Arachnophobia ★★★★★

It is hard to put a finger on exactly why Frank Marshall's "Arachnophobia" is so expansively appealing. The film is a light-toned horror adventure about a town under siege by South American arachnids, and it should simply rate as a mediocre thriller. What Marshall achieves, however, is more than that. He puts together a monster movie that knows how to entertain, how to thrill, and how to get under its audience's skin. Fun, energetic, and entirely creepy, "Arachnophobia" is a fantastic, family-friendly chiller.

Beginning with an excursion into the jungles of South America, "Arachnophobia" announces itself as high quality, old school adventure. Well-appointed, nicely shot, and refreshingly earnest, the film starts off with an engrossing bang before moving its action to small town California. There, the spider-centric mayhem begins, with the film's plot following the townsfolk as they attempt to ward off the arachnovasion.

The cast is appealing, the look is nostalgically warm, and the thrills are in plentiful supply. Marshall's direction is not showy, but the film's pace builds steadily, his characters are likable, and the plot's adventure beats are potent. Jeff Daniels, Harley Jane Kozak, Julian Sands, and John Goodman fill out roles that are low-key, homey, and, in Goodman's case, ever so slightly stylized.

"Arachnophobia" works through all the token horror/deadly-animal-adventure beats, but elevates these beats with the film's genuinely skin-crawling, eight-legged threats. The film's spiders are not freakish, but they are in such large, sticky, creepy supply that it is impossible not to react to them on some primal level. When crawling, biting, and invading that safety of home or shower, the tiny beasties have a certain effect regardless of one's level of arachnodistrust. Marshall builds his thrills around this effect, and it is spectacularly unsettling.

An upbeat, spritely, and inoffensive piece of horror, "Arachnophobia" provides heaps of well-assembled, entertaining fun. Jovially toned but never silly or immature, the film is part B-movie throwback and part fully-rendered Spielbergian romp. "Arachnophobia" is a great and memorable little creature feature.

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