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Film / Arachnophobia

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Molly: What is it?
Delbert: It's hard to say... Would anybody object if I tore this floor out?
Molly: I would.
Delbert: False alarm then; lead on.

A thriller/comedy (or "thrillomedy") film released in 1990, Arachnophobia starred Jeff Daniels, John Goodman, and Julian Sands, written by Don Jakoby and Wesley Strick, and produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Richard Vane, with Steven Spielberg as executive producer. 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, which is discovered by entomologist James Atherton (Julian Sands). 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, called The General, 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 family physician Ross Jennings (Daniels) struggles to make sense of the mysterious deaths. Aiding him is the Eccentric Exterminator Delbert McClintock, played by Goodman in one of his more memorable 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 the role of the exterminator.

Arachnophobia provides examples of:

  • Aerosol Flamethrower: Towards the end of the film, Ross uses an aerosol can and a lighter in an attempt to burn down The General. It doesn't work.
  • All for Nothing: Minor example with the much-prized bottle of Chateau. After making a Running Gag of keeping it safe at all costs (even having Ross refuse to toss it when he's flinging bottles at The General in a desperate attempt to keep it away from him), neither Ross nor his wife manage to sip a single drop before an earthquake in San Francisco makes them go check if their kids are safe... and then an aftershock spills all of it.
  • The Amazon: The killer spiders come from an unexplored jungle in Venezuela.
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  • Answers to the Name of God: During the finale of the film.
    Ross: [after destroying the nest with his Improbable Aiming Skills] Thank God.
    Delbert: Don't mention it.
  • Artistic License – Biology: The breed of giant super-spiders is pure Hollywood fantasy.
    • While there really are species of spiders that live in colonies, none of these are male-dominated colonies, nor do they have a singular "queen" like ants or bees.
    • 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 specimens, 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.
      • The General is only about the size of a Goliath bird eater, one of the largest known tarantula species, only beat by the huntsman in leg span.
  • Asshole Victim: Dr. Sam Metcalf is a contrarian, pompous jerkass who screws over Ross, 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 Ross, the morgue and the scientist's assistant examine three bodies in search for spider bites.
  • "Awesome McCool" Name: Delbert McClintock.
  • Big Bad: The General, a Giant Spider from Venezuela and the film's main antagonist.
  • Big Fun: Delbert McClintock, despite being a heavy guy, is an affable and quirky exterminator.
  • Blood from the Mouth: All victims of the killer spiders are characterized by having a stream of blood from one side of the mouth. This is Lampshaded by Ross that, upon investigating Margaret's death, he tells 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, Ross 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 just before he kills The General.
  • The City vs. the Country: Ross 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 Ross's barn is by far the best spot.
  • Connect the Deaths: Used when Ross 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: Delbert 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 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, 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: Ross does this after Delbert reveals that the spider he brought with him was still at the bottom of his shoe.
  • Face Your Fears: At the end of the film, Ross has to overcome his arachnophobia in order to kill the General and the second spider nest.
  • 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 disappearing down the drain.
  • From New York to Nowhere: Dr. Ross Jennings moves his family from San Francisco to a sleepy town in Northern California because he got the offer to be the town doctor there. Things get pretty bad for him when the Jerkass town doctor that made the offer decides to not retire after all, making him struggle to get patients so he'll have a job... and then all hell breaks loose.
  • 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 Venezuelan spider, the General, which is the size of a baseball mitt—giant enough.
  • High-Voltage Death: During the end of the film, Ross kills the queen by throwing her into the fuse box with a shovel.
  • Hypocrite: Dr. Sam Metcalf discredits Ross's reputation and advises townsfolk to avoid consulting him. When Dr. Metcalf is bitten by a spider, he tells his wife to urgently call Ross.
  • It Can Think: The General in particular is shown to be extremely intelligent in its actions, stowing away inside Jerry Manley's coffin after it kills him, immediately killing Atherton when he tries to bait it out, and using its size and speed to always keep Ross on-the-fence during its final battle with him.
  • 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, Ross 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 Ross crashes through the floor into the wine cellar, not one of the spiders goes down after him.
  • Jerkass: Dr. Sam Metcalf arranges with Ross 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 Ross 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.
  • Kill It with Fire: Ross destroys the second spider nest by using a nail gun on The General after setting the latter on fire.
  • 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.
  • Leitmotif:
    • Trevor Jones's main theme is featured in the opening and ending credits, and make prominent appearances during the film.
    • Delbert's theme features a saxophone, harmonica and piano.
  • 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 The General with a nail gun, albeit one meant to patch holes in starships.
  • Named After Somebody Famous: Frank Marshall named the goliath birdeater tarantula who played the General "Big Bob," after director Robert Zemeckis.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer used lighthearted music and put major focus on Delbert, 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?)
  • Oh, Crap!: There are quite a few characters who at various points realize that they are in serious trouble.
    • Jerry when the General bites him.
    • Ross whenever he sees spiders due to him suffering the titular fear, especially when he sees The General.
    • Brandy when she sees spiders in her bathtub while she is showering.
    • Atherton when he realizes the General is about to kill him.
    • Delbert when he discovers that Atherton has died.
    • Ross when he encounters the General in the wine cellar.
  • Orifice Evacuation: A spider crawls out of one of the victims' noses when the body is discovered.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Jerry Manley's death at the hands of the Venezuelan spider helps sets the whole plot in motion.
  • Primal Fear: The villainous spiders (especially The General) are a manifestation of everything that an arachnophobe hates and fears of them (and Ross has the titular phobia, meaning that the movie's climax is a massive Face Your Fears moment).
  • The Professor: There's an entomologist named Professor James Atherton, who is usually referred to by Delbert as 'The Professor'.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: The film's epilogue shows that after all of the tension (and home-wrecking) of the events, Ross and his family moved back to San Francisco (which is nice... except for the earthquakes).
  • Shout-Out: Delbert's attire is largely inspired by Ghostbusters. The MAD Magazine parody, A Knack For Phobias, makes the connection explicit.
  • Shovel Strike: When the queen gets close to Ross while he is stuck in the wine cellar, he throws the shovel into the fuse box, leading to the queen's High-Voltage Death.
  • 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 similarly 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: 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: Atherton'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 Ross's 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.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: James Atherton's discovery of the Venezuelan spiders leads to Jerry's Plot-Triggering Death and one of the spiders gets inadvertently transported to California, setting the whole plot in motion.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: 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?: Ross is deathly afraid of spiders because of an encounter with one in his infancy. He overcomes it towards the end of the film.
  • The World's Expert on Getting Killed: Atherton, 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.


Example of: