Has there ever been a creature feature that has better preyed upon our phobias? Arachnophobia has persevered in maintaining the terror even after 28 years since its initial release in 1990.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lW8pY4IzmXY

 

Starring Jeff Daniels (Looper), John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane), Julian Sands (Warlock) and Harley Jane Kozak (The House on Sorority Row), Arachnophobia is a spider-invasion horror film that enjoyed a major release due to its high production value. Thanks to Steven Spielberg’s involvement as executive producer; the film would collect a hefty gross of over $50 million against a modest budget.

On this day, July 18th in 1990, Arachnophobia was released in the United States which garnered not only financial success, but critical praise as well; Roger Ebert applauded the director’s use of the spiders by stating, “the spiders in “Arachnophobia” are wonderfully photogenic, partly because the director, Frank Marshall, is good at placing them in the foreground, shooting them in closeup and allowing their shadows to cast alarming images when the characters aren’t looking.”

 

arachnophobia movie 1990

 

The film’s director, Frank Marshall (Congo), is co-founder of production company Amblin Entertainment (most notable for its logo featuring a silhouette of E.T. and Elliot on a bicycle) alongside his wife Kathleen Kennedy (current Lucas Films President) and longtime associate, Steven Spielberg. In conjunction with Amblin Entertainment, the film was also produced by Hollywood Pictures which is a division of the Walt Disney Company. Arachnophobia being his directorial debut, Marshall held a sizable weight on his shoulders in making a horror feature film that would appeal to a massive audience. In an interview with EW published in 1990 by Charles Fleming, Marshall states, “We wanted it to be scary, but not too terrifying.” He continues,

We didn’t want it to be a typical horror movie — The Spider That Ate Cleveland — so we used a lot of comedy. We tried to make it like a roller-coaster ride for the audience. It’s frightening, but in a fun way.

 

The film begins in the South American jungle where a new breed of spider is discovered. A highly venomous creature with the ability to kill in mere seconds, the spider hitches a ride in its first victim’s coffin on its way to Canaima, California (the victim’s hometown). The venomous spider takes up residence in a farmhouse owned by Dr. Ross Jennings (played by Jeff Daniels) and his family, who themselves have recently moved to the small community as well.


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Ironically, the film’s protagonist, Dr. Jennings, has a paralyzing fear of spiders. When his son runs to him for safety from a harmless domestic spider, Dr. Jennings replies, “Come on, let’s go find that spider. Let’s find your mom to take care of that spider.” He proceeds to call out to his wife, “Honey, we’re in the living room. We need you to kill a spider.” The harmless spider is placed in the family barn where it encounters its venomous romantic counterpart. Once breeding a limitless amount of killer spiders, the small town of Canaima becomes a killing ground.

 

arachnophobia movie 1990

 

Marshall’s attempt in keeping the film’s horror/creepy elements from encroaching the overall plot was successfully executed by Arachnophobia’s talented cast and dialogue. The film’s offbeat dialogue was a means of breaking the tension every so often, allowing the audience to shake off the nervous tingles. For example, in an attempt to find the spider responsible for the deaths of the small town’s residents, Dr.  Jennings passingly tells Sheriff Lloyd Parsons (played by Stuart Pankin), “Perk up Lloyd. If we find the spider that did this, you can arrest him.”

Using his extensive film experience in balancing between the horror and comedic elements, Marshall understood the types of scenes he needed to deliver that would affect the audience in a specific way. In a short featurette for Arachnophobia, Marshall explains, “One of the things I learned in my second unit directing days was, the only way this was gonna be scary is to include the spiders in the same shot as the actors.” He continues, “And so, we’ve been designing the shots, so when you start on a person, you pan over, there’s a spider there, and the audience will know that these spiders are very, very close to all the actors.”

 

 

Arachnophobia is not Frank Marshall’s first attempt in dealing with creepy crawlers of the hair-raising sort. Serving as executive producer for the original Indiana Jones trilogy throughout the 1908’s, the film’s feature scenes with hordes of rats and snakes. Yet Marshall explains to EW that spiders are an entirely different challenge, “What can you do? You can’t yell at spiders. You can’t fire them. All you can do is pray that they do what you want them to do.” He elaborates later in the interview, stating “A rodent you can train, but spiders just do what they want to do. It takes a lot of patience. You just have to keep shooting over and over again until they accidentally give you what you want.”


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Aside from using real spiders for the film, it’s the special effects that also played an important role in delivering this spine-tingling feature. The film’s special effects team featured Michael Wick as ‘creature fabricator’, whose extensive resume includes The Mummy (1999) and David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch (1991). Arachnophobia’s special effects team also featured Jamie Hyneman, mostly notable for co-hosting the successful Discovery Channel program titled MythBusters, who served as a ‘special effects technician’. Hyneman’s contribution to special effects in film also include Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) and The Matrix Reloaded/Revolutions (2003).

As mentioned earlier, Arachnophobia garnered financial and critical success with the help of successful marketing. Rather than presenting a terrifying horror film about spiders, the film was advertised as a “thrill-omedy” in order to appeal to the masses. This gave the film an opportunity to showcase its strengths to a wider audience. Thanks to the talents of the actors and their likeable characters, the ability to deliver the perfect balance of horror and comedy was at most times, near flawless. Arachnophobia’s terrifying storyline was able to disarm audiences by drawing the fear from Dr Ross Jennings’ own paralyzing phobia of spiders and relating it to our own fears. As the death scenes were setup with spiders hiding in shoes, around lamp switches and even in cereal boxes, these relatable situations become palpable with the realization that these common areas could harbor a deadly beast waiting to strike us.

Celebrate this memorable film with friends for a movie night. Arachnophobia’s ability to maintain its legacy and continue scaring audiences today its nothing short of incredible, even after 28 years. What is your favorite scene in Arachnophobia? Who is your favorite character? Let us know how you’ll be celebrating Arachnophobia’s 28th birthday!

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arachnophobia