STARRING: John Agar, Mara Corday, Stephanie Clayton, Leo G. Carroll, Nestor Paiva, Ross Elliott

1955, 80 minutes, Directed by: Jack Arnold

As far as 1950s giant insect movies go, this effort by the director of Creature of the Black Lagoon and Incredible Shrinking Man amongst others isn’t all that bad. Acting isn’t too rotten, the B&W photography is suitably moody and the special effects are decent (for its time). You can certainly do a lot worse in this particular subgenre . . .

A scientist (Leo G. Carroll) invents a growth serum that makes test animals grow to enormous sizes. For some reason he decides that a tarantula spider would be an ideal test subject. Besides, who wouldn’t want giant spiders crawling about? Naturally the spider escapes captivity to grow bigger than a two-storey house and wreak all kinds of havoc. It is up to the U.S. military and a local medical doctor (played by John Agar) to stop the creature from destroying the nearby small American town.

The older movies such as Tarantula become, the less interesting they become as movies in themselves. It certainly ticks off all the conventions of this particular subgenre: small town in the Arizona desert setting (check), mad scientist (check), army fighting giant insect creature (check), and so on. For sheer entertainment value you’d be better off checking out modern equivalents such as Arachnaphobia (1990) and Eight Legged Freaks (2002) however. Tarantula is simply slow-moving and dull by modern standards. There is a lot of leisurely chatter going on and the finale is anticlimactic to say the least.

However as time capsule glimpses at an era that is fading more into the distant past each passing day – Tarantula was made more than half a century ago after all! – movies such as this become more interesting and relevant. Thus Tarantula is fascinating today for its sociological insights into an era in which everyone smoked because it couldn’t possibly be bad for your health, right?; Black people didn’t appear in movies; cars had white wall tires; men wore suit jackets with shoulder pads; women with degrees in biology had to make coffee for the men and it was okay to call a woman “Steve.”

Was it a better world? Who knows? But there is something wistful and sad about a scene in which a scientist in the movie tells about how hopelessly overpopulated the world would be in the year 2000 when the globe’s total population hits the 3.6 billion mark. (Of course by that time the earth’s population had been more than double that for quite a while.)

Recommended for fans of ‘Fifties genre movies. Mystery Science Theater 3000 types will find that the movie doesn’t offer that much in the “so-bad-it’s-good” department.

(Note: this movie has a go-out-for-popcorn-and-you’ll-miss-it early appearance by Clint Eastwood as a squadron leader in final sequence.)



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