Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Arachnophobia (1990) (PG-13)

Director: Frank Marshall
Starring: Jeff Daniels, Harely Jane Kozak, John Goodman, Julan Sands, Stewart Pankin
Rated: PG-13

Netflix has been throwing a slew of films into the streaming ethos lately that I remember loving in my youth (I'm in my thirties as i write this so you do the math) and I aim to see how they hold up against my preteen memories. I chose this flick because I remember it being a big deal and everyone went to see it in my neighborhood. Arachnophobia (1990) was hardly the Jaws (1975) of my generation, but being produced by Steven Spielberg helps put the picture in the wheelhouse. Does it hold up? We shall see.

Dr. Ross Jennings (Daniels), a general practitioner, wine enthusiast, and (you guessed it) arachnophobic, moves his city family to the a small town of Canaima, California to take over when the town's doctor retires from his practice. But his idyllic plans are sidetracked when a new species of spider makes its way from South America to the small community. Breeding with domesticated house arachnids, a new breed of seemingly harmless spiders are unleashed on the town. When the sweet but stern matriarch dies mysteriously, Jennings is blamed for her death due to misdiagnosis. Shunned by the town, Jennings begins to investigate the odd deaths of several other residents and soon discovers that the one thing he fears most is taking over Canaima. With the help of the local pest control expert (played memorably by John Goodman), Jennings tries to stop the eight-legged plague before it's too late.

Now, I remember liking this film very much when I was a lad, but I don't remember it taking so long to get to the punch. This film drags during the first act, trying to set up a lot of back-story. Not the worst thing in the world but it does get tiresome. The script is well written and could have easily gone towards the schlocky end of the spectrum but manages to keep the premise as highbrow as it can for the subject matter they where dealing with. I liked it, but a few edits could have kept this piece a bit tighter.

Practical effects abound throughout. A thing of beauty where you can find it these days. This is before the time of CG (anyone can do this badly on a home computer) effects and I saw it as a welcome change from what I have been fed over the last few years. Puppets, strings and elbow greased ingenuity helps to bring the feeling of fuzzy spider legs closing in on you to true fruition. It would have to be my favorite part of this strange little picture.

So how does Arachnophobia hold up to the cynical's test of time? It's a very watchable film. Not as good as I remember, but if you really want to be picky just skip ahead to the spider scenes and you won't be disappointed. Slow but well written, I say give it watch. If only for John Goodman, he's always worth it.

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