Let’s talk about spiders. Arachnophobia is a horror/comedy from 1990, that for many of my friends did with spiders what IT did to clowns. Made them terrified of them. I’ll admit I’m not their biggest fan, but I also don’t run from the room screaming it terror. I never found this film scary as a kid, I remember watching it as a kid and liking it. But never did it scare me and that’s still true as it turns out. Not that this is a bad thing, the film is still very entertaining with solid acting… mostly.
Arachnophobia’s opening sets up the film that follows. Jerry Manley (Mark L. Taylor), a photographer is visiting the Amazon as part of an expedition headed by Dr. James Atherton (Julian Sands). The expedition’s goal is to find new species of insects and arachnids, of which they find many and while doing so a large male (that is not a drone) hitches a ride out in their luggage. Back at camp the spider bites Jerry quickly killing him. Jerry who had suffered a fever, on which is sudden death is blamed is sent back home. The spider once again hitching a ride. Jerry’s corpse returns to his small home town of Canaima, California. Where the mortician, Irv Kendall (Roy Brocksmith) see’s the condition of the body, drained of blood and chew on. He attributes the condition to poor preservation techniques to Jerry’s family over the phone as the spider escapes unseen. The spider makes his way outside where he picked up by a crow and carried off. The spider kills the bird landing near the new home of Ross Jennings (Jeff Daniels), his wife Molly (Harley Jane Kozak) and two children Jerry (Mark L. Taylor) and Shelly (Marlene Katz). The spider moves into the Jennings barn and mates with a normal house spider, producing lethal offspring. The spiders fan out claiming a number of victims, while Jennings tries to find the causes to deaths. After realizing the connections to spiders he calls in the aid of Dr. James Atherton, but can they stop the spiders spread in time? Also Ross suffers from Arachnophobia.
Before I talk about anything else, I need to talk about the best character in this film. Delbert McClintock played by one of my favorite actors of all time, John Goodman. I didn’t mention him the description because… well he doesn’t really do much. He never really progresses the plot he’s just there. Normally I dislike this sort of thing, but John Goodman is just so damn fun to watch. McClintock is an exterminator who learns about a spider so deadly it can kill with a single bite. So he suits up, because that’s the job. Never a lick of fear, he takes on a house full of them… alone. Man’s a beast.
Now back to more pressing matters. I have a hard time being scared of this movie. It’s a good film and worth the watch, it’s just not scary. The films consistent lean towards comedy causes the film’s climactic ending feel more like slap stick than a battle for human survival. It’s not like Jeff Daniels was slacking or that the material was bad, it just didn’t come together right. The other is everyone is so calm about, no one panics. Deadly spiders are all over town and not one person in the town panics? I call bullshit.
Final thoughts, it’s still solid. Sure it’s not a gem of the genre, but it’s certainly not the black sheep either. It’s a kid friendly horror comedy where the stakes never feel too high, which is something great to be. It’s a horror movie that can be watched with friends who might not love genre as the horror element while very light is always noticeable. While not my favorite film in Jeff Daniels body of work, that goes to Escanaba in da Moonlight, it’s still one of my preferred. I was going to score this film lower, but I felt that would be unfair as I don’t find spiders all that scary I decided leniency was in order, 6/10.