Arachnophobia is a 1990 American horror-comedy film directed by Frank Marshall and starring Jeff Daniels and John Goodman. It was the first film released by The Walt Disney Studios’ Hollywood Pictures label, as well as being the directorial debut of Marshall. The film’s story centers on a newly discovered Venezuelan spider being transported to a small American town that produces a new species of deadly spiders, which begin killing the town’s residents one by one.
Shooting took place in Venezuela and California and the film was released in the United States on July 18, 1990. It was a modest commercial success, gaining $53.21 million at the box office and received generally positive reviews from critics.
Entomologist Dr. James Atherton searches the Amazon rainforest with the hope of discovering new species of insects and arachnids finding a very aggressive new species of spider. The spider is captured and chloroformed for research; and is later revealed to be lacking sex organs, thus making it a drone, or soldier. A nature photographer, Jerry Manley unknowingly has a fertile (non-drone) male spider of the same species jump into his backpack, later that day sneaking into his sleeping bag and biting him. Manley has a massive seizure from the venom and dies. The remainder of the scientists take his body back to the United States, blaming Manley’s death on a fever. The spider crawls into the box and is sealed in with the corpse.
Manley’s body arrives at the funeral home in his (fictional) hometown of Canaima, California. The spider makes it outside, only to be picked by a crow until the spider bites it and it falls to the ground dead, in front of the barn of the Jennings family. Ross Jennings is a family physician, who had moved to the town from San Francisco.
He faces a lack of patients due to elderly rival Sam Metcalf, who was supposed to retire and shift his patients to Ross, but decided to maintain his practice. The Amazonian spider mates with a female domestic house spider and makes a nest in Jennings’ barn, producing hundreds of infertile drone offspring, all of which have a lethal bite. Ross, along with his son Tommy, has arachnophobia, making them targets of ridicule to wife Molly and daughter Shelly.
Ross’s first patient, Margaret Hollins, dies after being bitten. Dr. Metcalf diagnoses a heart attack, although Ross suspects that something else was at work. After a spider also kills a football player whom Ross treated, he becomes known to the town as “Dr. Death”. When Dr. Metcalf himself is bitten, in his own bedroom, and dies, Ross suspects deadly arachnids could be infesting the town.
Ross and county coroner Milton Briggs perform an autopsy on the victims and confirm Ross’ suspicion that the deaths were caused by spider bites. Atherton arrives in town with his assistant Chris Collins, joining Briggs, Sheriff Lloyd Parsons and exterminator Delbert McClintock in the spider investigation. They discover that the killer spiders have a short life expectancy due to being a mixed breed. Atherton tells them that the spiders are soldiers, sent out to eliminate potential threats for the general male spider. He also learns that the general spider produced a queen, which it likely mated with to produce a second nest someplace, guarded by the queen, which could produce fertile offspring.
Atherton elaborates that the transplanted spiders can progressively expand their territory, possibly culminating in their worldwide dispersal. The group sets out to destroy both nests and kill the queen and general.
Deducing that the nest is in his barn, Ross sends Delbert to destroy it. Delbert finds Dr. Atherton dead, having been bitten by the general after disturbing the web. Chris gets the Jennings family out of their infested house, but Ross falls through the floor into his wine cellar, which turns out to be the spiders’ second nest, guarded not only by the queen but also the general spider.
After electrocuting the queen, Ross battles the general while also attempting to burn the second egg sac. He becomes trapped underneath fallen debris, with the general about to deliver the killing strike, when Ross flings the general into the fire. As the egg sac hatches, the general jumps out of the fire. Ross shoots it with a nail gun and the projectile sends the burning spider into the egg sac, destroying the nest with fire and ending the plague.
The Jennings family immediately moves back to San Francisco, appreciating city life once more, despite such minor inconveniences as earthquakes.
Filmmaker Steven Spielberg was involved with Arachnophobia, with one of his earlier producers Frank Marshall directing for the first time. Spielberg and Marshall are both the executive producers of the film. Amblin Entertainment also helped produce it.
Marshall meant for the film to be like Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, and added, “People like to be scared but laughing, like a roller coaster. No one wants to be terrified.” The film also has similarities with the 1977 film Kingdom of the Spiders. Producer Igo Kantor hinted in his Fangoria interview that Arachnophobia, which Spielberg produced, bears several similarities to Kingdom of the Spiders. “I thought it was a copy”, Kantor stated, “but you don’t go and sue Spielberg!”
Jamie Hyneman, of MythBusters fame, stated in Popular Mechanics that Arachnophobia was one of the first movies he worked on and that he often relied on simple magnets for several of the effects.
To create the sound effects of spiders being stepped on or squished, Foley artists stepped on mustard packs or squashed potato chips.
Arachnophobia was the first film released by Hollywood Pictures. Advertisers were uncertain as to whether they should market the film as a thriller or a comedy. Therefore, television spots promoting the film billed it as a “thrill-omedy”.
Arachnophobia debuted at #3 behind Ghost and Die Hard 2 with $8 million in its first weekend. The film was a financial success, grossing $53,208,180 domestically and going on to gross an additional $30,000,000 in video rentals. This allowed Spielberg to be the fourth wealthiest entertainer of the year, having previously been the second wealthiest.
In his book, critic Leonard Maltin calls the film a “slick comic thriller” and approves of the acting, warning, “Not recommended for anyone who’s ever covered their eyes during a movie.” Newsweek associated the film with B movies “about the small town threatened by alien invaders”, and said it was well made but “oddly unresonant.” Roger Ebert said the film made audiences “squirm out of enjoyment, not terror”, giving it three stars out of four.
On the review website Rotten Tomatoes, 92% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 36 reviews, and an average rating of 6.8/10. The website’s critical consensus reads, “Arachnophobia may not deliver genuine chills, but it’s an affectionate, solidly built tribute to Hollywood’s classic creature features.”
The film drew protests from some people interested in spiders, as they believed the film tarnished the public image of spiders.
The film was first released on VHS in 1991. It was then released as a bare bones DVD in 1999. The film was released on Blu-ray on September 25, 2012.
VHS and DVD releases by Hollywood/Buena Vista Home Video curiously omit the original poster art’s spider from their cover design, however the Blu-ray now reinstates it.
Unusually, the video game version of Arachnophobia was also released in 1991, for Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64 and DOS.
There is also a novelization of Arachnophobia written by author Nicholas Edwards.
A soundtrack album for the film, also called Arachnophobia, was released in 1990. It included Trevor Jones’s instrumental music from the film as well as dialogue excerpts and songs such as “Blue Eyes Are Sensitive to the Light” by Sara Hickman, “Caught in Your Web (Swear to Your Heart)” by Russell Hitchcock, and “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” by Tony Bennett.
The European version of the album has the same cover art, but more score tracks, fewer songs and no dialogue. The two versions share 10 of the same tracks, but these are also not without their differences: several tracks are noticeably shorter on the European version like “Canaima Nightmare”, which is nearly three minutes shorter; and another track has two different titles (“Cellar Theme” in America and “The Cellar” in Europe).
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Arachnophobia (film) – Wikipedia
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