Another Jack Arnold 50’s sci-fi/horror gem, Tarantula is one of the better “big bug” offerings. This time, likeable Dr. Matt Hastings (John Agar) is brought in by the bumbling local sheriff to examine a body, which turns out to be the colleague of reclusive, respected Prof. Deemer (Leo G. Carroll). Curiously, the man appears to have been stricken down in a matter of days by a deformity that usually takes years to develop. This is the event which entangles them all in a web (pardon the pun), at the centre of which is the Professor’s research into creating a radioactively-enhanced nutrient to help solve world hunger, but which has the disturbing side-effect of supersizing some of his test subjects, among them a tarantula…
Universal’s picture is a solid production all-round – the acting is fine, particularly Leo G. Carroll’s professor, a portrayal that successfully secures different audience reactions to his presence at different stages of the film. When the character first appears, Carroll plays him with a somewhat cold air of superiority and also a degree of furtiveness over the nature of his work, making him seem “guilty” in the eyes of the viewer, however as the film progresses and events unfold, this is deftly turned around and there is more an air of pathos, of good intentions having paved that road straight to Hades, and with that the character garners sympathy and a kind of tragic nobility.
The effects were excellent for the day and still hold up well, since most of the time it’s a real tarantula on display utilising camera trickery, and it works better than quite a lot of CGI spiders in recent years (enough to still make the average arachnophobe uncomfortable).
For the most part the pacing is good, building up towards the conclusion, drawing all the threads together for the inevitable conflict between man and spider, but here is where the film slightly lets itself down – the finale. Movies like King Kong (1933), Gojira (1954) and Them! (1954) left some huge paws, claws and antennae to fill in the denouement stakes, especially in terms of how the creature is to be finally brought low by man. Tarantula’s curtains come down just a little too quickly and easily, without enough sense of suspense, struggle or danger. That’s not to say it’s unsatisfactory, it just maybe could have used a beat or two more, and it’s the one very minor flaw in an otherwise greatly entertaining, excellent “big bug” outing.
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