Arachnophobia is a 1990 American black comedy horror film directed by Frank Marshall and starring Jeff Daniels and John Goodman. It was the first film released by The Walt Disney StudiosHollywood 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. It is also known as The Fear of The Tangled Web.

Plot[edit | edit source]

Entomologist Dr. James Atherton searches the Amazon rainforest with the hope of discovering new species of insects and arachnids. In a Venezuelan tepui, Atherton finds 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 - atypical in spiders. 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 coffin and is sealed in with the corpse.

Manley's desiccated body arrives at the funeral home in his 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 and his son both have arachnophobia.

Ross 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 their father’s lethal bite.

Ross' first patient, kindly widow Margaret Hollins, dies after being bitten by one of the new spiders. Metcalf diagnoses a heart attack, although Ross suspects something else was at work. Metcalf suspects Ross is guilty of malpractice, as Ross had taken Margaret off the medication Metcalf had prescribed for her when she was his patient. A spider also kills a high school football player, Todd Miller, just after Ross had performed a routine check on the team, earning him the town nickname "Dr. Death". The next victim is Sam Metcalf, who is bitten in his own bedroom and dies in front of his wife.

With Metcalf dead, Ross becomes Canaima's town doctor. Knowing Metcalf was bitten by a spider just before his fatal seizure, and that a minute amount of an unknown toxin was detected in his body, Ross suspects deadly arachnids could be infesting the town, and wants to perform autopsies on the recently deceased.

Ross and county coroner Milton Briggs perform an autopsy on the victims and confirm Ross' suspicion that the deaths were caused by spider bites. Ross contacts Dr. Atherton and asks him to aid his investigation, given he is the country's leading expert in spiders. Atherton is skeptical that spiders could be the cause of the deaths, and instead of travelling to Cainama himself, he sends one of his assistants, Chris Collins. Chris is initially skeptical, but is convinced there is a deadly strain of spiders in Cainama after the corpses of Margaret Hollins, Todd Miller, and Sam Metcalf all exhibit spider bites. Ross and Chris manage to catch a live specimen of one of the spiders. When Chris mentions the new species of spider Atherton had discovered in Venezuela, Ross realises that one of the Venezuelan spiders "hitched a ride in Manley's coffin."

After being contacted by Chris, Atherton arrives in Cainama and joins Ross, Chris, Milt Briggs, local Sheriff Lloyd Parsons and exterminator Delbert McClintock in the spider investigation. They discover the killer spiders have a short life expectancy due to being a mixed breed. Atherton tells them the spiders are soldiers, sent out to eliminate potential threats for lead male spider, "the General." He also learns that the General 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 the General.

Deducing that one of the nests is in his barn, Ross sends Delbert to destroy it. Delbert finds Atherton dead, having been bitten by the General after disturbing the web. Ross and Chris discover the spiders have killed local mortician Irv Kendall and his wife Blaire (both of whom were killed whilst watching Wheel of Fortune on television). 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.

After electrocuting the queen, Ross battles the General while also attempting to burn the second egg sac. Ross becomes trapped underneath fallen debris, with the General about to deliver the killing strike. Ross finally overcomes his paralytic fear of spiders by summoning up his strength to fling 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. Delbert retrieves Ross from the burning cellar. With the death of the General and the Queen, the egg sac destroyed, and the drones either killed by Delbert or left to die due to their reduced lifespan, the spider plague is over.

The Jennings family immediately moves back to San Francisco. Ross and Molly drink a toast with glasses of Château Margaux (rescued from the burned wine cellar), to the only inconveniences in their life being things that they can control - when an earthquake tremor rocks their new apartment. They immediately agree that it was minor, but get up to check on the kids. Moments later, a follow-up tremor upends the bottle of Margaux.

Cast[edit | edit source]

Production[edit | edit source]

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.[2] Amblin Entertainment also helped produce it.[3]

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."[4] The film also has similarities with the 1977 film Kingdom of the Spiders.[5] 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!"[citation needed]

Jamie Hyneman, of MythBusters fame, stated in Popular Mechanics[6] 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 over 300 Avondale spiders, from New Zealand, 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 Southern Venezuela for the intro sequence and the jungle scenes, as well as 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.[7]

To create the sound effects of spiders being stepped on or squished, Foley artists stepped on mustard packs or squashed potato chips.[8]

Release and reception[edit | edit source]

Arachnophobia was the first film released by Hollywood Pictures.[3] 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".[9]

Box office[edit | edit source]

Arachnophobia debuted at #3 behind Ghost and Die Hard 2 with $8 million in its first weekend. The film was a financial success,[10] grossing $53,208,180 domestically[11] 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.[10]

Critics[edit | edit source]

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."[2] Newsweek associated the film with B movies "about the small town threatened by alien invaders", and said it was well made but "oddly unresonant."[12] Roger Ebert said the film made audiences "squirm out of enjoyment, not terror", giving it three stars out of four.[13]

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."[14]

The film drew protests from some people interested in spiders, as they believed the film tarnished the public image of spiders.[15]

Accolades[edit | edit source]

Award Category Subject Result
Saturn Awards[16] Best Horror Film Won
Best Director Frank Marshall Nominated
Best Writing Don Jakoby Nominated
Wesley Strick Nominated
Best Actor Jeff Daniels Won
Best Supporting Actor John Goodman Nominated
12th Young Artist Awards[17] Most Entertaining Family Youth Motion Picture - Comedy/Horror Nominated
Best Young Supporting Actress Marlene Katz Nominated

Home media[edit | edit source]

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.

Merchandising[edit | edit source]

Film score by 

Trevor Jones

Released July 18, 1990 (original release)
March 19, 1996 (re-release)
Studio Evergreen Recording Studios
Label Hollywood Records

Unusually, the video game version of Arachnophobia was also released in 1991, for AmigaAmstrad CPCCommodore 64 and DOS.[18]

A novelization of Arachnophobia was written by author Nicholas Edwards.[19] Hollywood Comics (an imprint of Disney Comics) released a comic book adaptation of the film, written by William Rotsler with art by Dan Spiegle. Notably, the characters in the comic adaptation bear little resemblance to the actors in the film.

An Arachnophobia soundtrack album 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).[citation needed]

Possible remake[edit | edit source]

According to Geek Tyrant, James Wan, one of Hollywood's famed directors, is currently in the process of a remake of the 1990 film. He is teaming up with Amblin for the works. Wan has directed numerous horror films including SawInsidious, and The Conjuring.[20]

See also[edit | edit source]

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