REVIEW: Arachnophobia [1990]

“Wanna blow-up a bullfrog?”

While never reaching any further than its aspirations to be a guilty pleasure, Arachnophobia definitely does its job well and successfully. Here we have a tale of a spider infestation in a small town, where a single bite causes almost instantaneous death. It is up to the town’s new doctor to make everyone see that there is a problem that needs fixing. Like most small towns, the people don’t necessarily embrace change and they don’t want the doctor to sanction autopsies to find out the true cause of the numerous deaths occurring around them. He is finally allowed to do so and, along with the help of a couple spider specialists and an eccentric exterminator, attempts to find the spider queen and nest to destroy them and save the community.

What could have fallen into the usual animal horror film, never quite goes too far into absurdity or camp. The performances, for the most part, all stay true to their occupation and each interact with each other realistically. Yes, there is a lot of humor sprinkled throughout, but it never gets cringe-worthy or laughable due to poor delivery/taste instead of genuine pleasure. Even the creature effects are well done. The spiders are realistic and possibly mostly real anyways. How they were captured onscreen crawling along predetermined paths like a shower curtain rod, I don’t know, but the filmmakers got the footage they needed. The web work was gorgeous to behold and the gruesome moments, decomposed bodies for instance, as real as they were disgusting.

There isn’t much to stand above any other film of its kind besides a sense of staying close to reality, but the acting talent helps vault it to a level of entertainment that is surprisingly high. Jeff Daniels is our doctor, whose nervous tick and fear of spiders is utilized often, but his professionalism in medicine and sarcastic remarks round out the character to be believable. His wife, played by Harley Jane Kozak, is fantastic in her delivery of lines and a big factor in the laughs. It is a shame she was relegated to television afterwards, because her role here and in Parenthood proved she could have done more. The true standout in the film, though, is John Goodman. With a little bit of Bill Murray, a la Caddyshack, Goodman is our exterminator with a speech impediment and a gift for talking incessantly. His holier than though attitude, when it comes to his job, leads to some priceless moments and when he has the acid toxins strapped to his back, he is fantastic.

So, when there is little on tv and you have a couple hours to kill, you can do a lot worse than this gem from the early 90’s. It isn’t trying to win any awards, but instead entertains its audience with some comedy and attempts at scares, which may or may not stand up to the time that has passed since its release.

Arachnophobia 6/10 | ★ ★ ½


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