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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 horror/comedy film released in 1990, Arachnophobia starred Jeff Daniels, John Goodman, Julian Sands, and Peter Jason, 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, with the soundtrack in turn being the first album released by Hollywood Records.

A previously unknown species of spider is discovered living in an isolated sinkhole within the Venezuelan jungle by entomologist James Atherton (Julian Sands). These spiders operate with a hive mentality and carry an extremely potent venom which kills in seconds. When one of the spiders is accidentally transported to a sleepy California town 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 (Jeff Daniels) struggles to make sense of the mysterious deaths. Aiding him is the Eccentric Exterminator Delbert McClintock (John Goodman). The film was a financial and critical success thanks to its mix of horror and humor.

There was also a PC game released on several platforms (Amiga, DOS, and Amstrad CPC) that was vaguely related to the movie, in which the player took the role of the exterminator and traveled to different towns to locate and kill off the spiders.

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. In the PC game, this can be collected as a power-up for much greater effect.
  • All for Nothing: Minor example with the much-prized bottle of Château Margaux. 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 manages 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 most of it.
  • 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.
    • Spider reproductive parts vary considerably between species. Even assuming that The General is somehow genetically close enough to the spiders in California that viable offspring could result, they shouldn't have been physically capable of reproducing.
  • 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.
    • Jerry Manley to a lesser extent, who is perpetually grouchy and refuses to listen to the advice of the natives to pay attention to his surroundings.
  • 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 of spider bites.
  • 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.
  • Big Good: Delbert's a unique variety. It's not every day a grubby, humble exterminator becomes a beacon of hope against the General and his spiders. A prime example is when one of those spiders comes on the scene, their theme plays. However, when Delbert sees one of these things, his theme overshadows it.
  • Blood from the Mouth: All victims of the killer spiders are characterized by having a stream of blood from one side of their mouth. This is Lampshaded by Ross, upon investigating Margaret's death, he tells Metcalf that one 'does not bite their tongue off' from a mere heart attack.
  • Body Horror: The condition of Jerry's corpse after the General drains it of all its blood.
  • Brick Joke:
    • A Running Gag of the movie is Ross keeping his bottle of Château Margaux safe. He even spares it during his life-and-death battle with the General at the end. It manages to survive the entire movie... only to get it all spilled by a random earthquake after he moves back to San Francisco at the end of the movie.
    Ross: Not the Château!
    • Ross scolds one of the removal guys for handling his wine too roughly, as it can disturb the sediments. Later on, Delbert casually picks up a bottle of Ross's wine in the cellar and roughly shakes it up and down.
  • 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, mainly because Dr. Metcalf slanders him out of spite and uses the string of mysterious deaths to make him look like a quack... or worse.
  • 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.
  • Contrived Coincidence.
    • Manley just happened to live in the same town that Ross has just moved to.
    • It was very unlucky for Ross that two of his patients were bitten by one of the deadly spiders shortly after being examined by him.
  • Cool Big Sis: Becky Beechwood is about eight years older than her sister Bunny, but is still willing to drop her off or pick her friends up for sleepovers and lets Shelly and Bunny sleep in her room when she thinks that they're scared of the rumored killer spiders.
  • Cool Old Lady: Margaret is instantly welcoming to Ross and his family, and happily takes the initiative in helping them get to know their neighbors, and find new patients.
  • Cowardly Lion: Jennings has been deathly afraid of spiders since childhood and his fear of these particular spiders is highly justified due to their extremely potent venom. Despite this, he's able to confront the General in the film's climax, defeat him and destroy his unhatched offspring thus saving the town.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: It’s implied the spiders devoured Irv from the inside, judging by how one is seen crawling out of his nose.
  • Determinator: Even after being set ablaze, the General still makes one final attempt at delivering a fatal bite to Jennings. At this point he is doomed and is simply trying to protect his unhatched offspring.
  • Dr. Jerk: Dr. Metcalf, who is utterly incompetent at being a doctor and cares more about public opinion than actually treating his patients.
  • Dramatic Irony: Jerry Manley's mother is quite distraught at burying her now-late son, and bemoans she didn't get to see him one last time. Unbeknownst to her, her precious son's body had been desiccated by the General, reduced to an unsightly mummy. So even if she had seen her baby boy, well.... There was just no outcome where her son's death wouldn't be any less devastating.
  • Due to the Dead: Irv the mortician is unsettled by seeing the state of Jerry's body and instantly advises his family that having a closed casket funeral will be the best step to let him keep his dignity.
  • 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.
  • Fanservice: A young woman, Becky gets a Shower Scene showing some Toplessness from the Back and Shoulders-Up Nudity.
    • Fan Disservice: ... but unbeknownst to her, one of the lethal, venomous spiders is crawling along her shower rod, before jumping onto her face and going down her body, including a close-up shot of the spider crawling between her breasts. She remains oblivious as it gets washed off her body until she notices the spider is on her feet and starts screaming.
  • Foreshadowing: There's a jay-sized live bird ensnared in the oversized web that the photographer stumbles into in the jungle. He's too busy freaking out to notice, but for the audience, it's an early indication that these spiders won't be settling for puny bugs as victims.
  • 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.
  • Godzilla Threshold: The "private stock" that Delbert returns with at the climax, judging from the smoke rising off of the spiders he is apparently spraying them down with some sort of acid.
  • Gonna Need More Trope: Once they discover the Queen's nest, Delbert realizes his usual insecticide isn't going to be strong enough.
    Delbert: I'm gonna go uncork the private stock.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Metcalf's own wife has him pegged when she suspects that the reason he's so hard on Ross is that he's jealous he's not only a younger doctor, but a better one as well. Though Metcalf won't say it, it does lend credit that there's more to his disdain towards Ross than simple professionalism.
  • Hate Sink: Dr. Metcalf is well-established as this from his first scene. Despite Ross moving all the way from the city to take up his patients, Metcalf ditches out on retirement at the last moment because he's too proud of his position to let go. Despite his claims the whole town threw a party for him, his wife sets the record straight he threw a party for himself. The cherry on top is when (after the spider deaths begin) Metcalf begins circulating rumors that everyone Ross does a check-up on is doomed to die.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Dr. Atherton argues that spiders in general are this, due to the rampantness of arachnophobia and how spiders kill millions of insects per acre that would otherwise inconvenience or endanger humans. Ross concedes this point, but does convince him that they have a particularly dangerous kind of spider on their hands.
  • 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.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: Downplayed. A teenage boy does die after being bitten by one of the spiders but Ross' daughter and her friend do avoid getting bit.
  • Intro-Only Point of View: Local scientist Miguel Higueras is one of the primary characters in the first few minutes of the movie, but disappears from it once the action goes to America.
  • Irrational Hatred: Dr. Metcalf hates Ross for daring to stay in town despite him deciding not to retire and immediately goes about slandering him... because Dr. Metcalf has neglected to tell him this until after Ross and his family had moved, quit their jobs, and bought an office.
  • 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.
  • It's All About Me: Dr. Metcalf. He has Ross replace him when he decides, then goes back on this on the fly and neglects to tell Ross until after he and his family have bought a house, he and his wife quit their jobs and bought an office. Metcalf then gets extremely pissed that Ross has the gall to set up another clinic, and begins slandering him and blaming the rash of recent deaths on his incompetence and prevents any attempt Ross makes to examine the bodies to discredit him. He also cares more about public opinion than actually doing his job.
  • 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 others 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.
  • Ivy League for Everyone: Ross went to Yale.
  • 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.
  • Killed Offscreen: Irv and Blair Kendall are killed by the spiders offscreen, having been poisoned when they scooped up some spiders hiding in the popcorn they were eating.
  • 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.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Dr. Metcalf objected to Dr. Ross's rather reasonable suggestion of giving the spider victims an autopsy. Later, Dr. Metcalf not only dies, but is among said-spider victims who have to be dug up and examined for spider bites.
  • 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.
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: Delbert seems to be rather ineffective early on and has to resort to stepping on a spider when his poison does nothing to it. When he shows up at the climax he's dressed in full protective gear and dual-wielding sprayers that appear to be loaded with acid given how the spiders are literally burned by it.
  • Lock-and-Load Montage: Delbert gets one when preparing to face the Queen. "Rock and roll!"
  • Lovable Jock: Coach Beecher and his older children have few interests unrelated to sports and physical dirtiness but also welcome Ross and his family, and help him out with fitting into the community and getting patients both before and after Margaret dies.
  • 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.
  • Monstrous Cannibalism: As with most spiders, these are said to eat their own. The only reason why the barn is devoid of any normal spiders is because the Queen eats any that go near.
  • Mugging the Monster: When the General arrives in town, a crow mistakenly believes the spider to be an easy snack and captures it. Moments later, the crow is killed in mid-flight.
  • 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.
  • Nerd Glasses: Both Chris and Delbert wear prominent spectacles.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer used lighthearted music and put a 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!:
    • Jerry when the General bites him.
    • Ross whenever he sees spiders due to him suffering the titular fear, especially when he sees The General.
    • Lloyd when he finds a (dead) spider in a box of cereal he was eating.
    • 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.
  • Papa Wolf: The General will go to any length to protect his nest from being destroyed even while engulfed in flames.
  • Pet the Dog: In spite of his selfishness, Metcalf does credit Ross as being a good doctor at the latter's party.
  • 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'.
  • "Psycho" Shower Murder Parody: The spider attacking Becky in the shower is an obvious comic nod to Hitchcock’s Psycho.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The county coroner, Milt Briggs. Like Metcalf and Sheriff Parsons, he is initially skeptical of Ross' claims about the spiders, but unlike them, he does not dismiss him entirely and gives the go ahead to give Metcalf an autopsy. When said autopsy DOES reveal that Metcalf was killed by an unknown poison, Briggs immediately allows Ross to exhume the bodies of the other victims to further prove his suspicions.
  • Scenery Porn: The first fifteen minutes have some beautiful shots of both South America (blowing mist, a waterfall, mountain sinkholes etc.) and the California countryside.
  • Schoolyard Bully All Grown Up: Lloyd delights in using his power as sheriff to belittle or inconvenience the people whom he dislikes (although he does ease off some after Ross's theories are proven to be right), and his former teacher Margaret says he was the same way in her class.
  • 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.
    • Irv and Blaire watch Wheel of Fortune before being killed by spiders.
  • 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.
  • Shower of Awkward: When Becky has a Freak Out about the spider jumping on her while she's showering, her startled father and brother burst into the bathroom, which causes her to forget about the spider to have a Naked Freak-Out instead, covering herself with the shower curtain while screaming at them.
  • Skeptic No Longer: Sheriff Parsons, Milt, and Chris are all a little skeptical of Ross's claims at first. This attitude utterly vanishes when an examination of the three bodies turns up a spider bite on each corpse.
  • Spiders Are Scary: The film is about a group of hybridized, lethally venomous spiders that invade a California town and begin killing the inhabitants that live there.
  • Spider Swarm: 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.
  • Stupid Evil: In the climactic fight, the General passes on several opportunities to give Ross a fatal bite, seemingly to further terrify and taunt him.
  • 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 very quickly thereafter.
  • Untrusting Community: Canaima is suspicious of outsiders like Ross who see him as a big-city wig and put their trust on Metcalf over him.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: James Atherton and Miguel Higueras'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.
  • Women Are Wiser: Mrs. Metcalf is a lot nicer and smarter than her husband, correcting his Self-Serving Memory and saying that Ross may have a point about wanting to autopsy the recent apparent heart attack victims.
  • 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.