Tuesday, April 23, 2019

TARANTULA (1955) Blu-ray review

Tarantula (1955) d. Jack Arnold (USA) (81 min)

A plan to feed the world by using a growth formula on plants and animals instead creates terror beyond imagining when a lab accident releases a spider of mammoth proportions upon an unsuspecting public! Feeding on cattle and humans, this towering tarantula has the people of Desert Rock, Arizona, running for their lives. Can this horrifying creature be stopped… or will the world be crushed beneath its giant hairy feet?

Following the success of Them! in 1953, this classic b/w thriller marked the first of the giant ants’ successors to the silver screen and its boffo box office launched the “big bug” movement in earnest. Radiation is once again the culprit, with biochemist Dr. Gerald Deemer (Leo G. Carroll) developing a revolutionary serum that creates gigantism in organic life forms… except for humans, in which it sparks an accelerated form of acromegaly (or “acromegalia,” as it is curiously referred to here). Why anyone would inject humans with the formula is anyone’s guess, as is the bizarre choice to pump it into an arachnid – was there an underground market for spider meat in the 1950s that no one knew about? – but this was the dawning of the drive-in age where logic was secondary to sensationalism and audiences flocked to see the eight-legged peril in droves.

Producer William Alland was already flying high at Universal with the sci-fi smashes It Came from Outer Space (1953), Creature from the Black Lagoon the following year, and Revenge of the Creature released earlier in 1955, all directed by veteran Jack Arnold. (Unlike their previous collaborations, Tarantula was the first of the pair’s Universal sci-fi efforts not to be released in 3D.)

As with It Came from Outer Space, Arnold creates a haunting combination of isolation and beauty in his desert settings, and the special effects designed by Clifford Stine and David S. Horsley are convincing (for the most part), matte-ing real-life tarantula footage onto the sandy landscapes, complete with shadows. (There are a few obvious goofs that keep it from being hailed as a technical masterpiece; a couple times the spider simply freezes on the horizon and there is one shot of the tarantula crawling over the mountains where the matte is cut incorrectly, so that one of the spider's legs seems to disappear in mid-air).

English-born Irishman Carroll lends the proceedings a touch of class, following Cecil Holloway’s footsteps in Beast from 20,000 Fathoms as the requisite accented academician. Equal parts benevolent philanthropist and myopic scientist-turned-monster, once he starts to succumb to the effects of the acromegaly (having been injected by one of his similarly afflicted assistants), his horrifying sludge-faced visage is even more unnerving than the gargantuan eight-legged menace.

John Agar, soon to become a staple of 1950s sci-fi films, is capable enough as the small town doctor who doesn’t buy the “natural causes” explanation for Deemer’s collaborators’ premature expirations, and he’s well matched by the lovely former showgirl Mara Corday, stepping into a slim-waisted lab coat as Deemer’s new assistant. (Corday would also become a genre fixture, with appearances in The Black Scorpion and The Giant Claw.)

Also on hand are Creature’s Nestor Paiva as the sheriff, Bing Russell (Kurt’s dad) as one of the townspeople recruited to blow up the spider on the highway, and Raymond Bailey (aka Mr. Drysdale on The Beverly Hillbillies) as the skeptic who rolls the tarantula stock footage for Agar and the audience. Clint Eastwood, who had already briefly appeared as a befuddled scientist in Return of the Creature for Arnold, makes a brief cameo behind an oxygen mask as a jet squadron leader.

Stuntman Eddie Parker plays three different roles under various levels of makeup (credited to Bud Westmore, but since the masks appear to be borrowed from Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, it’s likely that Jack Kevan deserves the mention).

Writer Robert M. Fresco based the Tarantula script on his own Arnold-directed May 1955 episode of Science Fiction Theatre, “No Food for Thought.” Fresco ended up sharing his first big screen credit with Arnold and Martin Berkeley, even though neither apparently contributed anything of significance. (Alland also claimed to have come up with the story idea in later interviews – seems everybody wanted to claim a piece of the creepy crawly creative credit!) Fresco would share another by-line with Arnold and a different writer, Norman Jolley, on his other Universal-International genre effort, 1957’s The Monolith Monsters. Whose idea to have Agar’s character inexplicably taste a giant puddle of spider venom is anyone’s guess.

A sentimental favorite from many monster kids’ TV-watching past, this high-definition edition from Shout! Factory should be a welcome addition to any genre fan’s home library.

Trivia: Prof. Deemer predicts that the world's population will reach 3.625 million by the year 2000. That prediction was far too conservative: It was actually over six billion.


NEW 2K scan of the original film elements

NEW audio commentary with film historians Tom Weaver, Dr. Robert J. Kiss, and David Schecter

Theatrical Trailer

Still Gallery

Tarantula will be available on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory on April 30 and can be pre-ordered HERE:



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