Arachnophobia is available to rent, buy and stream.
Frank Marshall’s PG-rated creepy crawly horror, produced by Spielberg, Kennedy and Marshall’s Amblin, is a family horror that carries one hell of an entertaining bite. There’s a distinctly Spielberg influence in the eight-legged scare fest that took cinemas by storm in the summer of 1990. Spiders have long held a web-covered seat at the altar of horror, from Tarantula (1955) to Kingdom of the Spiders (1977) and Eight Legged Freaks (2002). Based on Don Jakoby’s and Al Williams’ story, Amblin’s movie owes much to the classic B-Movies of the 1950s through its crowd-pleasing mix of jump scares and humour. Arachnophobia has no intention of offering us gore as a spate of mysterious deaths mounts up in the small town of Canaima; in fact, the investigation by the town’s new doctor (Jeff Daniels) often feels like it’s been torn from the pages of the 80s TV favourite Murder She Wrote. But when Marshall allows Arachnophobia to embrace its horror, his movie scurries down your spine.
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Arachnophobia is a movie about the irrational fear of spiders so many of us carry from childhood; however, look further into the web it weaves, and there’s much more to this B-Movie gem. Marshall’s movie explores the growing political and social divide between urban and rural communities in 1990s America and our need to control and collect the natural world at the expense of our environment and safety. The environmental discussions are bold and even more timely in our post-COVID world, as the arrogant entomologist James Atherton (Julian Sands) captures two aggressive, newly discovered spider species in Venezuela.
Atherton is so obsessed with his need to catalogue everything in his path that he stomps over the natural world he claims to love, so much so that when his American photographer Jerry Manley, suddenly dies from a severe seizure, Atherton doesn’t care about the reason, as he places hundreds of newly discovered and now dead insects under his microscope. Manley’s body is sent back to his hometown of Canaima, with Atherton unaware that a new species of spider has crawled into the coffin. Marshall questions the human need to own the natural world and the arrogance we carry. While these themes never quite find a fully developed voice as the film scurries toward its stand-off between humans and spiders, ecological discussions are never far away.
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Arachnophobia would gross $53 million on a budget of $22 million. Yet, despite its success, it remains one of the least discussed Amblin releases of the past thirty-two years. Arachnophobia may never allow for a fully formed eco discussion due to its B-Movie roots, but Marshall clearly had a deep interest in exploring themes of humans versus nature. His unsettling and powerful Alive would place these themes centre stage a few years later, followed by the less successful Congo in 1995. As a child-friendly introduction to the horror genre, Arachnophobia is a long-forgotten gem of the early 1990s. With a remake on the way, courtesy of Amblin, James Wan and Christopher Landon, it’s a classic slice of B-Movie creature horror.