Spiders have gotten a bad rep over the many centuries of art and culture. I have to say that, besides snakes, they’re probably the most despised creature around. Everything about them is creepy and crawly, they have no real soft side to speak of, and in a few rare cases, they have actually killed a few people with their venom. Our relationship has been purely business; they get rid of insects, and we in return don’t spray them out of existence. It’s a strained relationship, but it works, although that relationship has never really been assuaged by our almost instinctual fear of them. And that fear was not assuaged by this veritable smear campaign movie that came out at the dawn of the 90s called, ironically, Arachnophobia. It’s an exploitation flick that features a lot of misinformation about spiders that is potentially harmful to the already tenuous relationship with our eight-legged friends. And if it weren’t so damn enjoyable, I’d probably be pissed.
It all takes place in delightful, sunny Canaima, which is located in delightful, sunny California. A body has come back from an expedition into the Amazon with some very dangerous cargo; the spider who killed the man. It’s a rare, never-before seen spider from the heart of South America, and it’s found the perfect home for itself and its babies in small, unassuming Canaima. At nearly the same time, a young doctor and his family has moved from the big city (i.e. San Francisco) to start their practice there. It’s a close-knit community, so it’s hard for him to break in at first. And it doesn’t help that many of his few new patients are dropping like flies from an unknown cause. He has a hunch, but it’ll take some convincing to get people to believe that a constantly rising number of people are being killed by what appears to be spider bites. As the doctor comes to realize the danger the town is in, the spiders begin to mount an assault that might be beyond anyone’s control. With the help of a few eccentric small-town characters and a researcher from South America that was on the original expedition, can he put an end to the spiders’ rampage across Canaima, or is it too late for the podunk paradise?
Jeff Daniels IS Dr. Jennings, the suave young doctor with a penchant for diagnosing spider bite deaths. He is a very likable character, even in the face of his indomitable yuppiness and his smart-ass mouth. He talks down to the residents of idiotic old Canaima, sure, and perhaps he lords his intelligence over them a little bit, but I really didn’t see a problem with it based on the sheer fact that Canaima is inhabited by knuckle-knobs! Fools! Idiotas! I actually enjoyed him looking down on these people, because if you saw them, you would look down on them too. Julian Sands (aka Warlock) plays the researcher who found the spider, and he is about as spacy as you can get. He almost seems like he belongs in a different movie, a British film about radioactive spiders looking for kicks. But I appreciate his strange Britishness, and enjoy seeing the guy from Warlock doing something other than being a bridge from Jeff Daniels to Kevin Bacon in Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon (a game in which I’m a local champion in).
The real star of this movie though is John Goodman, who gets his funny on for the role of Dilbert the Exterminator. He’s great!!! He’s quirky, he’s hysterical, he’s a small-town dude with a world-savvy philosophy that’s all his own. He’s hands-down the top reason to see this movie. He even has his own theme song for whenever he comes on screen, Torgo-style! It’s a head-bobbing little ditty that has a great harmonica whine on it that will make you say “Geez, the one thing I was missing in my day was this character and THIS song!”
As for the rest of the movie, it’s your standard animal-attack affair. There are a lot, and I mean a LOT of ridiculous deaths. It starts out realistic enough, with spiders crawling into shoes and lamp shades ready to pounce. But by the end, they go on a mindless blood-thirsty assault that seems more mailicious than is tyically plausible for something in the animal kingdom. It does a good job of exploiting our fear of something small and dangerous creeping its way into the nooks and crannies we never check to lay in wait and attack us. It’s a good concept, and one I begrudgingly admire, so it gets a good score from me there.
But Arachnophobia just gets a good score overall, in spite of its slanderous remarks against the arachnid. The feature debut of director Frank Marshall was far from a wash. It’s a horror/thriller/comedy/animal-attacking scenario that has you smiling one minute and checking the insides of your shoes the next. Jeff Daniels plays a good lead, the supporting cast is great, and what more can I say about the legendary Dilbert? It’s a good movie to usher in horror into the 90s, and I’m glad I got the chance to see it again after all these years. I give Arachnophobia 7 1/2 suave British gentlemen out of 10! Thanks again, John Goodman! And thanks to you, Julian Sands, for helping me out in Six Degrees!
Tomorrow I take a look at an NC-17 film again that actually refused to edit itself down! Tomorrow I’ll watch Frontiers! Until then!