Daily Archives: March 31, 2020

Tarantula! (1955)

*. In the 1950s everything got supersized. Blame the bomb. In his book The Monster Show David J. Skal names Godzilla (1954) as the film that launched “one of the biggest ritual displays of naive metaphor the world has ever seen.” The vehicle of that metaphor being giant creatures, the tenor atomic anxiety.
*. This is an obvious point that doesn’t need any further emphasizing here. In this movie the naive metaphor is a giant tarantula. In Them! it’s giant ants. In The Amazing Colossal Man it’s Glenn Langan. In The Giant Gila Monster . . . you get the point. The question I have is why a fear of nuclear war would bring forth such monsters.
*. Radiation makes people sick. Very sick. It doesn’t make things grow or give them super powers, both of which effects are actually pretty cool. And yet that’s the way it was imagined in the early nuclear age, and indeed has been up to the present day and figures like Doctor Manhattan. I’m not sure what to make of that.
*. Another thing driving the spate of gigantism in SF during the ’50s, and perhaps of even greater importance, was the improvement in special effects. By today’s standards the giant creatures stumbling through model landscapes or looming over hillsides may not be very convincing, but they were the CGI of their day. Sure you can see right through the giant tarantula’s legs in some of the shots here, but I’ll bet audiences in 1955 were thrilled. A movie like this gave them everything they paid for.

*. Mara Corday. Damn she looks good. She’s sexy even when just looking faintly bemused at what’s going on. Meanwhile, John Agar tries to do the same thing and only looks like a simpleton. Double standards.
*. Professor Deemer is often described as a mad scientist but his associates seem to have been the really bad ones, especially in their rush to do some human testing. The way the dying Paul injects Deemer with the growth isotope serum is particularly cruel. Their project, however, is humanitarian. Like Dr. Cragis in The Killer Shrews they’re concerned about growing global population and world hunger. Deemer wants an alternative food source while Cragis wants to shrink people so they won’t need to eat as much.
*. Deemer is concerned that by the year 2000 the population will be 3.6 billion. We nearly doubled that. As a result, today’s mad scientists are more interested in radical plans for depopulation than trying to save the human race.
*. Jack Arnold gets a lot of credit for being one of the major figures of this genre, directing such classics as It Came from Outer Space, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and The Incredible Shrinking Man. I think he did well enough with the material, but he wasn’t what I’d call an auteur. I feel like he really just keeps things moving along. He knew what audiences wanted to see and he didn’t cheat them, giving them their monsters in a series of building climaxes. The connecting tissue is just the usual dull stuff to be gotten through, which helps build up those climaxes even more.
*. All of which is only to say that this is a movie that’s no more than what it sets out to be, which is to be an excuse to see a giant spider crawling around the desert eating people before having Clint Eastwood flying in to save the day with some well-placed napalm. Fun then and fun now. How confident are we that our CGI blockbusters will play this well in fifty years?