Tarantula! (1955) John Agar, Maria Corday, Leo G. Carroll
You can run and you can hide but there is no escaping the sci-fi classic Tarantula about a science experiment gone horribly wrong! When biochemist Leo G. Carroll decides to feed the world by using a special growth formula on plants and animals, he instead creates a spider of mammoth proportions with an appetite to match. Escaping from the laboratory and feeding off cattle and humans, this towering tarantula has the people of Desert Rock, Arizona, running for their lives. Can this horrible creature be stopped or will the world succumb to this over-sized arachnid?
Editorial review of Tarantula (1955), courtesy of Amazon.com
When the radiation-spawned giant ants of Them! swarmed over American screens to become one the most successful films of 1954, it didn’t take long for the rest of the insect kingdom to follow suit. The best of these mutant bug movies is Jack Arnold’s giddy Tarantula, with Leo G. Carroll as a scientist whose experimental, radiation-treated nutritional supplements transform the title creature into a rampaging monster. The hungry arachnid graduates from rabbits to cattle to people as it grows and creeps across the barren countryside in search of food, dwarfing the desert hills in simple but unsettling special effects shots.
John Agar plays the square-jawed doctor who tries to warn the local populace of the impending menace and Clint Eastwood has a bit as an Air Force pilot called in to bomb the now mountain-sized spider. It’s an essentially silly story with plenty of heroic dashing about and monster-movie tropes (“See its mandibles crush cars like a tin cans!”), but Arnold, one of the most talented and thoughtful genre directors of the 1950s (It Came From Outer Space, The Incredible Shrinking Man), creates a surprisingly eerie mood with his austere visual style and winds the film up with his tension-building rapid pacing. Composer-playwright Richard O’Brien liked the film so much he immortalized it in the Rocky Horror Picture Show: “Leo G. Carroll was over a barrel when the Tarantula took the hills.” The film still straddles the line between nostalgic goofiness and smart sci-fi thrills. —Sean Axmaker
Movie quotes from Tarantula
Dr. Matt Hastings: [talking about the rash of pregnancies in the area] The desert, it gives people wonderful ideas!
Prof. Gerald Deemer: The history of medicine is the history of the unusual
Dr. Matt Hastings: We all make mistakes, Jack; this isn’t one of mine.
Prof. Gerald Deemer: The disease of hunger, like most diseases, well, it spreads. There are 2 billion people in the world today. In 1975 there’ll be 3 billion. In the year 2000, there’ll be 3,625,000,000. The world may not be able to produce enough food to feed all these people. Now perhaps you’ll understand what an inexpensive nutrient will mean.
Dr. Matt Hastings: Well, not many of us look that far in the future, sir.
Prof. Gerald Deemer: Our business is the future. No man can do it on his own, of course. You don’t pull it out of your hat like a magician’s rabbit. You – well, you build on what hundreds of others have learned before you.
Andy Andersen: [viewing what’s left of his dead cattle] I never saw anything like it! No footprints! No blood! No sign of a struggle! The bones just stripped clean like peeling a banana!
Dr. Matt Hastings: But what if circumstances magnified one of them in size and strength, took it out of its primitive world, and turned it loose in ours?
Prof. Townsend: Then expect something that’s fiercer, more cruel and deadly than anything that ever walked on earth!
Stephanie ‘Steve’ Clayton: What does it look like?
Dr. Matt Hastings: Oh, like something from another life science”¦ quiet, yet strangely evil as if it were hiding its secrets from man.
Stephanie ‘Steve’ Clayton: You make it sound so creepy.
Dr. Matt Hastings: The unknown always is.
Sheriff Jack Andrews: What have you git, Matt?
Dr. Matt Hastings: I don’t know, but we’ve got to keep our mouths shut until we know.
Dr. Matt Hastings: I may be just a country doctor, but I know what I know.
Stephanie ‘Steve’ Clayton: Science or no science, a girl’s got to get her hair done.
Joe Burch: I nearly wet the bed when I heard about Jacobs.
Trivia for Tarantula
- Look for a young Clint Eastwood as the (uncredited) leader of the jet squadron that attacks the tarantula in the film’s climax.
- The tarantula was an actual live spider. Air jets were used to make it move in the desired way over a miniature landscape.
- Prof Deemer predicts that by the year 2000 the human population will be 3.6 billion in fact it was almost double that.