Tarantula - 1955

Tarantula - Released December 14, 1955. Directed by Jack Arnold

Prof. Gerald Deemer (Leo G. Carroll) has figured out how to solve world hunger from over-population, a problem he predicts that will overwhelm the world in a few decades. He (along with the mostly unseen scientist-partners Eric and Paul, both played by Eddie Parker) develop a serum that enlarges food-animals to unusual sizes (we see giant mice and rabbits in the lab) the idea being a gigantic rabbit could feed a great number of hungry people who really like rabbit.

There are a few kinks in the serum (such that when injected into humans it gives them advanced acromegalia in a matter of days, a disease which causes massive body distortion and strangulation from organ enlargement) there's also some unmentioned problems with Prof. Deemer's general plan, as he has grown an enormous tarantula, and there's no explanation about who would like to have a meal of gigantic tarantula.

Local Doctor Matt Hastings (John Agar) knows something is afoot at the lab, but can't quite put his finger on it, even after he has autopsied one of the dead scientists (we only go a short way into the beginning of the movie before Prof. Deemer is the only one still standing after the unseen test trails at the lab has decimated the group of scientists. Also, we observe that the serum apparently causes paranoia and aggression).

Then, summer intern Stephanie 'Steve' Clayton shows up (Mara Corday) and she, too, is soon sensing something isn't going right at the lab.

After getting free, the giant spider itself moves about the film like a curious and occasionally hungry tourist, meandering about the rocks and shrubs of the desert. It does get pulled into a scene reminiscent of the 1933 King Kong, in which the multiple-eyes of the tarantula are fixated on Mara Corday in a second-story bedroom as she is getting ready to go to bed, finally crashing through the wall. Unlike the scene in King Kong, Corday ("Steve") is fast and is out the door immediately, despite all the falling timber and debris from the collapsing house. (On the other hand, she has to spend the rest of the movie dressed in a house-robe and pajamas.)

Director Jack Arnold moves the tale along at a fast clip, and though the effects are quite dated now, they are well done for the time period, using photographic tricks (some of which look obvious once you know what to look for, such as a tarantula simply crawling around on a photograph of a desert road) but overall the film and the effects have a lot of charm.

Leo G. Carroll, John Agar and Mara Corday handle their limited parts well: Agar is concerned and ready to do whatever it takes to get to the bottom of the mystery; Carroll is withholding info and is a typical sci-fi scientist who has gone too far, not realizing what he has done (until it's too late); and Corday is worried, well dressed, and wants to be taken seriously as a female lab partner (she's also called "Steve" in the film, not 'Stephanie'). The three form a minor sub-story to the overall issue, which is a giant tarantula on the loose eating stock animals and eventually, people. A young Clint Eastwood appears at the end, leader of a squadron of air force fighter jets which destroy the tarantula by using napalm.

Original Page April 2016
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