30 Day Horror Review – NATURAL HORROR – Arachnophobia (1990)

A species of South American killer spider hitches a lift to the U.S. in a coffin and starts to breed and kill. (IMDB synopsis)

Spiders, amirite? I was going to watch Eight Legged Freaks, originally, but then someone told me it was a Comedy Horror, and damn it, I don’t want any more misfiled movies than is absolutely necessary. Anyway, this film ought to meet standard expectations – spiders running rampant, stupidly large arachnoid queens, and an all-American hero with fabulous automatic weapons.

Review:

At the film’s beginning, a bunch of guys ride a helicopter over Not Jurassic Park in Venezuela, as they’re here to gather new insect specimens to study. They go hiking over a tall, tall mountain and have a rip-roaring good time, until their guide refuses to walk with them somewhere, and I feel a bit worried. One of them walks into a mahusive spider web, and I feel more worried.
While smoking out a section of jungle, they find some big old jumpyspiders which the smoke bizarrely doesn’t kill. One of them even jumps into their supplies. If I were them, I’d be shaking everything out, even my damn socks, before I left Jumpyspider Central. But of course, it crawls up under this guy Manley’s duvet like something from The Grudge and bites him, and Manley dies horribly. They put it down to his fever and bring him back from Venezuela with the same jumpyspider stowing away in the coffin.
Meanwhile in Canaima, the nicest, quaintest little town in the whole of America, a family is moving into their new home with a great big wine cellar that I’m sure won’t come back into play later. The father is Doctor Jennings, here to replace some other fuddy-duddy doctor who has now decided NOT to retire, which puts Jennings in a difficult position. It’s about to get worse, though, as the town is soon to be overrun with spiders, great and small, and DEADLY.
I honestly don’t know how to feel about this film. On the one hand, it’s entertaining, funny at times, it creeps me out and even has some well constructed jumpscares. On the other hand, it’s irritating, drags on and on, and has too many suspenseful moments that don’t pay off.
First of all, I’ll talk about what the film does well. I like the protagonist, Dr. Jennings. He reminds me of Clark Griswold for some reason; I think it’s the fact he has a dry sense of humour in the face of adversity. And guess what, Jennings is afraid of spiders. He recounts his Inciting Incident to his wife in one scene, and it’s quite well done. A little rehearsed, but those kind of stories always are. I have my own Incident story when it comes to my fear of moths, but that’s a tale for another day.
Anyway, Jennings has to learn to face up to his fear – but sadly, this doesn’t involve storming the wine cellar armed with a boomstick, chainsaw and succession of one-liners. The closest we get to that is John Goodman as an exterminator. He is… quite something. The other characters aren’t much to write home about, and actually this is where the film starts to annoy me. But I’ll get to that in a minute.
Another thing the film does well is play up to the viewers’ fear of creepy-crawlies. These spiders are shown early on to be pumped-up and dangerous, but they also do all the things you wish spiders wouldn’t do, like hide behind the toilet bowl, creep into your shower, wriggle their way into your football helmet before you put it on, and things like that.
Unfortunately, this aspect is also one of the bad things about this film. Arachnophobia has three different kinds of jumpscare:

  • Type 1 – the standard kind, where there’s some build-up before the payoff;
  • Type 2 – the sudden jumpscare, which comes right out of nowhere; and
  • Type 3 – the cop-out, where the build-up leads to nothing at all.

There are way too many cop-outs in this film – I lost count of how many times a character walks away from a spider just in time, or squashes it without realising, or knocks it into the plughole without realising. A film can do that once or twice, but any more and it gets repetitive and frustrating for the audience, i.e. me.
Another thing I found frustrating was, again, the other characters, who only act the way they do to serve the plot. For example, Jennings takes his only patient off the pills prescribed by the other doctor, and she feels much better without them. Obviously she’s going to die of a spiderbite, and in the next scene, she does, by way of a Type 2 Jumpscare. But then the next day, old Fuddy-Duddy blames Jennings for her death, and refuses an autopsy, and we don’t believe in your modern newfangled medicine around these parts, and aaauuuuugh. This attitude keeps up for the next hour of the film, and it is so bloody annoying. I hate feeling manipulated into yelling at certain characters to stop being idiots. I didn’t like it in Alien and I don’t like it here. It’s just a great big anchor to the whole proceedings.
There’s one really good jumpscare at the end for the reveal of our Queen – sorry, GENERAL Spider – but to be honest, it’s not as big as I was expecting. Maybe I’ve been watching too much Harry Potter, but after all that slow pacing and building up how big and mean these spiders are, I wanted this thing to take up one entire wall of the cellar.

Final Verdict:

This is such a strange movie. You’ll laugh, you’ll shriek, you’ll nervously check the toilet bowl the next time you go to the bathroom. But personally, I found it dull and repetitive. If it’s on TV one day, I’ll probably look for something else to watch. Also, did this thing really come out in 1990? It looks at least one decade older. And Spielberg’s name is on this? …Huh?!

Rating:

5 jam sandwiches.

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