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  Arachnophobia You're More Scared Of Them Than They Are Of You
Year: 1990
Director: Frank Marshall
Stars: Jeff Daniels, Harley Jane Kozak, John Goodman, Julian Sands, Stuart Pankin, Brian McNamara, Mark L. Taylor, Henry Jones, Peter Jason, James Handy, Roy Brocksmith, Kathy Kinney, Mary Carver, Garette Ratliff Henson, Marlene Katz, Frances Bay
Genre: Horror, ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: Out in the jungles of Venezuela, photographer Jerry Manley (Mark L. Taylor) is on an expedition where he has been hired to capture images of the insect population of an uncharted area, near one of the tall waterfalls there. He meets the scientist who has recruited him, Dr Atherton (Julian Sands), who is more enthusiastic about the wildlife than he is, and they hop aboard their helicopter to reach the location of their investigation. After negotiating the cliff, which their native guide refuses to go too far down, they arrive and Atherton utilises a device to make the creatures fall from a large tree - but one of them is bigger than the others...

And that would be the spider which heralds the film which those afraid of such creepy-crawlies decided to avoid, in the main, back in 1990. Despite Steven Spielberg as producer and a Jaws with arachnids plot, this did not do as well as expected, perhaps because there were simply too many people put off by the thought of sitting through a movie that exploited a fear so common that only the hardy few were prepared to face. It was not a disaster by any means, but by this team's standards it was a disappointment - director Frank Marshall was a frequent producer of Spielberg's efforts, so you might have expected him to replicate that style and success.

Yet while the success might not have been there, the style was there in spades, with the smalltown milieu and light comedy that made this more Gremlins than Jaws. Apparently judging the eight-legged monsters the best special effect they had, there was very little gore and splatter, rendering this a family-friendly horror movie which some took against, but not all shockers had to be full on blood and guts, and on its own terms Arachnophobia operated on a very gratifying level. We may start in the Venezuelan jungle, but we don't stay there long as soon a great big spider had crawled into Manley's luggage and is carried back to camp with him, whereupon it promptly sinks its fangs into the hapless photographer.

Manley doesn't last after that, and his body is shipped home to a small town called Canaima in the United States, where it just so happens that the monster spider has secreted itself inside the coffin. Cue the menace escaping and mating with a house spider there, where it spawns a host of small but deadly animals - never mind that this doesn't sound very scientific, it's a horror movie. The barn where the big daddy spider has made its home belongs to a new arrival in town, a typical Spielberg everyman hero in Dr Ross Jennings (Jeff Daniels proving he could easily carry a movie), who naturally suffers the psychological affliction of the title. He is there to take over from the old, retiring doctor (Henry Jones), except that once Ross has moved in, the old physician informs him he has decided to stay on.

The smalltown life is not quite as idealised as you might expect, as Ross's more advanced, learned opinions are dismissed in comparison to the current doctor's homespun advice. Even when Ross does get a few patients, they start to die off, not because he has mistreated them but because they are being bitten by those pesky spiders, and it's here the film's agenda becomes clear. It's all very well saying that nature is a good thing, but when faced with the arachnids there's only one reasonable response: abject terror. Doesn't matter if they're big or small, these creatures are out to scare you, and that's what this film emphasises. There's a strain of comedy running through this, as most obvious in John Goodman having fun with his bug exterminator role, but that's not what you'll take away, or even feel while watching. You'll be ensuring you have a glass and postcard on emergency standby after seeing Arachnophobia. Music by Trevor Jones.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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