Written by / 4/06/2012 / No comments / , , , , , , ,

JEFF DANIELS STARS IN ARACHNOPHOBIA

year: 1990 director: Frank Marshall
Director Frank Marshall, a Steven Spielberg protégé, teams up with his mentor for this spider version of JAWS. But the first ten minutes provides a RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK déjà vu as renowned arachnid expert Julian Sands ventures into South America to discover a new form of creepy-crawlies.

Along for the ride is a chubby, whining, beyond reluctant photographer who’s so nervous and timid you know he’ll buy the farm. Not only that but one of the formidable spiders, that can paralyze and kill victims in one bite, hitches a coffin ride to a small town back in America, where Jeff Daniels and his family have just moved in: Daniels a big city doctor with a fear of spiders (like Roy Schieder’s Chief Brody hated the water), and since the local doctor won’t retire, Daniels has only a few patients. And everyone he diagnoses, dies – a mystery to everyone but the audience, and providing a Noir like Wrong Man vibe, at least for a little while.

The Movie Poster
Director Frank Marshall uses real life spiders as the camera glides in the Spielberg fashion, so we feel death is possibly around every corner and crevice, and those creepers are placed perfectly and do exactly what they should, like trained dogs: a far cry from contrived CGI if the film were made today and more old-school, like the eco-horror FROGS or, more befitting, KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS. And as there is a plot-important body count horror aspect, being Amblin, not Corman, much of the spooks are nail-biting close calls.

Alex P. Keaton and a spider
Meanwhile, John Goodman’s goofy exterminator tries too hard for laughs, providing a silly comic relief version of Robert Shaw where it’s not entirely necessary as the movie has a lightweight dark comedy vibe despite his input, like GREMLINS, but can be serious too – those leggy beasts sure wreak havoc. The fearless Richard Dreyfuss character is more Daniel's wife, played by natural beauty Harley Jane Kozak, than any of the scientists or coroners. And for great measure, there's an older-teenage girl homage to the PSYCHO shower sequence.

Cori Wellins gets wet
Leading a finale bout/standoff between Daniels, who, facing his fear in droves within a wine seller... well after Julian Sands returns with a few clunky professionals that don't live up to their expertise...  delivering pure suspense as the TERMS OF ENDEARMENT Oscar nominated actor, now best known for being the DUMB of DUMBER, balances naiveté, humor, and intensity – fitting perfectly within this tour de force of creature features that, although borrowing from many other films, has it’s own creepy pulse throughout, and deserves more of a following: hope this writeup helps.

RATING: ****
TRIVIA:  Character-actor Mark L. Taylor, as the clumsy photographer in the Venezuela prologue, is pretty much the cause of the spiders (beginning with one spider) invading the town... And in the 1977 cult flick DAMNATION ALLEY, his character, sleeping with a porn mag while holding a lit cigarette, causes the military fall-out shelter to explode, also setting things in catastrophic motion. And the photos up top are from a scene where spiders infest a television set where FAMILY TIES (with Tina Yothers and a Spielberg vet from BACK TO THE FUTURE, Michael J. Fox) is playing. Screaming football coach Peter Jason, a former Cult Film Freak interviewee whose podcast was (thoroughly enjoyed by the iconic David Warner), also played an irritated coach, but for soccer, in THE KARATE KID. And Frank Marshall, always a bridesmaid and never a bride until his directorial debut in the intense survival flick ALIVE, proved himself with this project but then bit the HOWARD THE DUCK style dust with the horrendous (though fun to bag on ) adaptation of Michael Crichton's otherwise excellent, adventurous pulpy page turner, CONGO.
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