Monday, October 10, 2011

Tarantula!


Tarantula is one of those Saturday afternoon classics that made me fall in love with science fiction and horror stories. This Jack Arnold flick was in heavy rotation with other movies from Universal's 50's library, all of which I'll get to later, and it gave me the creeps exceedingly well for all its sunny sets.

The titular monster is pretty scary in its own right, but that takes at least half the movie to develop. The early parts of this monster epic are taken up with deformed men in pajamas raising all sorts of questions and creating all manner of trouble for our protagonists.

Our hero Dr.Matt Hastings flies back into the town of Desert Rock, Arizona just in time to be summoned by the sheriff (played to the hilt by Nestor Paiva) to identify a mysterious body which turns to be the partner of Professor Deemer (Leo J. Carrol), a somewhat eccentric but generally kindly scientist isolated in his desert home.

The dead body is overcome with the symptoms of acromegalia, but the symptoms for this chronic but not immediately fatal disease seem to have come on with amazing swiftness. That's the core mystery for the first half of the flick and its pursued by Hastings even as Stephanie "Steve" Clayton arrives to take on a role as assistant to the scientific operation.

Between bouts of flirting, the mystery is unraveled bit by bit by the pair, as Deemer is attacked by another deformed man and his lab burned out. A Tarantula at least six feet across escapes. Then cattle start to die, leaving only stripped bones and pools of venom. It's not until the movies' third act that the full-sized Tarantula appears, but then appear he does in spades. It lumbers around the landscape at will attacking people and threatening the town of Desert Rock itself.


This movie has it all. A small threat created by the insane and deformed men, and the large threat of the Tarantula. The jovial John Agar is in perfect form as Hastings and he's well matched by Mara Corday as Clayton. Paiva heads up a dandy cast of sidekicks and characters who inhabit the town, though the town itself seems straight out off the back lot, which of course it is. That doesn't mean the natural settings are any less effective, as putting this story in the desert is an ideal choice not only for hiding the monster, but creating a sparse and isolated mood for the story.

The use of a real Tarantula is very effective and makes this one above average, and a movie that holds up remarkably well over fifty years later. The damage it causes is well realized, in particular a truck which is convincingly flung off the road.

If you've never had the chance to catch this one I highly recommend it. It doesn't scare me like it did so many years ago, but it's still a fantastic entertainment.


One oddball connection with these sci-fi classics is that in the previous movie I looked at (Cult of the Cobra)Edward Platt, the "Chief" of CONTROL from Get Smart had a small but pivotal role as the leader of the Lamians, and in this one Leo J. Carrol or "Alexander Waverly" of U.N.C.L.E. fame has a big part. Spymasters galore it appears!

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