Archive for the Giant Spiders Category

In The Spooklight: TARANTULA! (1955)

Posted in 1950s Horror, 2013, Atomic Accidents, Classic Films, Giant Spiders, In the Spooklight, Insect Horror, Mad Doctors!, Man vs. Nature, Medical Experiments!, Michael Arruda Reviews, Scares!, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , on July 17, 2013 by knifefighter

NOTE: This is a reprint of a column which originally ran in the HWA NEWSLETTER in July 2012.  If you enjoy this column, feel free to check out my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT collection, available now as an EBook at, and as a print edition at  It contains 115 horror movie columns, covering movies from the silent era and 1930s to the movies of today.  Thanks! —Michael

By Michael Arruda

tarantula_movie_poster_artDon’t you just love furry little critters like— tarantulas?  No?  Find them a bit scary and repulsive, do you?  Well, then you’ll just cringe at the colossal star of Universal’s TARANTULA (1955), a spider so big it can step on a house! 

TARANTULA is one of the best giant monster movies from the 1950s.  It’s certainly the finest one produced by Universal Studios.

Dr. Matt Hastings (John Agar) is called to the coroner’s office in the small town of Desert Rock, Arizona, by his friend Sheriff Jack Andrews (Nestor Paiva) to investigate the death of a man found in the desert.  The victim resembles a man they know, Eric Jacobs, but his facial features are swollen and contorted.  Hastings believes Jacobs’ symptoms resemble the disease acromegaly, a disorder of the pituitary gland, but this doesn’t make sense to Hastings since the disease takes years to develop and Jacobs wasn’t showing any symptoms just days before.

When Jacobs’ employer, the eminent Professor Gerald Deemer, (Leo G. Carroll), arrives, he insists that Jacobs was indeed suffering from acromegaly, and he refuses to allow an autopsy on the body.  This doesn’t sit well with Dr. Hastings, who finds the diagnosis wrong, and Deemer’s behavior baffling.

Yep, Deemer is the town’s resident mad scientist, and he lives just outside Desert Rock in a huge mansion, complete with a laboratory full of oversized animals in cages, including a tarantula the size of a dog.  When yet another malformed insane human attacks Professor Deemer, the laboratory is set on fire and destroyed, but not before the tarantula escapes from the house.  This hideous human also injects an unconscious Deemer with some unknown drug, before collapsing and dying himself.

Later, when a new assistant arrives in town to work for Professor Deemer, the beautiful Stephanie “Steve” Clayton (Mara Corday), Matt Hastings accompanies her to Deemer’s place, where he learns all about the professor’s research.  Professor Deemer is attempting to stamp out world hunger by using atomic energy to create a “super” food nutrient, which he has injected into various animals, and as a result they have grown in size.  Hmm.  Supersized fried chicken!  Yummy!

Deemer tells Steve and Matt that his lab was destroyed in an accidental fire, and he believes all his caged animals were killed.  He doesn’t realize that his tarantula is free in the desert growing bigger by the minute.  When next seen, the spider is gigantic, the size of a house, and it’s hungry, eating everything in its path, including horses, farms animals, and people.

Eventually, the giant tarantula sets its hairy sights on Desert Rock, and suddenly the town has to scramble to defend itself against the humongous marauding arachnid.

TARANTULA is one of my favorite giant monster movies.  First off, the screenplay by Robert M. Fresco and Martin Berkeley presents a story that is more creative than most.  There’s more going on in TARANTULA than just the basic “giant bug on the loose” storyline.  There’s all the mystery surrounding Professor Deemer’s research, and the strange misshapen men lumbering in and around his property, which adds some genuine intrigue to the story.  Screenwriter Berkeley also penned the screenplay for two other Universal monster classics, REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (1955) and THE DEADLY MANTIS (1957).

Director Jack Arnold, who directed several genre movies, including CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) and THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957), is at the top of his game with TARANTULA.  He creates some memorable scenes.  One of my favorites occurs at night at a farm, when suddenly a group of horses begins to grow very nervous.  In the distance we see a darkened hill, and very slowly, onto that hill from the other side, creeps the massive tarantula.  It’s one hair-raising scene!

Another effective scene has Steve walking back and forth in her bedroom, not noticing the enormous tarantula through her window as it makes its way towards the house.  She doesn’t notice until the beast is on top of the house, literally!

And the tarantula looks terrific, as it’s menacing and scary.  I’m sure the special effects team was helped by the black and white photography, because with shades of light and dark, the tarantula fits into its scenes naturally and realistically.  The special effects team did a phenomenal job in this one.

The make-up on the acromegaly victims was done by Bud Westmore, and it reminds me a lot of the work he did on ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1953) and MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS (1958), as his monstrous creations in both these movies resemble the folks in the desert in TARANTULA.

There’s also an effective music score by Herman Stein.

The cast is decent enough.  Though I’m not a huge fan of John Agar, his performance in TARANTULA is one of his best. He makes his Dr. Matt Hastings a very likeable fellow, and rarely has he seemed more natural in front of the camera.  I just want to know what he keeps inside his briefcase.  It must be valuable, because young dashing Dr. Hastings doesn’t go anywhere without it, even grabbing it before he runs out the door!

Playing Sheriff Andrews is character actor Nestor Paiva, who appeared in a ton of movies and TV shows over the years.  I’ll always remember him as Lucas, the captain of the Rita in CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) and REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (1955).

Leo G. Carroll, another veteran of movies and television, is also very good as Professor Deemer.  Carroll appeared in many Alfred Hitchcock movies, including NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) and SPELLBOUND (1945), and he played Alexander Waverly on the 1960s secret agent show THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968).

And for added fun, Clint Eastwood appears unbilled in one of his first roles as an air force pilot leading the attack on the tarantula, arriving just in time to save the folks of Desert Rock from the deadly arachnid.

Do you feel lucky, tarantula?”


© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda


Quick Cuts: What’s Your Favorite GIANT BUG Movie? (Part 5 of 5)

Posted in 1950s Sci-Fi Films, 2011, Giant Insects, Giant Spiders, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Quick Cuts with tags , , on July 22, 2011 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS (Part 5 of 5)

Summer is here, which means the bugs are back.  So, this time on QUICK CUTS, we’re asking, What’s your favorite giant bug movie?


Our final answer comes from


For me, THEM! (1954) is king… But I also love BEGINNING OF THE END (1957), a Bert I. Gordon wonder with Peter Graves (the entomologist) and Peggy Castle (the journalist). Together they find that an experiment to grow huge grain has also given a steroid boost to… grasshoppers!  Naturally the big fellahs are carnivorous, and have a creepy screech they make when attacking… One particularly grisly scene involves Frank, a deaf mute (Than Wyenn) silently screaming as he is attacked and devoured by a leviathan named Jiminy.

A “highlight” of the many low-budget effects is the use of postcards to stand in for the city of Chicago, where seemingly huge grasshoppers crawl up skyscrapers before being lured out into Lake Michigan to drown…

Also fun is THE DEADLY MANTIS (1957) from director Nathan Juran and featuring Craig Stevens (TV’s PETER GUNN) against a giant praying mantis that was frozen in the Arctic… The giant puppet mantis is actually pretty scary for the time… Until he flies – then he looks like some errant Rose Parade float with tiny, fluttering wings…  1957 was a banner year for bugs!

Quick Cuts: Favorite GIANT BUG Movies (Part 4 of 5)

Posted in 1950s Sci-Fi Films, 2011, Giant Insects, Giant Spiders, LL Soares Reviews, Quick Cuts with tags , , , , on July 21, 2011 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS (Part 4 of 5)

Summer is here, which means the bugs are back.  So, this time on QUICK CUTS, we’re asking, What’s your favorite giant bug movie? 



I am a huge fan of giant insects and spiders. I still say insects are some of the freakiest looking creatures on the planet – if you see pictures of them up close, they are so different from us they look like aliens! And while  a lot of giant bug movies have been silly, here are eight I really enjoyed (I wanted to just list five, but I didn’t want to leave any of these out).

1.      THEM!  (1954) – It looks like everyone has this one on their lists, and there’s a reason for that. THEM! Is the granddaddy of all giant bug movies – the standard that all others are going to be compared to. Even now. And it’s got impressive-looking giant ants (for the time), good acting, and a compelling story. The noise the ants make – alone – make this movie unforgettable. From the opening scene showing the aftermath of a monster ant attack, to the big finale under the streets of Los Angeles, this is a great movie. And it even has a drunken bum singing “Make me a sergeant in charge of the booze!” One of my favorite songs as a kid, thanks to multiple viewings of this movie.

2.      THE FLY (1958) – Sure the David Cronenberg remake from 1986 makes more sense from a scientific angle, and Cronenberg is one of my all-time favorite directors, but I still prefer the original version of THE FLY, even now. Sure it makes no logical sense why a man would have the giant head of a fly after a teleportation machine test goes wrong. It makes even less sense that the little fly that got into the machine would now have the tiny head of man, and be able to talk. But you’ll never be able to get this one out of your head. I still love the last scene best, where the tiny fly is trapped in a spider’s web and crying out “Help meeeee!” Vincent Price helps it by crushing it to death with a rock. Oh yeah, that’s another reason to love this one. Vincent Price is in it!

3.      THE MIST (2007) – We have no idea what kind of insects they are, because they’re from another dimension, but they are several kinds, they’re all ugly, and they want to kill you. THE MIST gets better every time I watch it, and I think it’s a modern classic, and one of the best Stephen King adaptations of all time. Directed by the great Frank Darabont and starring Thomas Jane. It has that super-depressing ending that so many people hate, but  I really dig this one.

4.      EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977) – Another great giant ant movie (you just can’t go wrong with giant ants!), although this one is kind of silly compared to THEM!. Directed by the king of giant critters, Bert I. Gordon (even his initials spell BIG), and starring Joan Collins as a sleazy con woman pulling off a real estate scam on an island where monster ants have taken over. This one is a lot of fun!

“Give us a kiss, Love!” – Joan Collins and “friend” from EMPIRE OF THE ANTS

5.    THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR (1968) – This is an unusual one. A woman pretending to be the daughter of Dr. Malinger (Robert Flemyng)  is actually a Death’s Head Moth that draws unsuspecting victims to their bloody deaths, like a moth to the flame! Often overlooked, this one is pretty cool, and I wanted to make sure to mention it here.

6.    THE DEADLY MANTIS  (1957) – Aside from the ants from THEM!, THE DEADLY MANTIS is probably the most formidable of the giant bugs. You actually believe this one could do some real damage. Besides, I just think praying mantises are pretty cool.

7.   THE BLACK SCORPION (1957) – Everyone mention giant spiders, but they often overlook this other cool arachnid – the giant SCORPION. In this one, giant scorpions attack New Mexico!

8.   TARANTULA  (1955) – Mad scientist Leo G. Carroll turns into a hideous freak during a lab accident. A giant tarantula he was experimenting on escapes from that same lab and won’t stop growing. Starring B-movie royalty – the great John Agar as Dr. Matt Hastings! And featuring a cameo at the end by a young Clint Eastwood as a fighter pilot who drops a load of napalm on the giant spider.


Quick Cuts: Favorite GIANT BUG Movies (Part 3 of 5)

Posted in 2011, Giant Insects, Giant Spiders, Michael Arruda Reviews, Quick Cuts with tags , , on July 21, 2011 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS (Part 3 of 5)

Summer is here, which means the bugs are back.  So, this time on QUICK CUTS, we’re asking, What’s your favorite giant bug movie? 



Favorite Giant Bug movies:

1. THEM! (1954)

One of the more chilling horror movies ever made, period!  Who can forget the high-pitched ant sounds?  The thrilling sequence in the sewers under Los Angeles?  This movie works so well because director Gordon Douglas crafts many suspenseful scenes where you don’t even see the giant ants (a la Spielberg 21 years later in JAWS).  Terrific acting by the two leads, James Whitmore and James Arness (who both just recently passed away) and great support from Edmund Gwenn.  Giant ants don’t look that bad either.  And of course most memorable because one of the few horror films from the 1950s where the hero— gulp!— dies.  Yikes!  Still scary even today.

2. TARANTULA (1955)

The giant tarantula is actually quite menacing.  Still gives me chills.


I love the scene with the bus in the fog.


Dewey— er, David Arquette- takes on giant spiders.


Technically not a giant spider movie, as it’s about a bunch of little spiders, this one’s got William Shatner in the lead.  Nuff said!  Captain Kirk should have made more horror movies, because the one’s he’s in are all very good.