Genre: Sci-Fi / Horror
IMDB Rating: 6.5 / 10
And thus the last of the aborted 1950s SCI-FI SPECTACULAR! reviews is released. During the preparatory phase of this little experiment I decided to watch one of the very few 50s movies I was actually familiar with (outside of those I’ve seen as part of MST3K). I remember Tarantula from my tween years when it aired on the SyFy Channel (back when they could still spell ‘Sci-Fi’ properly) – back then you knew you were serious about a movie when you recorded it and removed that little tab on the VHS tape which meant you couldn’t record over it. Somehow that little VHS tape landed up at our holiday house and it became a tradition that whenever the family went away for the weekend we’d all dutifully watch Tarantula, so it’s suitably steeped in tradition to form part of A World of Weird’s review archive.
The world was alive with possibilities back in the 1950s. Women had dresses that compressed their waists to around 2 inches, you could smoke in a hospital, men could live with men in the middle of the desert miles away from civilisation but “just be friends”, and mad scientists could concoct anything their demented little minds could imagine so long as they had enough little beakers to put colourful (well, in this case, varying shades of grey) liquid into.
Professor Gerald Deemer just happens to be one of those mad scientists, and believe you me he has enough beakers to leave the small town of Desert Rock, Arizona reeling for years to come. You see, Professor Deemer is very concerned about population growth and how this will affect mankind’s old future. By his estimates there will easily be 3.5 billion people in the world by the year 2000, and there simply isn’t a conceivable way that we’re gonna be able to feed all those people. To tackle this problem he has created a super nutrient by combining pretty colourful water and an atomic isotope. The animals in his lab, including the eponymous tarantula, have thrived on this nutrient but have also grown well beyond the size God intended for them. Unfortunately Professor Deemer is attacked in his lab by a man suffering from very bad prosthetic makeup, a fire breaks out, and the tarantula escapes and begins its unholy reign of marginal terror across the desert.
While all of that’s happening heart-throb Dr Matt Hastings is very concerned about the number of people turning up dead in the middle of the desert, all of whom seem to have suffered the same horrifying case of bad prosthetic makeup as the man who attacked Professor Deemer. He’ll need all the help and perky bosoms that Professor Deemer’s lovely grad student Stephanie “call me Steve” Clayton can provide if he’s ever going to solve this bizarre mystery, as well as trying to figure out why there are so many horse skeletons littered across the desert next to giant puddles of spider venom…
I’m not sure what you want me to say here. Admittedly I’m not very well acquainted with the movies of this era, and have absolutely no reverence for old-school special effects, so I probably laughed a lot more than I should have at what, at one stage, was perhaps earth-shattering cinematography.
The tarantula is amazing. Obviously shot on a very teeny tiny green screen and then edited into the main movie, half the time part of it disappears as its walking because the little thing must have moved outside the shot. You’ll quickly come to realise that they only have maybe 10 minutes’ worth of spider footage and they’re just gonna keep re-using the one that best fits in with what’s meant to be happening. The spider also can’t seem to decide what size it wants to be, so that changes depending on where it happens to find itself. And just when I thought I’d got the giggles from looking at the spider under control the damn thing went and roared/growled before it ate something, and that was just the beginning of the end.
The prosthetic makeup for the various victims lying around the desert were also a source of some good giggles. Again, I’m sure they were very advanced for their time, but sitting here 60 years down the track they just aren’t quite holding up as well you’d hope. Nevertheless, the giant roaring spider, the lumpily-deformed humans and the I’m-too-sexy-for-my-medical-degree Matt Hastings all combine for a fun little movie.
It was a different time.
I haven’t giggled at a movie like I did at this one for quite some time. The cheesy visuals and story aside (and they’re worth a good laugh on their own), when I was younger I didn’t quite register just how different things were when this movie was made. Some terrific lines from Tarantula include (but are not limited to):
“You give women the vote and what do you get? Lady scientists!”
“I may be a scientist Professor but a woman’s first responsibility is her hair.”
What makes it even better is that (1) is said in a flirtatious manner, and (2) is said in a tone that makes you think she was laying her hand on the Bible while she said it. Not that any of this is a bad thing, of course – the fact of the matter is I’ve gotten smarter and more and more politically incorrect as I’ve gotten older, so this means that little lines like these just make the movie even more fun than when I watched in back in the heyday of my youth.
If you haven’t seen Tarantula, I would thoroughly recommend it. You really can’t go wrong when you mix a giant roaring spider with some good old-fashioned, American-style, well-intended misogyny in one movie.