Arachnophobia ★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

As universal a fear arachnophobia actually is, it seems surprisingly hard to make a compelling film about it. Most of the ones you hear of are schlocky B-Horror films like Eight Legged Freaks, but surprisingly Frank Marshall manages to tap into something more genuine in Arachnophobia. Don’t get me wrong, this is still largely a crowd-pleasing kind of don’t-take-it-seriously cheeky horror film, but it has some actual character and conflict to grab onto beyond just the creepy-crawly premise that drove you to watch the film to begin with. Jeff Daniels stars as Ross Jennings, a doctor with a fear of spiders who moves into a rural town from the city with his family. Through some events not related to him, a crazy new species of spider hitches a ride on a coffin from South America to Jennings’ new town, where it begins to reproduce and create a colony of deadly spiders. As to be expected, the film delivers most on its titular concept. There’s lots of great footage of spiders of varying sizes throughout the film. A mixture of real spiders and puppets were used depending on the size required, and while the puppets are sometimes less than convincing they still manage to get the job done. What’s most impressive is the many ways they find to film the spiders. There’s lots of great moments of spiders being shown only by their shadows as they crawl around inside lamp shades and across the walls. The movie was paced fairly well, slowly building its menacing threat up to the conclusion, when the Jennings’ home becomes overrun by the spiders as they crawl in through every possible opening you could think of. The climax gets slightly out of hand, though, when Jeff Daniels is required to square off against the queen and the “general.” About halfway through, the film loses faith in the audience’s acceptance of the super-spider threat and feels the need to over-explain their capabilities. They give the impression that these spiders are vastly more intelligent than any spider really should be, and that they’re organized in a manner similar to that of a militia, with the head spider being a kind of “general” ordering them around and whatnot. The concept of malicious spiders with intent to methodically overthrow this town, and eventually the world, is just a bit too ridiculous, even for the parameters this film establishes. This silliness culminates with the flame-engulfed “general” spider leaping towards Jennings, who miraculously skewers the spider with a ludicrously unbelievable shot from a nail gun. The movie is inherently ridiculous, but not enough to justify these over-the-top actions. Despite this, Arachnophobia proves itself to be plenty entertaining, if not a bit simple in its presentation. Nothing fancy is going on here, but I don’t think you could ask for much more with a premise like this.

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