Film / Arachnophobia

A thriller/comedy (or "thrillomedy") film released in 1990, Arachnophobia starred Jeff Daniels, John Goodman, and Julian Sands and was produced by Steven Spielberg. This was the first film directed by Frank Marshall. It was also the first film released under Disney's Hollywood Pictures label.

The film concerns about an unknown species of spider living in an isolated sinkhole within the South-American Jungle. These spiders operate with a hive mentality and carry a super-potent venom that kills in a matter of seconds. When one of the spiders is accidentally transported to a sleepy California town from Venezuela in the coffin of its first victim and later mates with a common House Spider, the hybrid descendants terrorize the town for weeks while the newly-arrived city-mouse town doctor (Daniels) struggles to make sense of the mysterious deaths. Aiding him is an Eccentric Exterminator played by Goodman in one of his most popular roles. The film was a financial and critical success thanks to its mix of horror and humor.

There was also an MS-DOS game released that was vaguely related to the movie, in which the player took control of Goodman's character who was sent to eliminate the spiders.

This movie has examples of:

  • Aerosol Flamethrower: Effective against deadly spiders. Appears in both the movie and as the ultimate weapon in the game.
  • The Amazon: The killer spiders come from an unexplored jungle in Venezuela.
  • Answers to the Name of God
    Ross: (After destroying the nest with his Improbable Aiming Skills) Thank God.
    Delbert: Don't mention it.
  • Artistic License Biology: As Scott "El Santo" Ashlin eloquently points out in his review of the film on 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting:
    Leaving aside its patently impossible ability to breed with spiders of other species and assimilate them to its own characteristics, [the film's Venezuelan species] exhibits a range of qualities which are not just odd, but completely unheard of. So far as is known, there is not nor has there ever been a fully eusocial arachnid on Earth; a spider that formed colonies of congenitally asexual workers devoted to the service of a single breeding pair would be as shocking a discovery as a bird with gills or a fish with mammary glands. Male-dominated eusociality, meanwhile, is unknown even among insects termite colonies do have kings, but the queen is still the paramount concern of the hive.
    • Another point in this favor is that the reason common arachnids and other creatures that use an exoskeleton are not the size of houses is that they would collapse under their own weight. The scene at the beginning where the scientists use a numbing agent to collect specimans, would have resulted in quite a few spider bodies that were missing legs. Dropping a tarantula a distance of more than two feet causes it to shatter. These spiders fell from a tree easily one hundred feet tall. In short, none would have lived.
    • Also, insects and other bugs breathe through their skin. Only in the distant past was there sufficient oxygen for giant insects to exist.
  • Asshole Victim: Dr. Metcalf is a contrarian, pompous jerkass who screws over Jennings, so his death by one of the spiders is a bit karmic.
  • Autopsy Snack Time: A mortuary worker munches a sandwich while the crate containing the photographer's body is being opened, then sets it down on a worktable used for preparing bodies. Later on he has a bag of chips with him when Dr. Jennings, the morgue and the scientist's assistant examine three bodies in search for spider bites.
  • Awesome Mc Cool Name: Delbert McClintock.
  • Big Bad: The General
  • Blood from the Mouth: All victims of the killer spiders are charcterized by having a stream of blood from one side of the mouth. This is Lampshaded by Ross Jennings that, upon investigating Margaret's death, he tells Dr. Metcalf that one 'does not bite their tongue off' from a mere heart attack.
  • Brick Joke: "Not the Chateau!"
  • Chekhov's Gun: In the beginning, the main character Dr. Jennings is introduced to a nail gun by carpenters building his wine cellar, and later happens upon said nail gun in the final act of the movie.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Chris disappears after trying to pull Ross out of the house near the end.
  • The City vs. the Country: The doctor and his family move into a small town. The townspeople immediately resent him for being from the city.
  • Cobweb Jungle: A lot of areas become this after the spiders are released, but Dr. Jenning's barn is by far the best spot.
  • Completely Different Title: In Sweden the movie is known as "Imse vimse spindel" translating as "Itsy Bitsy Spider".
  • Connect the Deaths: Used when Dr. Jennings is figuring out where the spiders' nest is. Naturally, given his crippling fear of spiders, it's his own house.
  • Corrupt Hick: Sheriff Parsons.
  • Eccentric Exterminator: John Goodman's character Delbert McClintock has various quirks, but seems like a nice guy. He also has a bit of an inflated opinion of himself, but he does come in handy when he kills most of the drone spiders at the end.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: Implied by Dr. Atherton. The spiders are a hive species, giving birth to androgynous soldier drones, but after the hive gets big enough, the queen would be able to birth a young queen to make her own hive somewhere. Atherton says this would happen once the town has been devoured, and more than one young queen would be produced. Take this to its logical conclusion...
  • Epiphany Therapy: "Come to the barn and look at this gigantic web taking up most of it. That'll cure your arachnophobia."
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Both a cat and a dog can sense that the General is, if not technically evil, than certainly not to be messed with. A crow does not realize this in time.
  • Evil Overlooker: This film is a fairly subtle example. Take a good look at the moon on the poster/cover.
  • Face Palm: Jeff Daniels' character does this after John Goodman's character reveals that the spider he brought with him was still at the bottom of his shoe.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Delbert, primarily, but most of the sheer terror of this film comes from how easily the spiders are overlooked.
  • Fan Disservice: There's a scene of a girl showering when one of the lethal, venomous spiders crawls out of the shower head. She remains oblivious as he gets washed off her body until she notices the spider dissappearing down the drain.
  • Full Moon Silhouette: Not shown in the film, but posters for the movie depict a spider hanging on a silk thread in front of a full moon.
  • Giant Spider: Mostly averted. None of the spiders in this film are larger than your hand, but they are deadly venomous. Downplayed with the original spider, the General, which is the size of a baseball mitt—giant enough.
  • Infernal Retaliation: The General proves to be a hardcore little bugger even after being set alight.
  • It's Quiet... Too Quiet: It's repeatedly mentioned that the main character doesn't hear crickets, despite living in the country. That's because the main webs are in his barn and the spiders have easily destroyed the local population.
    • Also, Jennings and the other are informed that they'll recognize the "nest" where the Queen and "general" are because it'll be dark, moist, and no matter how many thousands may be outside, there will be absolutely no spiders there because the Queen won't let potentially cannibalistic workers near her babies. Sure enough, in the climax the house is overrun by spiders, but when Jennings crashes through the floor into the basement, not one of the spiders goes down after him.
  • Jerkass: Dr. Metcalf arranges with Dr. Jennings for him to take over his small town clinic when he retires. Then Metcalf decides on the fly to go back on his promise when Jennings has already bought a home and settled his family in town. He views him with unjustified contempt as a big-city wig who looks down on the townspeople, badmouths him to the town, and berates his concern about the increasing sudden deaths largely out of spite.
  • Kidnapping Bird of Prey: The original Venezuelan spider that arrives in the coffin gets from the funeral parlor to a nearby farm because a crow carries it off. It bites the crow and the bird falls out of the sky, dead.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: The spiders are Delena cancerides from New Zealand, a species known for being slow and harmless. This is somewhat evident to the arachnology fan watching the film, as they are so slow and inert that they sometimes have to be urged to move by sticks that are visible in-shot. The "big bad" spider toward the end is a bird-eating tarantula, more dangerous owing to being large and aggressive (if not particularly venomous). The film is set in the USA, though the spiders supposedly come from South America.
  • Nail 'Em: Ross kills a spider with a nail gun, albeit one meant to patch holes in starships.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer used lighthearted music and put major focus on John Goodman's role as a quirky exterminator, making it look to be a lighthearted comedy. Turns out that while there are comedic scenes, the film is basically nightmare fuel (or considering the film is about spiders, would that be nightmare venom?)
  • Orifice Evacuation: A spider crawls out of one of the victims' noses when the body is discovered.
  • Primal Fear
  • The Professor: There's an entomologist named Prof. Atherton, who is usually referred to by John Goodman's character as 'The Professor'.
  • Shout-Out: Delbert's attire is largely inspired by Ghostbusters. The MAD Magazine parody, A Knack For Phobias, makes the connection explicit.
  • Spiders Are Scary: The film is about a group of hybridized spiders that invaded a California town and begin killing the inhabitants that live there.
  • Spider Swarm: Played Up to Eleven. The Venezuelan spider species presented in the film consists mostly of drones that lack sex organs, and they have a hive with a queen similarily to bees or ants. It is implied that if let to breed freely, the spiders would eventually give birth to a new queen capable of birthing fertile offspring, eventually leading to the whole world being overrun by the extremely aggressive and venomous strain of spiders.
  • Super OCD: Dr. Metcalf walks his treadmill (rather than around the neighborhood with his wife) because he must know exactly how far he's gone and exactly how long it took.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Dr Atherton. He's the foremost spider expert in the country, and he's been extensively informed how dangerous the new breed of spiders are. He sees no problem however in investigating the huge spider's nest in the barn all by himself, with no protection whatsoever. And then deliberately twanging the spider's web, apparently to get it to show its face. Predictably, he dies within minutes.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Ross' friend Chris survives the spider infestation and manages to escape from the house with the family; he is last seen trying to pull Ross out of the house on a ladder but is knocked over. He is never seen again after that.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Doctor Jennings is deathly afraid of spiders because of an encounter with one in his infancy.
  • The World's Expert on Getting Killed: The entomologist who knows all about the killer spiders goes down like a Red Shirt. Perhaps a little more acceptable than most examples because he's a scientist, not a hunter, but he still wasn't very careful despite knowing how dangerous the spiders were.