Tarantula Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Jack Arnold
Written by Robert M. Fresco and Martin Berkeley
1955, 80 minutes, Not Rated
Released on April 30th, 2019
John Agar as Dr. Matt Hastings
Mara Corday as Stephanie ‘Steve’ Clayton
Leo G. Carroll as Prof. Gerald Deemer
Nestor Paiva as Sheriff Jack Andrews
Ross Elliott as Joe Burch
Edwin Rand as Lt. John Nolan
Professor Gerald Deemer is a biochemist with a plan to feed the world by using a growth serum on plants and animals. In his lab are oversized mice, guinea pigs, rabbits and one ugly spider. The formula is not yet perfected, but Deemer is getting close. Following an accident and fire in the lab, the spider escapes into the desert where it continues to grow to gigantic proportions. Meanwhile, Dr. Matt Hastings returns to town and is met by the sheriff who tells him about a strangely deformed body found in the desert. The corpse proves to be one of Deemer’s lab assistants who suffered from a rare disease that progressed at an accelerated rate. Hastings crosses paths with Stephanie “Steve” Clayton, who is new to town and about to begin working with Deemer. The two hit it off and spend their free time together. The professor begins showing signs of the same disease that killed his former helper and Steve calls Matt in to help.
Meanwhile, strange things are happening at a nearby farm, where the cattle are being eaten by something that strips them to the bone and leaves a pool of mysterious liquid nearby. Hastings takes a sample and learns that it is insect venom, but never before seen in such volume. One day while out with Steve, they discover the giant tarantula in the desert. They race away and contact the sheriff for help and soon the state police and the military are called in to fight the beast. It doesn’t seem to have any weaknesses, as bullets don’t hurt it and dynamite proves equally ineffective. The town is being evacuated as the spider approaches, but the police are otherwise helpless. Does science hold the answers or will it take military might to end this nightmare?
In the 1950s, science fiction films were obsessed with two things; scientific experimentation and atomic radiation. A string of monster bug movies were a hit at the box office, most notably the giant ant picture Them! (1954). The following year, Universal Pictures entered the fray with Tarantula, a chilling tale of science run amok in which a towering spider threatens the lives and livelihood of a small Arizona community. Professor Deemer learns all too late the error of his ways when he is injected with his own serum in an act of retribution. The terror unleashed from his experiments on nature comes back to haunt him as the lab becomes a target for the giant spider.
Director Jack Arnold (Creature from the Black Lagoon) delivers a suspenseful and terrifying tale that will keep arachnophobes on edge. Written by Robert M. Fresco (The Monolith Monsters) and Martin Berkeley (The Deadly Mantis), Tarantula steadily builds tension as the titular creature grows in scale. The human element is fairly run-of-the-mill stuff with a dashing male lead, John Agar (The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre) protecting a beautiful woman in distress, Mara Corday (The Giant Claw). The meddling scientist, Leo G. Carroll (North by Northwest) is cold and standoffish making for a serviceable antagonist but it is the spider that kids want to see. Cinematographer George Robinson (Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man) works closely with special photographer Clifford Stine (The Incredible Shrinking Man) to bring the threat to life, wisely choosing to shoot the fluid movement of a real spider over miniature sets as much as possible.
Tarantula is formulaic and full of clichés but manages to keep viewers engaged with its steady pace and first-rate special effects. Countless giant insect flicks followed, but few were as satisfying as this title, which arrived fairly early in the cycle. Monster movie fans are in for a treat, as there is nothing creepier than a giant spider causing mass destruction. Film buffs will want to be on the lookout for an early appearance by a young Clint Eastwood as a jet pilot fighting the deadly behemoth. This is a by-the-numbers B-movie that sets out to do nothing more than entertain audiences and in this it succeeds.
Video and Audio:
The original film elements have been restored with a 2K scan of the camera negative. The 1.85:1 image shines with crisp detail long absent from previous releases. The picture is clean and free from debris and scratches making for a stunning transfer that is definitely pleasing.
A DTS-HD MA 2.0 track preserves the film’s mono soundtrack, delivering a fine blend of dialogue, music and sound effects.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Film historian Tom Weaver hosts an all-new audio commentary that is loaded with production stories and interesting trivia. Other experts step in to share their thoughts on key aspects of the film and there are a few actor recreations of certain quotes. The track is highly informative and well-paced and definitely worth a listen.
The original theatrical trailer has been included.
There are two photo galleries; the first consists of publicity stills while the second contains poster art and lobby cards.
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