Tarantula! (1955)

A mad-science B-movie classic packing advanced matte-VFX bringing arachnid antagonist, acromegalia, & megalomania to life with tons of mega-charming old-world ’50’s sci-fi glamours & decent performances, ‘Tarantula!’s a big, fun, biological creature-feature. 7.9/10.

Plot Synopsis: When a tarantula mutates into a giant man-eating monster, Dr. Matt Hastings sets out to stop it. Classic giant bug movie from the director of `It Came from Outer Space’.

*Possible Spoilers Ahead*

Official CLC Review

A Primal Phobia – 100 Feet Tall

One Of The Original Creature Features From The Golden Age Of Sci-Fi: ’50’s, A Classic Mad Science Gigantic B-Feature

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

The 1950’s was a golden age of science-fiction: big blockbusters, kooky B-movie fun, and mega-charming innocence as the imagination of the medium and Hollywood ran-rampant on local drive-thru’s. One of the screen’s most iconic foes – one that’s become an icon known of even if you haven’t seen the film yourself & that plays on a primal phobia dating back to ancient evolutionary times: spiders – is the Tarantula. A creepy crawly the size of a building, the arachnophobic spectacle scared up big bucks at the box office, and still looks every bit as good today as it did back 60+ years ago: the ultimate test of film quality and one I’m sure people gawked at having seen nothing like it at the time. A mad-science B-movie classic packing advanced matte-VFX bringing arachnid antagonist, acromegalia, & megalomania to life with tons of mega-charming old-world ’50’s sci-fi glamours & decent performances, ‘Tarantula!’s a big, fun, biological creature-feature.

The VFX & Desert Rock, AZ

Groundbreaking Matte VFX Projection & Superimposition To Create A Better Illusion Than 1954’s ‘Them!’; Atmosphere

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

A major player in this giant bug feature is the fictional backdrop: Desert Rock, AZ. The film takes many cues from Warner Bros.’ preceding year entry ‘Them!’ (1954), a film in which giant ants mutated by atomic radiation wreak havoc on Los Angeles. The difference is: ‘Tarantula!’ looks 10x better and more realistic, due in large part to: a more interesting premise (spiders are scarier and a notch up the food chain and our primal fear lists than comparatively-harmless ants), better atmospheric use of desert as tarantulas’ natural ecosystem they reign as one of the supremes of the primordial battle-grounds for predators in nature and a place of great vastness and isolation where these types of experiments can be done, and groundbreaking VFX techniques to bring the big bad to life. Matte VFX projection and superimposition create a striking and breathtaking illusion that the tarantula is as real as you & me, phenomenal prosthetics work bringing the acromegalia human victims to life, and the well-written backstory arc gives it a credible explanation (well, as good as a premise like this can be justified) through the use scientific gobbledy-gook and a different view of mad science from previous genre entries.

A Different View Of Mad Science

One Of The First Sci-Fi Films To Portray Science With Sympathetic View, A Good-Intentioned Cure To Hunger

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

The film scores bonus points and a legacy beyond being one of the screen’s most iconic monsters for being one of, if not the first film to showcase a different view of mad science typically blamed and personified as evil in their pursuits. In ‘Tarantula!,’ the mad scientist responsible for creating the experiment did so out of good intentions and peaceful research: to cure the disease of hunger in relation to the growing problem of overpopulation and limitation of resources. The true numbers of today would stagger him: he predicted only 3,500,000,000+ people in the world by 2000, try double that – and an extra near-billion by the time you get to 2020. The motivationns behind his experimentations were extremely prophetic and not only reasonable, but entirely-correct: we are reaching a stage of human crisis where resources are being rapidly depleted and we can barely control ourselves in aspects like waste and climate change bringing about the destruction of the natural environment and potentially killing all life in the next few hundred years if we don’t starting acting to fix it (a problem with too many people, many of which are uneducated or ignorant to even admittance of a problem so we run around in circles). It is extremely refreshing to see science get a cinematic treatment with sympathetic view as trying to make the world a better place by experimenting with the unknown.

The Performances

A Cast Of Decent Performances That Do A Credible Job Selling The Scientific Gobbledy-Gook; Led By Leo G. Carroll

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

The performances of ‘Tarantula!’ are just good enough to make the film go – led by the inimitable Leo G. Carroll as the scientist whose experiments created this monster as a byproduct of ambitious research. The range of his performance coming across sincere and wide-eyed as a passionate biologist with a drive to make the world a better place by eliminating one of its biggest problems in some parts, juxtaposed to others where he exudes an air of villainy bolstered by gothic and heavy lighting in the cinematography is fantastic and is easily the highlight of the acting here. John Agar’s Dr. Hastings, MD is good too, as is Paiva’s Sheriff Jack and decently: Mara Corday’s Stephanie Clark (although she’s the weakest of the bunch but the proverbial scream queen). The strong laboratory and small town America set pieces and score full of classical big boisterous trombones and dramatic minor crescendoes give way to the arrival of the creature of the hour: the tarantula as big as a skyscraper.

The Tarantula

A Breathtaking Spectacle That Looks Phenomenal Even 60+ Years Later: The Preeminent Giant Bug/Spider Movie

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

The biggest achievement is obviously the tarantula itself, one that looks hyper-realistic because.. it is. Through matte vfx and superimposition mixed with miniature models for the close-ups and fang shots, the crew of ‘Tarantula!’ has managed to create a breathtaking spectacle that looks phenomenal even 60+ years later: the ultimate test of filmic quality being time. It is an unconscionable epic joy to watch our furry antagonist start out the size of a dog but grow, and grow, and grow until he’s the size of a tank as his prey gets bigger too, taking napalm hits, throwing cars, and slicing powerlines without even a moment of hesitation. Flaws in the film are of course limited to the necessary imagination and natural kookiness of the premise: one of that is not, and never going to be, realistic but a fun product to let your mind run and enjoy fun, big, classic sci-fi creature horror fun.

Conclusion

A Big, Fun, Classic ’50’s Sci-Fi Icon

A Mad-Science B-Movie Classic Bringing 100-Foot Arachnids, Acromegalia, & Megalomania To Life w/ Breathtaking Poise & Old-World Charm

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

Overall, Tarantula! is a big, fun, classic ’50’s sci-fi icon that reminds you of the charms of old-world cinema. The film looks fantastic even to-date 60+ years later, is filled with serviceable performances that do a remarkable job selling the scientific gobbledly-gook and making it seem realistic, special FX and atmospheric use of setting far ahead of its time and that of 1954’s ‘Them!’, and a refreshing subversion of demonizing mad scientists by painting the film’s experiments with a sympathetic brush as the efforst of a good-intentioned biologist who wanted to make a cure for world hunger amidst overpopulation growth. A mad-science B-movie classic packing advanced matte-VFX bringing arachnid antagonist, acromegalia, & megalomania to life with tons of mega-charming old-world ’50’s sci-fi glamours & decent performances, ‘Tarantula!’s a big, fun, biological creature-feature and the preeminent big bug movie.

Official CLC Score: 7.9/10