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Arachnophobia
1990 - PG-13 - 103 Mins.
Director: Frank Marshall
Producer: Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall
Written By: Don Jakoby and Wesley Strick
Starring: Jeff Daniels, John Goodman, Julian Sands, Harley Jane Kozak, Stuart Pankin
Review by: John Ulmer
   
Hollywood used to like making movies about big bugs. During the 50s and 60s (and yes, even the 70s) there was an abundance of very bad B-movies about mutated insects. It would always be about some sort of hideous species getting in contact with radioactive waste in a rural middle-American environment. I remember seeing one where the bugs happened to be alien ants that took over an entire middle-America town. The queen ant transformed all of the people into slaves, who then went out and did her biddings.

Stuff like that is "so bad it's good," and Frank Marshall's "Arachnophobia" has a fun time making fun of these movies, yet it implements its own giant (or miniscule, depending upon how you view it) twist: The spiders are small instead of large. This could have been a pretty dumb idea but it only comes across as more frightening and realistic. "Arachnophobia" never tries to become the next "JAWS" but it has a fun time ridiculing some of the old B-movie clich├ęs. Yet because of improper advertising and marketing, many audiences were led to believe that "Arachnophobia" was a strict horror film. I pity the poor souls who wandered into the screening rooms expecting to experience a white-knuckle thriller. Only people suffering from arachnophobia will find this scary -- but anyone who likes a good piece of entertainment will cherish it.

The movie stars Jeff Daniels as an average, mild-mannered guy who moves out of the big city with his family, retreating to a rural middle-America suburb, where he finds himself at the wrath of tiny, poisonous spiders. The arachnids were carried across the ocean from Venezuela after a researcher investigating their species died from a bite. Now the critters are everywhere, and they're small, ruthless and deadly. So with the help of a comical exterminator (John Goodman) and a few local yokels, Daniels tries to rid the town of the creatures before the beasts overrun all of America.

It's nothing that hasn't been done before, but thanks to Marshall's somewhat tongue-in-cheek direction and the fairly witty and self-aware script, "Arachnophobia" comes across as anything but dumb -- it actually appears to be rather smart, the "Scream" of insect horror movies, with characters who are aware of their situations and face them with a sense of wit.

Another reason the film succeeds far past the others of its genre is because of the lead performance by Jeff Daniels (Harry from "Dumb and Dumber"), who is one of the best character actors in showbiz. He can play anything, ranging from utter goofballs to mild-mannered everymen to brave war heroes. Here he chooses the middle role and it helps make the film a bit better than it could have been.

I also appreciated John Goodman's supporting role turn as the exterminator, a sort of opposite of Arnold's Terminator. He stomps around soaking the little creatures with toxins and gets pleasure out of doing it -- he's the rare sort of obnoxious and likable crossbreed, and Marshall knows this, purposely introducing him as a subtle hero.

Admittedly, "Arachnophobia" is nothing special, but it's likable and often rather funny, which is a mix you don't often come by in this genre.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

 
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