steve" Clayton - A biology student, working to get her Masters. She comes to Desert Rock to work and study under Gerald Deemer and Eric Jacobs. She hits it off with Matt soon after arriving in town and the two strike up a friendship that could easily lead to some boom-boom.
Professor Gerald Deemer - A leader in nutrient biology, he holes up in the desert with his friend and colleague Eric Jacobs, along with grad student Paul Lund. Concerned about overpopulation, they are trying to discover a way to feed Earth’s growing millions. No, they didn't invent cheap Ramen.
Sheriff Jack Andrews - The local law in Desert Rock. Definitely the type that is set in his ways, he is somewhat of a doubting Thomas. He chastises Matt several times for the doctor’s ideas. Eventually he does listen, especially when a giant spider comes stomping toward town.
Joe Burch - He runs the local newspaper in town and as such, is always on the lookout for a good story. When people turn up dead from acromegalia and others mysteriously turn into piles of bones, he is nearly beside himself with joy. Naturally, he doesn’t belief Matt’s idea of a giant spider.
Eric Jacobs - Working with Gerald Deemer in their desert lab, he has developed a synthetic nutrient that they hope will help feed people. He decides to test it on himself. The sad result is the rapid onset and advancement of acromegalia, which gives him his lumpy appearance.
Paul Lund - The grad student working with Gerald Deemer and Eric Jacobs. Like Jacobs, he tests their new synthetic nutrient on himself. Also like Jacobs, he develops a fatal case of acromegalia within days, culminating in his death, but not before he attacks Deemer and injects him with the nutrient.
Josh - He runs the front desk in the hotel lobby. As such, he performs many secretary-like duties for Matt, who maintains his office in the same building. A bit of busy body, he eavesdrops on phone conversations. Survives the film but eventually is done in by a giant spider in another film.
Andy Andersen - This poor SOB is a local rancher that discovers some of his livestock turned to nothing but bones. On advice from the sheriff, he rounds up his remaining animals in a corral and stands guard over night. Thus he is there to see the giant spider and then be eaten by it.
The Tarantula - When we first see it, it’s already the size of a large dog, thanks to Deemer's nutrient. Once it escapes the lab, it keeps getting bigger, until by the end of the film it's damn near the size of an office building. Has a tendency to roar and spy on people through open windows.


The Plot Hold your cursor over an image for a pop-up caption

AKA "Heart Failure: The Movie"The familiar Universal International logo graces our screen and the recycled music from earlier UI films blares out at us. It’s time to sit down, shut the hell up and watch the movie! We fade in on the desert: hot, barren and lonely…curiously, exactly how I like my women. The mournful cry of the wind is all we hear, reminding us that the place is a desolate wasteland. Unto this arid wilderness comes a lone figure, stumbling amongst the rocks and brush in his pajamas. Yes, you heard me, in his PJ’s! He’s either having one hell of a sleepwalking spell or he’s going an awful long way to get a glass of water.

So the Arthur Dent wannabe stumbles and falls. When he picks himself up, we see that his face is pretty ugly. I mean beyond fugly. This is not a natural fugly. This can only be the result of some sort of mutation. His body shows odd lumps and bulges under his clothes, more signs that the old boy has a serious glandular disorder. Either that or he’s retaining an awful lot of water. Anyway, he finally keels over one last time and dies. Cue the (recycled) music, titles and credits.

A single engine plane lands at a desert airstrip. Piloting the craft is Doctor Matt Hastings, who has just returned from a visit to one of his more distant patients, who has given birth to twins. Matt hops into his car and heads into the desert community of Desert Rock. By golly, if it doesn’t remind me of San Angelo in The Monolith Monsters.

Matt parks his car and like only people in the movies do regularly, he slides across the seat and exits the vehicle through the passenger side door. I’ve seen this behavior a lot in older films. Did people have some sort of aversion to getting out of the driver’s side? Where they afraid that a passing vehicle was going to nail them if they emerged from their car into the street? What was the deal?

Matt enters a hotel where it seems he maintains an office along with other businesses. A central desk in the lobby has an old guy named Josh who informs Matt that Sheriff Jack Andrews has been calling for him all day. Josh gets the Sheriff on the phone. He wants Matt to come over right away to look at something, saying it’s important. Matt is tired, but agrees, so he heads right back out again.

Once at the Sheriff’s office, Matt learns that Jack wants him to look at a body that was found near the highway. Jack thinks it may be a biologist named Eric Jacobs, but is not sure, explaining that the body is deformed somehow. The pair of them walk over to the undertaker’s place to view the body. Matt does not think the body could be that of Eric Jacobs, as the corpse shows all the signs of being afflicted with some disease for years. Jack saw Jacobs just a month prior and noted that the man looked perfectly normal.

About now, a Professor Gerald Deemer walks in, having been called earlier by Sheriff Andrews. He runs a lab of some sort out in the desert, Eric Jacobs being a biologist that works with him. He views the body and positively identifies it as Jacobs. Matt and the Sheriff grill Deemer, wanting to know how Jacobs could become so deformed so quickly. Deemer admits that what afflicted Jacobs was a disease known as Acromegalia, where the pituitary gland goes haywire and the body becomes deformed. Despite the disease taking years to manifest physical changes, Deemer says that it has only been four days since the late Jacobs complained of muscle aches. He offers no explanation for the rapid development, only saying that Jacobs had grown delirious and that was why he ran out into the desert wearing only his jammies.

Deemer now leaves. Matt doesn’t buy the acromegalia explanation at all. The Sheriff doesn’t seem to care.

We now see professor Deemer returning to his home out in the middle of the desert. A large place, he has his lab set up within. His lab has all the usual assortment of things for a scientist. There are lots of glass beakers and tubes and strange gizmos. The walls however, are all lined with cages filled with various animals. Without delay, Deemer dons an apron and carefully fills a syringe with some strange liquid contained in a secure box. He has to stick his hands in gloves attached to the side in order to accomplish this, and then put the syringe in a drawer through which he can extract it.

Somewhere in a secret desert facility, PETA scientists plot revenge against Richard Gere.Now he makes a circuit of the room, checking the clipboards hanging before each cage. These detail the type of animal, their age, the nutrient type he is administering to them and the day of their last injection. When we get a look at some of the various rodents – white rats and guinea pigs – we see that they are huge! Easily the size of a medium to large dog, it’s apparent that their unusual size is due to whatever it is he has been injecting them with.

He picks up a small cage with a normal sized tarantula in it, but behind him is a large glass cell with another. This one is about the size of a German Shepherd and no doubt will cause most people to die instantly from shock if ever found scurrying across the lawn. Even William Shatner would be forced to remove his hairpiece and throw it at this beastie if it ever came crawling into Campe Verde.

While Deemer continues to inject the lab animals, another person quietly enters the room. This guy is just as bloated and deformed as the late Eric Jacobs. Seriously, how many mutated lab assistants does this guy have around here? This new guy is Paul, at least that’s the name Deemer calls him when he is attacked by the newcomer. During their struggle, the glass to the big tarantula’s cell is broken, allowing it to escape. No one notices this as a fire has also started while the two men fight. The spider casually walks out the back door and into the desert.

Meanwhile, Deemer has been knocked unconscious by Paul, who takes the fallen syringe containing the growth nutrient and then injects Deemer with it. Paul then takes a few steps and drops dead. A few seconds later Deemer comes to and sees the lab ablaze. He quickly puts it out, but in the aftermath we see that the place is a wreck and numerous lab animals were lost. No doubt he believes the big tarantula was one of them. Fool. Not wanting to involve the authorities again, he buries Paul’s body out in the desert.

The next day we see Matt arriving at the Sheriff’s office again. Once again, he exits his car via the passenger side door. Whatever. He informs Jack that he went to Phoenix to visit a medical library and research Acromegalia. His findings show that it would be impossible for it to develop within four days like professor Deemer claims happened to Eric Jacobs. Matt is sure that Deemer is hiding something, especially since he was in such a hurry to bury Jacobs…and not just because this is the desert and corpses are gonna start to stink really fast. Additionally, Matt is sure that whatever it is the two men were working on, it has something to do with Jacob’s death.

Jack isn’t too sure about it all and thinks that Matt is just suffering from a bruised ego. They don’t have long to talk about it because Joe Burch comes stomping across the street and into the Sheriff’s office. He runs the local paper and is steaming mad that Jack didn’t tell him about the death of Eric Jacobs. The three talk briefly about acromegalia and Professor Deemer. Finally, Joe decides to visit Deemer and ask him some questions.

Later a bus rolls into town and a smokin’ hot brunette steps off when it stops momentarily. She heads into the building where Matt’s office is located. I suppose the bus terminal is located there as well. She asks old Josh about catching a bus out to the Deemer place, but he informs her that there won’t be any more today. The only taxi in town is also not an immediate option, as the owner/operator is on a long trip and won’t be back for two or more hours. All the smokin’ hot brunette can do is wait, so she sits down in one of the chairs scattered about the lobby area. Josh tries to press her for information, but she is rather aloof.

"Get her outta here! She ate the quiche for lunch and is smoke bombing the hell out of this place."Matt emerges from his office and tells Josh that he is expecting a call and to transfer it to the Deemer place when it comes through. Realizing where Matt is heading, Josh tells him to take the smokin’ hot brunette with him. She says that she does not wish to impose but Josh says that Matt would be glad to drive her. I’ll say! I can just imagine how he would like to drive her! Matt helps her with her luggage and before they can depart, Josh asks if they are going to introduce themselves. They look at each other, and then look at Josh and in unison answer, “No!” Then they walk out.

Halfway to the Deemer place Matt introduces himself. The smokin’ hot brunette introduces herself as Stephanie Clayton or “Steve” for short. I’ll admit, the nickname is kinda cute, but it’s not the name I wanna be shouting out in the throes of passion. It doesn’t matter if no one else can hear me. It just wouldn’t sound right to my ears.

Steve explains that she is a biology student doing graduate work and that Professor Jacobs offered her a position out at the Deemer place. She will stay there and be lab technician, student and cook. Matt informs her that Jacobs died the previous day from acromegalia, but that he is not sure it was the real cause of death.

The car continues through the desert and after they have passed one stretch of road, who should come sauntering along? That’s right! Professor’s Deemer’s escaped tarantula, only now the thing has gotten even larger. It’s easily the size of a large car of truck. That can of Black Flag ain’t do any good. Better call in a truckload of DDT.

Arriving at the Deemer place, Matt sees that Joe Burch’s car is parked outside. When no one answers the door, they go on inside where Deemer is showing Joe and a photographer the burned out lab and explaining how an electric panel shorted out and caused the fire. The newspaper men leave and Steve introduces herself to Deemer, explaining that Eric Jacobs had hired her. Deemer recalls being told about her arrival and offers her the opportunity to stay, despite the setback of the fire and Jacob’s death. Steve asks about a Paul Lund, who was supposedly assisting Deemer and Jacobs but the Professor says that Paul is no longer there. No shit! He’s buried out back in the desert!

Deemer gives Steve and Matt a quick tour of the lab (what’s left of it) and explains that his work is to increase the food supply in the world in order to meet the demand of an ever-increasing population. Funny enough, he goes on to explain how by 1975 there will 3 billion people on Earth and by 2000 that number will increase to 3.25 billion. Ha! I wonder what folks would have thought back then if they knew that by the year 2000, there would over 6 billion people? Anyway, Deemer shows them around some more and we learn that he has been using a radioactive isotope as a bonding agent for the synthetic nutrient he has developed. Great, here we go again with the radioactivity.

The phone rings about now and it turns out to be Josh looking for Matt. After taking the call he prepares to leave, having to make a house call on his way back to town. Before he goes he talks to Deemer again about the acromegalia that killed Jacobs and expresses his doubts. Deemer gives him permission to perform an autopsy so that he will know for certain that it was indeed acromegalia. Matt thanks him and heads out.

Later, Sheriff Andrews drops by the undertaker’s place, where Matt is performing the autopsy. Matt admits that Eric Jacob’s did indeed die from acromegalia. Jack is rather upset, feeling that Matt made a big stink over the issue for nothing. He storms out, but Matt is still puzzled by it all.

"Will burning down the lab affect my final grade?"Out at the Deemer place, we see the Professor instructing Steve on the safe handling of his radioactive nutrient. They inject a baby rat with the stuff and look over some other enlarged rodents. Deemer talks about how they need to defeat the instability in the nutrient before they can try it on humans. While blabbering on, we see Deemer rubbing his upper arm as if something is bothering him. Hmmm…might it have something to with that injection the late (and highly deformed) Paul Lund gave him? I’d say it’s already been tried on Humans and the fugly visages of Lund and Eric Jacob’s are the proof!

Sometime later, Steve heads out to catch the bus into town so she can get her hair done. Ha! She might be a scientist with brains, but the filmmakers are still going to make her all girly by having her insist on a regular hair styling. As he leaves, we see Deemer rubbing at his arm again.

In town Steve runs into Matt, who flirts shamelessly with her and convinces her to take a walk with him in the small park at the center of town. All towns in the 50’s seemed to have these locations. Hell, I half expect George McFly to come to running past, Biff hot on his ass. He quizzes her on life at the Deemer place and she expounds on the work being done there. When she becomes worried about missing her bus, he offers to drive her back home.

As they drive, they talk about the beauty of the desert and decide to stop near some large rocks. They walk around, admiring the scenery and stop for a smoke. As they sit, some large rocks come tumbling down behind them, one boulder even hitting the camera and shaking it. Matt and Steve jump out of the way and once the rockslide is over, look around to see what started it. Alas, nothing can be seen. They hop back in the car and continue on, but as they drive off, gigantic spider legs can be seen rising from behind the rocks. Holy crap! That thing is now the size of a small building!

Matt drops Steve off at the Deemer place and she invites him inside to see the rabbits. Professor Deemer sees them coming and quickly runs up the stairs and hides. They come into the lab and Steve is astounded at how much the animals have grown in size since she left earlier in the day. The phone rings, but it’s just Josh calling to tell Matt to make a stop on his way back to town. Matt leaves, but not after more flirting with Steve.

Once Matt is gone, Deemer appears and grills Steve on why she brought him into the lab. Deemer doesn’t seem thrilled about it, but the freaky part is his face. There’s something wrong about it. There’s no large mutation of any kind, it’s just…off. Steve heads upstairs and Deemer to the lab, where he looks in a mirror. He then regards an empty syringe and no doubt pieces the clues together and realizes that the late Paul Lund injected him with is own nutrient when he lost consciousness during the fire.

On his way back to town, Matt stops by the spot he and Steve sat and were nearly crushed by the rockslide. Looking around he is startled by Sheriff Jack Andrews, who saw Matt’s car while on his way out to the farm of Andy Andersen. It seems Andy claims something has been eating his cattle and has a stack of bones to show the Sheriff. Jack asks if Matt wants to come along and the two head out.

At Andy’s place they are shown the skeletal remains of several cows, the flesh stripped clean. Matt suggests mountain lions as the culprit but Andy knows it wasn’t anything like that. Nearby is a large puddle of some strange pasty liquid. Andy is less concerned with that than with the danger to his livestock. All Jack can do is advise him to round up his remaining animals and stand guard overnight. He and Matt then leave.

Night falls on the Andersen place. All his horses have been contained in one corral. The animals start to become skittish and we soon see why: cresting the top of a nearby hill is the tarantula and it is now gargantuan, easily the size of a ship…though maybe not quite as big as a battleship. The colossal arachnid just sits there, regarding the tiny horses below and then ever so slowly, begins to descend the slope. This sends the horses into a panic, the animals running in endless circles.

"Pardon me, but could you spare a meal as payment for some odd jobs done around the place?"GULP. "I'm gonna need a bigger can of Raid."The spider closes in and we even get a Spider-cam shot, showing us what the big beast sees out of one of it’s numerous eyes as it zeroes in on one particular horse. The spider also roars, something I never knew that spiders did. I was under the impression that mammoth spiders sounded like winded drunks, but maybe I was misinformed. Anyway, along about now Andy Andersen comes running outside with his rifle. The Spider-Cam fixates on him and he lets loose with a single shot at the big tarantula. Yes, you heard me, a single shot! He backs away from the advancing spider but bumps into a wall. Forgetting about his rifle or the stunningly original idea of turning and running like hell, he just stands there frozen in fright as the tarantula closes in to make a meal of him. He screams in horrifying fear and then things fade out.

Now we see an old pickup truck winding its way through the desert hills at night, following a narrow two-lane road. In the bed of the truck are a few sheep that can be heard bleating. In the cab are two guys, one who is driving and one who looks asleep. As the vehicle heads down the road, we see the giant tarantula coming over the hill ahead. The two guys in the cab see the spider and exhibit the slack-jawed, wide-eyed stare of disbelief that is common in the surfer community...and imbeciles. Next thing we know, the cab is twirling around in a circle and then we see the entire truck flying through the air to land in a broken heap. Seriously, it looks like the producers used a crane to lift a pickup truck really high and then let it drop. The tarantula advances toward the wreckage. We can assume that all the sheep and the two dorks, whether alive or dead, were soon gobbled up.

Day comes and we see Matt arriving at the scene of the truck crash. Already there are Sheriff Jack Andrews and his men along with newspaper man Joe Burch. Jack shows him the remains of the vehicles passengers: nothing but bones. Jack adds that there were no skid marks on the road and an inspection shows that the brakes still work. Nothing to indicate how the truck left the roadway and ended up several dozens yards off the road in a field.

Also nearby are more of those big puddles of white goop that were seen at Andy Anderson’s ranch. In fact, Jack informs Matt that Andy is dead, too. It seems his wife found him by the corral, stripped down to bones like the livestock, more big puddles of goop around his remains.

Joe is unsure what to make of everything, so Matt advises him to write this up as an accident until they can clear things up. Printing rumors and half-truths will only scare people. Borrowing a thermos from one of the deputies, Matt then collects a sample of the goopy white stuff.

Back at his lab, he examines the stuff, but can’t nail down what it is. All he knows is that it is related to insect venom. Joe and Jack are not buying it, but Matt is positive. He suggests to the other two doubting Thomases that they take the sample to professor Deemer and let him examine. Jack and Joe agree and head out while Matt calls Deemer.

At the Deemer place, Steve answers the phone and is relieved to find that it’s Matt on the other end. She’s trying to tell him that Deemer is sick and won’t see a doctor. Unbeknownst to her, Deemer is descending the stairs behind her. He approaches and pulls the phone from her grasp. She looks at him and screams. Of course, we can’t see what he looks like at this point and must rely on her terrified reaction to gauge his looks. Matt calls out to Steve, but the line goes dead. Without wasting a second, he rushes out the door.

Zoom! Just like that he’s in his car and careening through the desert, not seeing the giant tarantula as it walks around the hilltops in the distance. Arriving at the Deemer place he finds Steve outside waiting for him. She takes him inside where professor Deemer is having a hard time breathing. When we finally see his face, we find that it is now very distorted, as if one side of his face is sliding off his skull.

"He got his pain pills mixed up with his Cialis and has had to do a hand stand in order to pee for the last three days."At this point, Deemer is lucid enough to provide some plot exposition to Matt, Steve and the Audience. He relates how his partner Eric Jacobs and their assistant Paul Lund injected themselves with their experimental nutrient, only to develop acromegalia and die within four days. He explains how Paul attacked him and injected him with more of the nutrient while he was unconscious.

The professor then talks about all the giant sized specimens they had before the fire. A big rat, a guinea pig the size of a police dog and a big tarantula – all lost in the fire according to the professor. Now, this is why Deemer is an idiot. The fire at the beginning certainly did not burn very long. Definitely not long enough to reduce a cow-sized tarantula to nothing. Surely, there would have been some remains left behind. The lack of said remains should have clued him in to the fact that spider escaped, but he’s too much of a moron to figure that one out.

Deemer passes out about now, so the other two take him upstairs and put him to bed. Later, Matt leaves Steve with some pain pills for Deemer and them leaves, saying he wants to check something. See, he’s no dummy! He’s put two and two together, unlike most people in these old films that stumble around blind to the obvious. Giant pools of insect-like venom? People and animals stripped to their bones? A giant tarantula that supposedly died in a fire? Yup, he suspects what is going on, but has to confirm his theory.

Using his plane, he flies to the Arizona Agricultural Institute where he consults with specialists and has it confirmed: the strange white goopy crap is tarantula venom. The Institute Doctor says that it would take a hundred tarantulas to produce the amount of venom Matt brought with him. Matt says that he found pools of the stuff four and five feet across, two to three inches deep. The other doctor is not sure what to make of that, thinking that it is clearly impossible.

Now comes the staple of these old giant bug films from the 50’s. The Doctor rolls out and plays a short film on tarantulas, describing to Matt their habits, abilities and vulnerabilities. While he is addressing Matt, we all know it’s the audience in the theater this information is being presented to, just so the folks in the theater will know just how nasty, freaky and all around scary the tarantula is supposed to be (for purposes of this film of course). The part you need to remember is that a tarantula predigests its food. It injects its prey with a paralyzing venom and then floods the wound with a natural solvent so that the flesh can be slurped up like some sort of meaty milkshake.

Matt chats with the Doctor a few more minutes and realizes that if there is a giant tarantula on the loose out there somewhere, it would be the most deadly thing that has ever walked the Earth. Obviously the man has never encountered Louie Anderson at Sizzler on all-you-can-eat BBQ rib day.

There is a gigantic spider on the loose and right about now it’s strolling around the desert knocking over phone lines. This prevents Matt from calling back to Desert Rock from Phoenix. With no other choice, he decides to head back in his plane.

Night has fallen and after a shot of the spider walking through some power lines, we see a couple of old guys at a makeshift campfire somewhere in the hills. I don’t know if these two are vagrants passing through the area or are locals that decided to camp out for some reason. It really doesn’t matter. As they sit at their fire, the spider comes up over the hill behind them and begins descending the slope in their direction.

Both men hear something and turn to look at the approaching monstrosity. Like all folks in these films, they stare wide-eyed at it for a second or two out of sheer disbelief. Then abandoning their fire, as well as all pretense of rational thought, they turn and run like hell. They don’t get too far before one old dude takes a tumble and falls. His buddy runs on several feet before he realizes his pal has fallen. He runs back and helps him up. Then the pair run on again.

"I can has manburger?"Now, each of these old guys only has two feet. Plus, they are old. Their chances of outrunning a colossal tarantula are about as good as my chances of winning American Idol. In other words, no shot in hell. The pair run on, but again, the same guy falls to the ground. This is the point where if I was the first guy, I would just keep running. He already helped the other guy once. A second fall? That’s just nature thinning the heard. I’d take my chances and keep running. Alas, the first guy is nicer than me. Again, he turns back to help his friend, but this time it is too late. The spider is upon them. It roars and another Spider-Cam shot zooms in on the two men as they huddle together on the ground. GOBBLED!

Matt flies back in to Desert Rock and from the airport phones Sheriff Jack Andrews. He wants him to round up some men as well as the state police and meet him at the Deemer place. Jack is reluctant at first, but Matt insists and the Sheriff ultimately agrees.

Meanwhile, the tarantula is still stomping around, bumping up against power lines. This causes the lights to flicker at the Deemer place. Inside, Steve gets up from her desk and checks on the Professor, who is still sleeping. Steve returns to her desk and there is an eerie moment when the camera pans to show the large window nearby. Outside one can see the desert and in the distance, the giant spider, which is approaching the house.

The spider walks up to the house and in true peeping tom fashion, peeks through the window at Steve in her night robe. There is another freaky moment when we see the spider’s eyes and jaws through the window, the big arachnid now grown so large that it fills the window. And then we realize it still isn’t that near when it moves even closer to the house and appears even bigger! Arrrg, somebody call the exterminators, quick!

Finally, the spider roars and attacks the house. Steve sees it through the window and screams. She runs out into the hall. In his room, the shaking has awoken professor Deemer and we see that his acromegalia is much, much worse. Remember how he looked before…like half of his face was sliding of his skull? Well, now it’s worse. One half of his face is much lower than the other, his eyes no longer next to each other. Kind of like Shannon Doherty…only not quite as bad.

The house continues to collapse and Steve races into Deemer’s room just in time to see him pushed out the window by a colossal spider leg and right into the waiting jaws of the beast. She screams and runs out of the house.

Matt arrives about now in his car and sees the big spider atop the house, looking for all the world like it is trying to hump the collapsing structure. Quickly he gets Steve into the car and they race away, the spider following them after stomping the house another time or two for good measure.

Matt and Steve race through the desert, the spider in the distance behind them. They run into Jack, who has brought along a convoy of deputies and State Police officers. Everyone stops and jumps out of their car, but before the Sheriff can ask Matt what in the hell is going on, someone spots the tarantula rising over a distant hill. It sits there a moment and watches them, giving everyone a few seconds to stare incredulously at it. Then it begins following the road in their direction. Steve points out that it will most likely follow the road right into Desert Rock.

Two State Police officers stay behind with Matt’s car, armed with machine guns. Everyone else hops in a county vehicle and roars away, back toward town. The officers that stayed behind begin unloading their machine guns into the spider, which doesn't slow it down in the slightest. Abandoning any pretense at heroism, they hop in Matt’s car to make their getaway. Alas, the car won’t start! One guy keeps trying the ignition, but the other warns him that he’ll flood the engine. Finally they decide to run, but of course it’s far too late. The tarantula roars, Spider-Cam closes in on them and they let loose their final terrified screams before being gobbled.

"So, dude...what's the Police Code for "rendezvous in five at Dunkin' Donuts?'"In the Sheriff’s car, while Jack drives, a State police officer is relaying instructions to evacuate the town of Desert Rock within thirty minutes. Jack suggests dynamite as a way to combat the beast, so plans are made to collect some and meet up at some point outside of town known as Devil’s Rock. In the back seat, Matt thinks that dynamite might do the trick, but suggests calling in the Air Force. Quickly, the officer relays instructions for someone to contact the commander at the nearby airbase. Everything needs to happen fast, as it will be light soon.


Note - It is at this point that the movie enters its final segment, so if any of you really feel the need to watch this film and not know the ending ahead of time, skip the rest of this section.


In Desert Rock, morning has dawned and we see that the dynamite has been collected and loaded onto a truck. It heads out with newspaper man Joe Burch following. Meanwhile, people are fleeing town in such numbers and with such haste that you’d think Andy Dick was performing live in the town center. A brief cutaway shot shows jets lifting off from the airbase.

The truck with the dynamite meets up with the others out in the desert and everyone quickly starts placing the crates in the middle of the road. Meanwhile Joe Burch is expressing his doubts about the reality of a giant tarantula…that is, until the beast comes sauntering over the distant hills. Then he gets this look on his face like he just soiled himself. The explosives are finished being put in place and then everyone jumps back in a vehicle. They race down the road a ways, unspooling wire from the back of the truck. Then they stop and rig up the detonator. Watching carefully, they time their detonation so that the dynamite explodes just as the spider passes over it.

KABOOM! There is a huge explosion. Dirt and dust fill the sky, obscuring everyone’s view. And then…the tarantula keeps on coming, walking through the haze like nothing had happened. With no other option, it’s time to hop back in their vehicles and race back to town.

Desert Rock is…well…deserted when they arrive. Everyone wonders what they are going to do, but they don’t have much time to yak about it as the spider can be seen crossing the desert and coming in their direction. Everyone makes a mad dash for a vehicle, but before they can race off again, Matt spots four jets overhead. Everyone stops and watches as the stock footage of jets engages the tarantula, first by shooting rockets at it and then by dumping napalm on it.

Strange coincidence: soon after the tarantula's fiery death, the town of Desert Rock became known as the BBQ capital of Arizona.And yes, Clint Eastwood is the squadron leader.

The USAF is quite obviously not to be fucked with, cuz one moment the spider is waltzing through the desert, shrugging off the missile attack and a few seconds later it’s nothing more than a colossal pile of burning limbs amidst a furious blaze not seen outside of Satan’s domain.

The giant tarantula is dead. Matt, Steve, Jack, Joe and the others stand in the middle of the street and watch as its mammoth corpse burns in the distance. Pew! Imagine the smell!

The End.


Often, when people think of science fiction films from the 1950’s, the first thing to pop into their heads aside from black and white photography, is the preponderance of giant monsters, many of which were bugs of some kind. The decade was literally infested with movies about enlarged pests roaming the countryside, gobbling up folks and generally being a nuisance. The cause for such enormous creatures? In most cases it was man’s failure to contain the dangerous influences of radiation, the new buzzword on the lips of the nation since the end of the Second World War.

Tarantula is the quintessential giant bug film from the 1950’s. Aside from the super-sized critter to menace folks, we have other stereotypical ingredients: radioactivity to jump start the enlarging process, good intentioned science gone haywire and regular, everyday folks caught up in the unusual events. Everything unfolds naturally, as one would expect it to, though for some impatient folks, the eventual rampage by the tarantula itself doesn’t really begin until nearly fifty minutes into the film’s eighty minute running time. That’s not to say the build up is dull and boring, but monster lovers may not get as much monster action as they’d prefer.

The characters are both typical and atypical for the era. In the lead we have the kick-ass John Agar as Doctor Matt Hastings. As the competent, outgoing physician in the small desert community of Desert Rock, Matt makes for a very sympathetic character. His easygoing manner makes him the type that others would quickly take a liking to. While Matt is not as overt in his actions as other roles played by Agar, the character still has a quiet strength and a way of making things happen. He’s the one who pieces together the clues and realizes what is happening and it’s through his insistence that action is taken to counteract the threat.

For the female led we have the gorgeous Mara Corday as Stephanie “Steve” Clayton, a scientist and biologist who is studying and working under Professor Deemer in order to earn her Masters. While female scientists were not unknown in 50’s cinema, they were often rare and still often clung to the roles demanded of them by society. Thus, Steve here, while being of superior intellect, still succumbs to knee jerk emotions and screams and panics in a bad situation. And this is after she purposely takes time away from her studies in order to get her hair done! It’s almost as if the film (and others of the time) was saying that despite her academic accomplishments, she would never truly be useful in an emergency situation. I find that to be rather distasteful, but that’s how things were then.

The supporting cast lends considerable credibility to the narrative, with Universal regulars Nestor Paiva and Ross Elliot as Sheriff Jack Andrews and Newspaper man Joe Burch, respectively. Each does their part to play doubting Thomas throughout the film, but it’s the banter between Jack and Matt that really helps liven things up. In these exchanges we can see the repartee between two public figures in town that have known each other for years and have developed a friendly, if often mildly adversarial, relationship. This goes a long way in helping convince the audience that this town and these people are real. Leo G. Carroll adds a brief sad note with his role as Professor Deemer, whose devotion to science can only be viewed as tragic, in view of its results.

One of the standouts in the film are the special FX. Most films of the decade sported extremely crude methods for bringing to life their monsters. Though substandard in modern terms, the FX in Tarantula were pretty top notch. Sure, in a few scenes you can see where the matte isn’t cut properly, but the filmmakers did an excellent job of making a normal sized tarantula appear to be gargantuan and smoothly integrated it into shots of real outdoor locations, often with live actors in the same shot. Overall, one of the best FX jobs of the decade, IMO.

Ultimately, while not quite attaining the classic status that other 50’s films have earned, Tarantula is definitely one of the better efforts of the decade. While the story unfolds in a very predictable manner, there is still quite a bit of enjoyment to be had, especially for fans of such films. A must see for devotees of the decade.

See more posters HERE, HERE and HERE.


Expect To See:
Desert Hijinks - Lots and lost of running around the desert here. Hell, the movie is set in Arizona, so it's impossible to avoid. I never did see anyone sweating like a pig, though.
Giant Bugs - One ginormous tarantula that starts off the movie the size of a St. Bernard and grows until it has reached Godzilla-sized proportions.
Giant Monsters - Aside from the gargantuan spider, which is the main reason for this icon, there are also super large rats and guinea pigs, though not as big as old eight-legs.
Science - The never ending goal of science to make life better for everyone by creating artifical nutrients to feed the world, results in a giant spider that nearly eats the world.
Stock Footage - Not a whole lot. Basically just a few brief shots of jets taking off, flying and launching missiles. Look close and note that the jets aren't always the same type.
Violence - People and livestock are eaten by a giant spider, which involves having your flesh dissolved and then sucked off your bones. Thankfully this all happens off screen.


Movie Stats:
Shadow's Commentary:

Deaths: 9
Alcoholic drinks consumed: 0
Smokes: 5
Skeletons stripped of flesh: 7
Spider-Cam shots: 4
Total gunshots fired: 27
People running through desert in their sleepwear: 2
Percentage of film comprised of stock footage: .58%
Guys seen wearing cowboy hats: Stopped counting at 40

15 Mins - A monkey? Going by that shadow, I thought it was Bigfoot!
23 Mins – They just passed that same road 30 seconds ago.
38 Mins – Crewmember’s shadow briefly spotted throwing a rock.
49 Mins – Ever thought of running, you moron?
50 Mins - Looks like someone had one hell of a BBQ.

60 Mins – Begin requisite nature film on tarantulas.
67 Mins – Peek-a-boo!
76 Mins - KABOOM.
77 Mins – Go ahead. Make my day.

Shadow's Drinking Game: Every time the word Acromegalia is heard, take a drink.


Images Click for larger image

Another lengthy sleepwalking spell
led to Eric becoming lost in the desert.

"Sheriff, I know jay walking is a
crime, but did you have to shoot
the kid five times?"

Time to spank the monkey.

"Sheriff, if you keep drinking your
coffee mixed with paint thinner,
more than your hair is going to
fall off."

"Ha! He's been drinking the paint
thinner again, hasn't he?!"

"I'll give him five more seconds to
realize that that is my thigh
and not the gear selector."

The economy got so bad, Matt was
forced to take up selling Avon in
order to make ends meet.

"Professor, explain to me again
why the world needs radioactive
erectile dysfunction pills?"

"No, thanks.
I only smoke after sex."

Early prototypes for the flying
car met with limited success.

The first lessoned learned from
the flying car: Drinking and
flying don't mix.

"Pray that this is venom from a giant
spider, boys. Otherwise the Amazing
Colossal Man is on the loose and
jerking off everywhere he goes."

"Uh...Mr. Hastings, when I asked you
to bring me a sample of the white
milky fluid, I meant the insect venom."

"And here are the pics of the
wife and kids when we went
to Niagra falls..."

"If we'd listened to those rednecks
in town and their giant spider stories,
we'd have missed out on this prime
camping location. What a
bunch of morons!"

"I have a splitting headache!"

"He's as big as a battleship...
or at the very least, a
large ferry."

The only thing worse than a giant
tarantula, are giant tarantula farts.

"Hey, this is Arizona! Quick,
somebody call immigration!"

"I know what you're thinking. "Did
he fire six missiles or only five? Well,
to tell you the truth, in all this
excitement I kind of lost track myself.
You've got to ask yourself one
question: Do I feel lucky?
Well, do ya, spider?"


Immortal Dialog

Matt drops off Steve at the Deemer place.

Matt: “Give my best to the rabbits.”
Steve: “Would you like to see them?”
Matt: “Now you’re talking.”

Shadow’s Comment: I’ve never heard them called rabbits before.

Matt researches tarantulas.

Matt: “But what if circumstances magnified one of them in size and strength, took it out of its primitive world and turned it loose in ours?”
Specialist: “Then expect something that’s fiercer, more cruel and deadly than anything that ever walked the earth.”

Shadow’s Comment: Aside from a female at a shoe sale, of course.


Keep In Mind
  • Scientists are experts at burying bodies in the desert.
  • The first step in analyzing any strange substance is to taste it.
  • Radioactive isotopes are easily obtained for personal, home use.
  • Giant Spiders naturally sound like a chorus of a million crickets.
  • Creatures the size of office buildings can easily go unseen in the open desert.
  • Giant spiders are natural voyeurs.
  • Cars have trouble starting at the absolute worst times.
  • When pests are concerned, the USAF should be your second choice right after Terminix.

This Film & Me

This was another one of those films that I knew about as a kid before seeing it, hearing stories about it from my dad and other relatives. I finally caught the film on TV in the early 80’s, but really don’t recall much from that initial viewing. It was either the second or third viewing that really sticks in my mind. The film was played on a Saturday, on one of those monster matinee shows that vanished years and years ago. This particular one began about ten or eleven AM, so the movie (pushed into a two hour time slot) lasted until either noon or one PM. A friend had spent the night and before heading out for the day to do something, we watched the movie, playfully hiding under the blankets when the monster spider appeared. I have no idea why we did that, as we were pretty much past the age of such theatrics. I suppose we were bored. I do recall that I wanted to stay and watch the rest of the movie, but my friend Eddie was eager to get outside and go do something. After all the years since then, Tarantula has been become one of my favorites from the 50’s. It’s the type of film I put on to relax or when I’m ill. Comfort food for the monster lover’s soul.

Shadow's rating: Eight Tombstones

The Good

  • Excellent visual FX for the day
  • John Agar was The Man
  • Smokin' hot Mara Corday
  • Good make-up FX

The Bad

  • Not enough Mara Corday
  • The "cricket sounds" from the tarantula
  • Spider rampage starts kinda late
  • Stock footage planes do not match

The Ugly

  • Goofy roaring sound from tarantula
  • Plane tires DO NOT squeal when touching down on a dirt runway
  • Some FX shots show spider's legs vanishing in midair



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