director Jack Arnold
I’d had a DVD for the kids and I to watch, but in skimming the channels just before, I saw that TCM had a Jack Arnold quadruple feature, with Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) playing as I discovered it. Oddly enough, Felix had just watched that movie on his own volition via Netflix streaming. It took only a modicum of influence to sign us up for the rest of the Jack Arnold movies for our evening entertainment. A triple feature is something unheard of for me and the kids. Double features once or twice but a triple feature?
Felix remembered us watching Them! (1954) a few years back, so comparing Tarantula to the giant ant movie made for an easy sell. Funnily enough, Felix had convinced a couple of his friends to watch Them! with him (not sure how long ago), only to find that they didn’t get into it at all. Apparently I’m developing appreciations in the kids that they will have to search longer and further for others to share with them.
I, of course, remembered Tarantula fondly from my childhood. I can’t say that it was my favorite science fiction/horror film. Like I said, I always preferred Them! if it really got down to it. Though I did recall that Tarantula was still better than The Deadly Mantis (1957). I wasn’t keyed in on Jack Arnold like I have been in the last decade. I’ve come to really appreciate him and his films of the 1950’s. I actually knew most of them from my childhood. I’d liked him without knowing who he was.
Like It Came from Outer Space (1953) and The Monolith Monsters (1957) (as well as who knows how many others), its desert location, with California standing in for small-town Arizona, always stuck with me.
The film begins with a monster-like humanoid dying in the desert, before the titles roll. It turns out that a mad professor, the great Leo G. Carroll (kind of like a poor man’s Boris Karloff), has been experimenting with radioactive nutrients on animals like rabbits, rats, guinea pigs, and a tarantula, making them grow progressively massive. Of course, human experimentation goes wrong; thus the monstrous humanoid of the film’s beginning. And when an angry lab assistant sets fire to the lab, the tarantula escapes, going on to terrorize the countryside, sucking down everyone/everything in its wake, leaving only bones behind.
It takes a pilot (Clint Eastwood if a very early role) to napalm the thing to bring the film to its heady end.
Unlike Them!, most of the shots of the spider use a real animal, only going for a gigantic construction for close-ups and also the wonderful “fang vision”.
We had some discussion of the effects, as Felix has become more cognizant of “old fashioned” techniques. We had to note that these were all pretty good for 1955. They were a bit corny even in the 1970’s when I used to eat this stuff up. But still, this is pretty great stuff. And luckily we all agreed.