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 Hollywood Pictures, as well as being the directorial debut of Frank Marshall.
The story centers on a newly discovered Venezuelan spider being transported to a small American town that produces a new race 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. It received generally positive reviews from critics.
A group of scientists, led by entomologist Dr. James Atherton (Julian Sands), head to the Amazon with the hope of discovering new species of insects and arachnids. After descending into an enormous sinkhole, they approach a tree, and set up collectors on the ground. The team then blows smoke up into the canopy of the tree, and await for the results. Slowly, creatures start falling from the sky, including a variety of bugs. One of which is a very aggressive new species of spider which (unknown at the time) carries a type of venom that causes near-instantaneous death to its victims. 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 (Mark L. Taylor),who has been suffering a fever since travelling to the area, takes a rest under the tree where the spider was found, and a fertile male "General" spider jumps into his backpack, later sneaking into his sleeping bag and biting him on the hand. Jerry promptly has a massive tetanic seizure from the venom and dies. The remainder of the scientists take his body back to the United States, in a wooden box, with the original spider from Venezuela inside, blaming Jerry's death on the pre-existing fever.
Jerry's body arrives at the funeral home in his home town, Canaima, and the mortician Irv Kendall (Roy Brocksmith) does not notice the spider inside the coffin when he opens it. He is disgusted to find Jerry's body desiccated, completely drained of bodily fluids. As Irv is speaking on the phone with the Manley family about funeral arrangements, the spider heads outside, only to be picked by a crow. But before the crow gets back to its nest, the spider manages to bite it, and it falls dead to the ground, right in front of the barn of the Jennings family. Ross Jennings (Jeff Daniels) is a family physician, who had moved to the small town from San Francisco, and faces a lack of patients due to elderly rival Sam Metcalf (Henry Jones), who was supposed to retire and shift his patients to Ross, but decided to maintain his practice.
The spider mates with a female domestic house spider and makes a nest in Jennings's barn, producing hundreds of infertile, but still deadly, offspring, all of which have their father's lethal bite. Ross, along with his son Tommy (Garette Patrick Ratliff), has arachnophobia (fear of spiders), making them targets of ridicule among Molly (Harley Jane Kozak) and Shelly (Marlene Katz). His first patient and new neighbor, Margaret Hollins (Mary Carver), dies after being bitten. The town's residents believe that she died from a heart attack despite Ross' suspicions that something else was at work since she seemed to have had seizures before her death. After a football player is also killed by a spider, a death which is attributed to a football injury, Ross is known to the town as "Dr. Death", having all his patients coincidentally dying after having seen him. Soon, Dr. Metcalf himself is bitten on the toe, has a seizure and dies. As with Margaret, the initial suspicion is a heart attack, but Ross now has the idea that the town could be infested by deadly arachnids.
After Ross and the county's coroner Milton Briggs (James Handy) perform an autopsy on the victims and confirm Ross' suspicion that the deaths were caused by spider bites, he, along with Dr. Atherton, his assistant Chris Collins (Brian McNamara), Briggs, Sheriff Lloyd Parsons (Stuart Pankin) and exterminator Delbert McClintock (John Goodman) investigate and eventually discover that the killer spiders are descendants of the new species James discovered earlier and, due to being born a mixed breed, have a short life expectancy. Atherton tells them that the spiders are soldiers, eliminating potential threats for the general spider. He also informs that the general spider also produced a queen, which it likely mated with to produce a second nest, guarded by the queen, which could produce fertile offspring. Atherton elaborates that, due to the constraints of the spider's original habitat, it was left unable to expand its territory; however, now that such constraints have been eliminated, the spiders can progressively expand their territory, possibly culminating in their worldwide dispersal. With these revelations now at hand, the group sets out to destroy the second nest and kill the queen and general. Atherton is bitten on the neck and killed by the general after he discovers the first nest's location and disturbs its web in an attempt to capture it.
After Ross, Chris and Delbert trace the nests to Jennings' own property, Ross sends Delbert to destroy the first nest at the barn (who soon finds Atherton's corpse) while he and Chris try to help the family escape from their own house. Spiders begin to appear all over the house as Ross enters. Molly, the children, and Chris make it out through the window, but Ross finds himself trapped until he falls through the floor into his wine cellar, which turns out to be the spiders' second nest. Outside, a fully equipped Delbert makes his way to the house and begins to exterminate the baby spiders. Back inside, after electrocuting the queen, Ross battles the general, attempting to destroy the second egg sac along with burning the spider to death with an aerosol can and a lighter. However, he becomes trapped underneath fallen debris and when the spider is about to deliver the killing strike Ross flings the spider into the fire with a board that has fallen on his chest.
When the egg sac hatches, the general, now entirely engulfed in flames, jumps out of the fire, refusing to let Ross leave the basement alive. Ross shoots it with his nail gun and the projectile sends the burning spider into the nest's egg sac, effectively destroying the nest with fire and ending the plague. Delbert is able to reach Ross and get him to safety. Having enough of the country along with the near-death experience, the Jennings family immediately move back to San Francisco, appreciating city life once more, despite minor tremors disrupting them.
- Jeff Daniels as Dr. Ross Jennings
- Harley Jane Kozak as Molly Jennings
- John Goodman as Delbert McClintock
- Julian Sands as Dr. James Atherton
- Brian McNamara as Chris Collins
- James Handy as Milton Briggs
- Peter Jason as Henry Beechwood
- Henry Jones as Dr. Sam Metcalf
- Kathy Kinney as Blaire Kendall
- Roy Brocksmith as Irv Kendall
- Stuart Pankin as Sheriff Lloyd Parsons
- Frances Bay as Evelyn Metcalf
- Mary Carver as Margaret Hollins
- Garette Patrick Ratliff as Tommy Jennings
- Marlene Katz as Shelly Jennings
- Mark L. Taylor as Jerry Manley
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.
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.
The film made use of 374 Huntsman spiders, from Australia, which were picked for their large size, unusually social lifestyle, and because they are essentially harmless to humans. They were guided around the set by the use of heat and cold, but the large "general" and "queen" were articulated models.
The movie was actually filmed in Cambria, California. All the school scenes were filmed at Coast Union High School. Students and staff were used in the football scenes and group events. The locker room and players were the actual students and players from CUHS.
To create the sound effects of spiders being stepped on or squished, Foley artists stepped on mustard packs or squashed potato chips.
Release and reception
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."
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 it made audiences "squirm out of enjoyment, not terror," and listed details in the film that he felt were typical of such films, including "the bright young doctor, whose warnings are ignored" and "the loyal wife and kids," as well as "the usual cats and dogs, necessary for the obligatory scene in which they can sense something even when the humans can't." He gave the film three stars.
On the review website Rotten Tomatoes, 88% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 24 reviews, and an average rating of 6.5/10.
The film drew protests from some people interested in spiders, as they believed the film tarnished the public image of spiders.
The film won a Saturn Award from The American Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror films for Best Horror Film and Best Actor (Daniels). Young actress Marlene Katz was nominated for a best actress award from the Young Artist Awards.
The film was first released on VHS in 1990. It was then released as a bare bones DVD in 1999. The film was released on Blu-ray on September 25, 2012.
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.
- Blue Eyes Are Sensitive to the Light - Sara Hickman (5:11)
- Atherton's Terrarium (:21)
- Arachnophobia - Brent Hutchins (4:53)
- Miller's Demise (:37)
- Spiders And Snakes - The Party (3:40)
- Offspring (:51)
- Boris The Spider - Pleasure Thieves (2:59)
- Delbert Squishes the Spider (:49)
- Spider And The Fly - Poorboys (2:52)
- Web Photo (:26)
- Caught In Your Web (Swear To Your Heart) - Russell Hitchcock (4:28)
- Main Title (5:36)
- Don't Bug Me - Jimmy Buffett (3:27)
- The Casket Arrives (1:55)
- Delbert's Theme (2:04)
- Canaima Nightmare (6:21)
- Along Came A Spider (2:37)
- Cellar Theme (1:20)
- End Title (3:54)
- I Left My Heart In San Francisco - Tony Bennett (3:02)
- Main Title (5:38)
- Photus Manlii (2:24)
- Bob Hitches A Ride (4:18)
- The Casket Arrives (1:53)
- Blue Eyes Are Sensitive to the Light - Sara Hickman (5:05)
- Molly's Web (3:29)
- Arachnophobia - Brent Hutchins (04:48)
- Delbert's Theme (2:32)
- Spider Lamp Shade (1:55)
- Under The Bleachers (2:05)
- Along Came A Spider (2:25)
- Bugs "B" Gone (3:04)
- Canaima Nightmare (3:45)
- Life In The Country (:56)
- The Cellar (1:17)
- End Title (3:52)
- Don't Bug Me - Jimmy Buffett (3:27)
Songs that aren't included within the soundtrack are:
- Summer Wind - Frank Sinatra
- Goin' Ahead - Pat Metheny
Unusually, the A 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.
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