Arachnophobia: Black Comedy With Spiders and Jeff Daniels

Arachnophobia the 1990 film
Spooky spiders.

This black comedy horror film has crazy killer spiders in it. As films like Jaws (1975) did for sharks, Arachnophobia helped terrify people about spiders.

Frank Marshall’s Arachnophobia (1990)

This is a film we watched that’s had an indelible impact on our lives. As it happened to be a film out around the time we were impressionable kids.

We saw this pre-Jurassic Park the film (1993), which also scared us, but Arachnophobia certainly put us on edge about spiders.

Just turning a light on by its pull string had us wondering if a spider was waiting to get us!

Anyway, plot! Plot! The film opens in Venezuela, where posh British entomologist Dr. James Atherton (Julian Sands) captures two members of an aggressive spider species.

Once back at camp, nature photographer Jerry Manley (Mark L. Taylor) takes to his bed with a high fever.

One of the new spiders sneaks into his bed and bites him, causing Manley to have a violent seizure and die.

Dr. Atherton than unwittingly brings the spiders over to America, where they breed with local spiders and start to infest the world around them.

This coincides with the arrival of Dr. Ross Jennings (Jeff Daniels) and his family to the area. Jennings has arachnophobia so, yes, tough times are ahead for him.

As the spiders start murdering people in the community, the key characters start to piece together what’s going on.

This is where Arachnophobia’s blend of black humour and horror starts to really kick in.

John Goodman (already a huge star thanks to the TV series Roseanne) provides the comedic relief with the pest exterminator Delbert McClintock.

He’s the no-nonsense sort of geezer who’ll always get the job done!

Of course, the film yanks it up a notch towards the conclusion and there are all sorts of crazy scenes.

Spider swarms throughout Dr. Jennings’ house and one big SOB spider that rules the roost. Jeff Daniels gets to wipe that thing out with a nail gun. Hell yeah!

It’s a good fun film. B movie stuff but with an inflated budget.

As we were really young when we first watched it, the goofball silliness of the production went over our heads a bit.

We’ll have been less then 10 when watching it, so we found the mild horror pretty scary. And for a while it did freak us a little bit about spiders.

But we enjoyed the film. Which is important. And remember Julian Sand’s character in particular, with his hair.

We’re not sure why, but we held the character in high regard when we watched it as kids.

Watching the movie again recently its issues are plain to see. But it’s very much tongue-in-cheek and more popcorn fodder than a serious intellectual endeavour.

Good fun and the type of high-concept flick like Congo (1995) that can pass an evening rather nicely.

Arachnophobia’s Production

Steven Spielberg got involved in the film’s production with Amblin Entertainment getting a credit in the project.

There are some parallels to Jaws (1975) in the threat from wildlife. Although its main nod is towards Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963).

The shoot mainly took place in Cambria of California in the US, although Venezuela was in use for the film’s early jungle scenes.

As for the spiders, yes there was no CGI here. Real spiders were in use, except for moments when any were being killed.

The species chosen to star? The flat huntsman (Delena Cancerides). These little monsters were also used in the 2002 Spider-Man film and various other productions.

Despite looking very dangerous, they’re totally harmless. Entomologist Steven R. Kutcher was still hired for the shoot to provide guidance on handling them.

With his help, the crew went to great lengths to keep them unharmed.

John Goodman’s character, for example, steps on one in a more comedic scene. For this, various props were used to protect the spider in the scene.

The sound effect of the spider being squished was achieved by crew members crushing some crisps.

Although many of the cast don’t have arachnophobia, even the bravest of the lot still had to endure some troubling times.

For example, when Julian Sand’s character cops it, the actor was covered in spiders to make the death scene realistic.

So there we go, some Hollywood magic for you!

Unfortunately, the efforts of all involved didn’t pay off particularly well.

Off the film’s $22 million budget, it recouped $53.2 million. A good return, but perhaps not the major hit the studio was expecting.

However, it found its stride with VHS rentals where it took on another $30 million!

Further proof that a film’s lifelong monetary earnings are about way more than what it does at the box office.

22 comments

  1. I LOVED THIS FILM. As a kid. Watched it again last year for the first time IN years, and… I didn’t realise it was supposed to be funny! As a kid, it terrified and enthralled me. As an adult, I was laughing like, what the hell? I don’t remember this being so weirdly funny!?

    Plus tbh Jeff Daniels was one of the reasons I knew I was a gay kid 🥴🥴

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Man I love Arachnophobia. It’s one of those 90s gems that doesn’t get too much attention. One of the appealing things about the film is that it borders reality enough that when it does move to more extremes, it’s not at all distasteful. The movie still rules today.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It doesn’t get enough attention, almost to the point it’s a forgotten cult classic. Perhaps it’s time for an Arachnophobia day. Or a sequel! Or a 3D reboot! Or a remake! So many options being wasted here.

      But I’m glad to see after this post that some fans of the film have come out with their love for it. Great to see!

      Liked by 1 person

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