Jack Arnold was no stranger to the Universal B-movies of the ’50s; his most popular icon was Creature from the Black Lagoon, which he directed in 1954 just a year before Tarantula!‘s release. He was also quite prolific during this popular horror period, releasing two to three films a year and even getting into the blaxploitation genre with Boss (I won’t use the… ahem, less appropriate name here). Tarantula! was an obvious attempt to follow up on the successes of 1954’s Them!, this time replacing the less sinister appearance of ants with a more feared creature: the terrifying spider. Arachnophobes need to worry about two things in this movie, though: both the giant titular tarantula and the mad scientist who has concocted a special nutrient that causes ridiculous growth, and, if used on humans, a worrisome pituitary problem.
Tarantula! was inspired and based off of the Science Fiction Theatre episode “No Food for Thought,” which does give some indication as to why some of the film’s plot seems loosely connected. Arnold starts off focusing on Dr. Deemer’s (Leo G. Carroll) wild experiments, which involve injecting a new growth-altering nutrient into a variety of animals, including his human counterparts, for a scientific breakthrough. Much of Tarantula!‘s first half is dedicated to this and also explaining what acromegalia means (acromegaly being the correct diagnosis), with the spider itself a very small part of the film. It’s not until about 45 minutes in where the tarantula really makes its appearance as a gigantic human-hungry monster on the horizon.
Still, both halves of Arnold’s movie are quite enjoyable; partially that’s due to the suave lead character Hastings played by John Agar while he woos the studious Stephanie (Mara Corday), and it’s also because the tarantula effects are actually pretty well-done. Though one can occasionally spot the transparent tarantula errors when it’s prominently displayed on-screen, the more nuanced approach to hinting at the tarantula’s presence ensure that nothing looks too hokey. In fact, the SFX are probably even a bit better than Them! and, more astounding, Night of the Lepus from 1972!
One flaw that arguably plagued most of the ’50s creature output is the conclusion, which is so slapdash that you can barely blink before the film ends. The easy destruction of the tarantula thanks to some stock footage of bomber jets feels too rushed, but otherwise, Tarantula!‘s one of the more effective giant creature films of the era.
Scream Factory has given Tarantula! new legs with a nice Blu-ray release of the film, which gets a new 2k scan of the “original film elements,” probably an interpositive. The results are quite good, with nice detail, a mild-to-medium grain balance, and excellent contrast during dark scenes. Only a few scenes have soft focus, and the rest looks sharp – an excellent scan for a deserving classic. Audio is presented in DTS-HD MA mono track that sounds good with no noticeable issues, prominent dialogue, and a good score. English subtitles are also included in yellow color.
Special features are limited but we do get a new audio commentary from historian Tom Weaver that includes snippets of conversation from Dr. Robert J. Kiss and David Schecter. Weaver is well-prepared with what sounds like a script of facts, and he sure does go over a lot of them – from the production to the actors and their pre-and-post roles and more. It’s a very entertaining listen and is worth a second watch. Also included is a trailer and still gallery. Internal artwork on the back of the cover, too.
Overall, Tarantula! is a fun creature flick that gets good treatment here with a new scan and a good audio commentary. Those looking for more extras should be ashamed of themselves; whadya expect from a 64-year-old film!