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Film / Tarantula!

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"Leo G. Carroll was over a barrel
When Tarantula took to the hills."
"Science Fiction Double Feature", The Rocky Horror Picture Show

The quintessential Giant Spider movie and one of the better giant monster B-Movies from the 1950s.

Near a small Arizonan town, Professor Gerald Deemer (Leo G. Carroll), suspecting burgeoning global food shortage problems due to an increasing world population, has been attempting to develop a serum which people can feed off exclusively. Alas, when trying it on rats, rabbits and a tarantula, all it does is cause them to grow to enormous proportions, and when humans take it, it causes them to develop acromegaly, go mad, and die. Deemer's two lab assistants take the serum when he is gone one day, causing one to die, and the other to go mad and attack Deemer, injecting him with the serum himself. During their fight, the cage of the tarantula, which is already about the size of a large dog, is shattered, and it escapes into the desert. Shortly afterwards, local doctor Matt Hastings (John Agar) brings in Deemer's new assistant Stephanie "Steve" Clayton (B-Movie scream queen Mara Corday). As Deemer's condition deteriorates due to the serum, Hastings romances Clayton. But then the livestock of local farmers start turning up dead. The escaped tarantula, sure enough, has grown to even bigger proportions; now those of a large building. It is now up to Deemer, Hastings, Clayton and the local sheriff to stop it.

Among other things, the film is notable for the appearance of a 25-year-old Clint Eastwood in an uncredited role as a fighter pilot at the end of the film.

This film provides examples of:

  • Artistic License – Animal Care: Giant animals would need to be fed before they could be eaten, making their value as a solution to world hunger dubious at best.
  • Artistic License – Medicine: Deliberately invoked: "Acromegalia" (actual name Acromegaly) takes years, not days, to reach the point where complications can become life-threatening. Hastings points this out as the first sign that something is wrong.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: The original giant spider movie, or at least the one that popularized it.
  • B-Movie: One of the more notable examples of giant animals and insect films from the '50s.
  • Covers Always Lie:
    • There is no scene of the tarantula holding a woman in its jaws in the film.
    • Also, a famous publicity still shows what looks to be Deemer menacing Steve. The scene does take place, but Deemer is actually gravely ill when it happens and needs Steve's help, neither intending to menace her nor capable of it.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: We don't really see the spider in its fully-grown, people-eating, building-destroying glory until about 47 minutes into the film. Until then, there's just a few shots of it escaping the lab and wandering around in the desert.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Okay, so the Mad Scientist has a plan to end world hunger by creating giant animals. So he tests his new serum on rabbits, guinea pigs, and a freaking tarantula. The latter goes as well as you expect.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Steve is apparently unable to see the giant tarantula filling her entire window whilst wandering around her bedroom. That could be justified in that it was in the middle of the night, and she was getting ready for bed. She was too tired to be looking for a giant spider.
  • Gender-Blender Name: "Steve" Clayton. Short for Stephanie.
  • Giant Spider: Ummmm, duh.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Deemer's animal-growth formula works exactly as intended. If it's deadly to humans, well, it was never intended for use on humans. And the tarantula would surely have been killed and dissected long before it became a kaiju if one of Deemer's colleagues, maddened by misuse of the formula, hadn't released it.
  • Gratuitous Laboratory Flasks: Deemer's at-home laboratory has an impressive array of big retorts and curly glass tubes.
  • Kaiju: The tarantula.
  • Karmic Death: Deemer ends up killed by the same tarantula he created.
  • Kill It with Fire: The giant tarantula finally bites it when the Air Force drops a ton of napalm on it.
  • Mad Scientist: Deemer. He's Affably Evil enough, but making a serum to make animals grow to huge sizes is definitely Mad Science.
  • My Car Hates Me: Two policemen attempt to flee the tarantula in a car that was working fine not two minutes before. Naturally, it won't start.
  • Professor Guinea Pig: Revealed to be the fate of Deemer's fellow researchers, who tested the growth nutrient on themselves despite failed animal testings.
  • Rodents of Unusual Size: Deemer's lab has couple of blown up rats, rabbits and guinea pigs.
  • Screaming Woman: Steve, but only in the scenes where the tarantula attacks the house.
  • Spiders Are Scary: Especially the 100 foot high ones. But this one was scary enough when only the size of the aforementioned large dog.
  • Touch of the Monster: Of the Rape of the Sabine Women variety, see above.
  • Weird Science: In the vein of the pulp novels that clearly inspired it; a Mad Scientist decides to solve world hunger by making giant animals.