The Tomb of Terror – Arachnophobia (1990)

Every Saturday night the Tomb of Terror opens, unleashing reviews of the obscure and the classic in horror cinema.

I hate spiders. I’d rather be mugged than see a large spider in the same room as me. They are awful, alien-looking things that need to be stopped. “What’s the big deal?” You ask. “They kill insects for us…and the circle of life…blah, blah, blah.” I don’t care. Did you know that in Africa there are spiders the size of dinner plates? Fuck that. I think that the various nations of the world need to stop fighting amongst themselves and rally against the real enemy, the spider. Tonight’s film, Arachnophobia, shows just what can happen if we are to allow these terrible creatures to live. I don’t know about you, but I’d feel pretty bad knowing that a swarm of spiders attacked Jeff Daniels, all because we didn’t man up and wipe them out. Destroy the ecosystem, you say? You’re damn right I would.

This particular arachnid nightmare begins in the jungles of Venezuela. Dr. James Atherton (Julian Sands, the Warlock series) is on an expedition to find new species of insects and spiders. Along for the ride is photographer Jerry Manly (Mark L. Taylor, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids). While spraying the forest with a strong insecticide, the team discovers a very large, very aggressive new breed of spider. Being completely insane, they keep this spider as a specimen and make their way back to camp. Little do they realize that one of those horrible spiders has hitched a ride in their packs. Back at the camp, Jerry is bitten by the spider as it crawls under his bed sheets (sick!). He dies almost instantly and his body is shipped back to his hometown. Not wanting to stay tied down to one place for too long, the spider tags along inside the coffin.

The coffin arrives in town at the same time as Dr. Ross Jennings (Jeff Daniels, Dumb and Dumber) and his family. The Jenningses are a big city family who have relocated from San Francisco because of a great job opportunity. The one doctor in town, Sam Metcalf (Henry Jones, Vertigo) is going to retire and leave all of his patients in Ross’s care. Unfortunately, Dr. Metcalf decides to postpone retirement soon after the Jenningses arrive in town. This leaves Ross with a new house to pay off, an office to rent, and no income. This aspect of the plot always stuck out to me because loss of financial stability is such a universal fear. Take out the killer spider and you’d still have a good drama about a guy who took a chance and ended up losing big. Through these scenes, we learn abut that townspeople and the Jennings family in an interesting and dramatic way.

But this IS a killer spider movie, so there has to be some spider killings. After mating with a common house spider, our killer arachnid gives birth to a new and deadly breed that spreads across the town. The script does a good job of always keeping you guessing about who will live and who will die. The nice old lady who is Ross’s only friend in town? First to go. The various jerks who give him a hard time? Some of them make it a lot longer than you’d expect. Each and every suspense scene is unique and will have arachnophobes squirming in their seats. Because of this film I now have to check for spiders every time I put on shoes, take a shower, and use the toilet.


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John is the co-host of The Macguffin Podcast, lover of 80s teen and horror films, and an independent filmmaker.

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