Arachnophobia (1990) – A Review

Arachnophobia 1990 movie
Arachnophobia

The fear of spiders ranks as one of the most popular phobias out there. It seems it would be one of the most unavoidable fears people would have to deal with on a daily basis.

Let’s face it, if you had to you could avoid flying, you could refuse to go up into that tall building and you could always buy a bright night light for when it gets dark. Snakes can’t be that big of a problem in major metropolitan areas. You could relax a bit knowing they’d have a tough time getting up to your third floor apartment. Even if they did manage to slither across the highway they’d have to take the elevator. Hopefully they’re suffering from claustrophobia.

But spiders – how are you going to avoid them? They’re outside, they’re inside, they’re living up in the ceiling, they’re in the floors. Their webs can be strung in a trap-like fashion just waiting for you to inadvertently walk into them and have you looking like a goofball frantically flailing your arms around trying to get away before something on the end of that web makes its way up to you.

Arachnophobia exploits this fear of those creepy critters for all its worth in a fun little suspense/comedy.

An expedition into the deep Amazon by entomologist Dr. James Atherton (Julian Sands) leads to the discovery of a new species of spider. Unbeknownst to anyone a nature photographer is bitten by one, he immediately dies and his body is shipped back home to the U.S. with one of these deadly spiders hitching a ride with him in his coffin.

And that’s where the fun begins.

Look everyone – a killer spider!

Back in Canaima, California Dr. Ross Jennings (Jeff Daniels) is starting a new chapter in his life moving his family from the big city to the quiet country. He’s starting a new medical practice, bought a nice old house to fix up, is going to have his own wine cellar and happens to suffer from a case arachnophobia.

Pretty ironic since this deadly poisonous spider just landed in his backyard and spawns thousands of little eight-legged descendants that are about to wreck havoc on this small community.

Arachnophobia was marketed as “thrill-omedy”. It’s not a very catchy moniker. I don’t think any other film has tried billing itself as that. Probably because they know it sounded pretty clunky – although it is an apt description.

Jeff Daniels battling spiders

The movie is essentially a series of suspenseful scenarios of oblivious characters going about their lives while somewhere one of these deadly spiders is waiting to attack. Will they leap out and deliver a deadly bite? Will the person turn around and see it? We’re on the edge of our seats to see who will make it out of the scene alive?

Spielberg protege Frank Marshall delivers the goods and makes Arachnophobia an effective little…’thrill-omedy’. He milks the suspense as much as he can in every scene, exploiting all the little places one of these nasty spiders could be hiding and waiting.

I remember when I saw this when it first came out and the reaction from the audience was one of the loudest I’ve ever heard at the movies. People were screaming, jumping, howling, all the reactions the filmmakers must of been hoping to get.

Daniels has always been a likable actor and here he’s the everyman and doesn’t try to upstage the stars of the movie – the spiders. John Goodman gets one of his early showy supporting parts as exterminator Delbert McClintock and gets some laughs – he’s where the comedy of this ‘thrill-omedy’ comes in.

Overall it’s still a fun creepy flick with some pretty fun sequences in it. I still dig that shot of all the spiders coming out of the sink – that still looks cool as hell.

One thing I never understood was the film’s poster being changed. Originally on the poster a single spider was seen silhouetted against the moon. Somewhere along the lines when the film hit VHS and DVD that spider disappeared.

I’ve heard speculation ranging from the similarity to Charlotte’s Web and/or the Batman poster forcing the studio to remove that image. Both of those theories sound pretty ridiculous to me if either one is true. Neither of them seems to warrant the removal of that little spider. But I’m not sure what the actual reason was behind this redesign.

I’m actually surprised that there never was a sequel to Arachnophobia. It seems like an ideal movie for them to continue making lousy sequels for straight-to-video or cable. You just reuse the premise over and over again and have people get killed by little spiders.

It’s a timeless phobia that would be sure to creep out every subsequent generation of moviegoers. The real trick is to design the spider scares effectively as this first one did. So far no half-ass sequels are on the horizon. The 1990 original is still one of the best spider flicks out there.


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2 Responses

  1. John Jamele says:

    I'm always amazed when I read a positive review of this stinker, or hear someone say they loved it. I worked at a Video Rental Store in the early-90s and remember watching this several times and thinking "what on Earth would anyone see in this?" I thought it was badly acted, unfunny, unscary and just plain BORING. I sure as hell haven't had the slightest interest in seeing it at any time in the past 23 years.

  2. CKulik says:

    I've always hated the fact they removed the spider from the poster, too. This movie is great fun, and love John Goodman in it, and it is a bit odd it never got its own franchise. That being said, I still think the best movie with arachnids is 1977's KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS, where half of the budget went towards live tarantulas. William Shatner committed to one scene where over 40 tarantulas was put on his entire body, and the filmmakers had the balls to have an actress shoot a spider off her own hand. Spiders don't scare me in general; on the contrary, I have a great amount of respect for them.

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