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Arachnophobia makes the familiar fantastic

Updated on October 13, 2011

Now I'm not particularly scared of spiders. I can kill a spider without having to first don a haz-mat suit and I've held my friend's tarantula a few times. When I was in Brazil, I once opened my door to a black hairy orange with legs. But even so, there's something visceral about the image of an eight-legged creature slowly lowering itself like a demonic Superman.

(In fact, I wrote an as-yet unpublished urban fantasy novel that starts with a scene where a man gets knocked unconscious and a giant spider jumps out of his mouth. If there are any publishers or agents out there who are interested, I'd be happy to talk.)

My point is, whether you're scared of spiders or not, the imagery is distinctive and effective.

And thus we have Arachnophobia.

The story follows a young spider from the Venezuelan jungle who goes on a trip and makes it big in America. He quickly has about a thousand anchor babies and they swarm out to flood a small California town with little half-breeds who, yes, can kill with one bite, but that's still no excuse for hating them simply because they're foreign.

Oh, there's also a doctor (Jeff Daniels) who's absolutely terified of spiders and a local exterminator (John Goodman) who recons himself a bit of an expert. Let hilarity ensue.

The movie is somewhat of a dark comedy/drama/thriller. And what really helps it here is that very imagery of the spider. Aliens either don't exist or they need a better agent. Gremlins are basically evil Muppets. But spiders are everywhere.

While you watch this one, you might actually start finding yourself checking your skin every time you feel an itch or looking around when something tiny moves in the corner of your eye. You'll tell yourself that it's only a movie, but so is the video from The Ring, and look at what happened to them.

Basically, the more they are able to make something familiar menacing, the easier it is to get under your defenses.

Now the movie isn't perfect. Some of the direction can be a bit stilted, and if you find you're just not scared by the spiders at all, the effect is lost. But as a simple, mostly-family-friendly scary film, it does its job well.

For me, this one gets a 7 /10.

Arachnophobia is rated PG-13 for language, thematic elements, scares, and a little bit of nudity.


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