Plot: What’s it about?
Scream! Factory’s line is one of my very favorite film distribution labels. The label specializes in horror films and science fiction films. One of the best aspects of the label is that it is very diverse. Films range from John Carpenter films back to the early creature features of the Fifties. For fans of the latter, Shout! has done a service by releasing one of the most beloved creature features from the golden age of science fiction Tarantula.
The film begins in an Arizona desert as a horribly deformed man is found outside the town of Desert Rock. The man, Eric Jacobs, is brought to the local laboratory owned by Professor Gerald Deemer (Leo G. Carroll.) The doctor is working on a synthetic nutrient to help animals grow to help with sustainability in the future. In his lab is a gigantic tarantula. Jacobs attacks the doctor, injects him with the synthetic nutrient, and attempts to destroy the lab. The tarantula escapes the lab while the doctor is unconscious. Jacobs dies and the doctor buries him before an autopsy can be performed. The professor reports the death listing the cause as acromegalia. A young doctor, Dr. Matt Hastings (John Agar) decides to investigate further. The professor’s female colleague Stephanie “Steve” Clayton (Mara Corday) arrives to visit the professor and help him with his experiments. Along the way she befriends Dr. Hastings. Meanwhile, the townspeople are deluged by strange circumstances- a car crash, cattle picked clean, and a farmer killed- all with some strange white puddles nearby. It is not long until the professor’s gigantic tarantula is revealed to be the cause. At the same time, the nutrient begins to deform the professor.
Over the years on the site, I have watched a number of the creature features from yesteryear. It is a genre that I was first introduced to by the film Matinee as a young child and then was reinforced by Mystery Science Theater 3000. I am no expert on these films but I do like the time capsule quality of these films. I can also discern between a middling creature feature and a truly worthwhile one. I would argue that Tarantula ranks among the best of them.
There are numerous reasons why this film rises above the others. First and foremost, the effects work is pretty darn good. The film does a great job of using rear projection and the effects look very nice for the time period in which the movie was made. Secondly, the script is appropriately ridiculous. Gigantic tarantulas, mad scientists, horrible deformities, and truly terrible scientific logic (such as the population count I used at the beginning of the review) make the film very fun to watch. The absurdity of the film adds a lot to its appeal.
The film is capably directed by Jack Arnold who had already directed the classic The Creature from the Black Lagoon. The acting fits the picture well with a memorable performance by Leo G. Carroll as Professor Deemer. The female doctor is played by Mara Corday who looks a lot like Gina Gershon. These are both good additions to the film.
Video: How’s it look?
An exceptional job on the restoration of the film was done in 1080p and shown in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The new 2K scan of the film’s original elements is a great success. Fine detail is excellent. Contrast levels are attractive. The print seems to have been well maintained over the years. A very fine level of grain is present but is never distracting. There is some softness that occasionally creeps into the picture, mainly during effects shots, but this is to be expected. Fans of the film will be happy to see it receive such a great transfer.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Moreover, a nice DTS-HD MA Mono track has been included. The dialogue is clear and they have done an excellent job removing any hiss. The score by Herman Stein sounds nice on this track. This is not a particularly immersive track, but they have done a solid job on the mixing. Fans will be pleased.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Audio Commentary – Film historian Tom Weaver discusses the film at length. A clip of Joe Dante discusses the impact this film had on him as a child which makes sense if you have seen Matinee. Dr. Robert H. Kiss, and David Schecter also help with some re-enactments. This is an entertaining and often funny track.
- Theatrical Trailer
The Bottom Line
Tarantula is one of the best films of the creature feature genre from the Fifties. It inspired a generation of filmmakers including Joe Dante that saw the film as a child. This movie will not be for you if you are not fond of these types of films. For fans of the genre, this is a must-own. Shout!Factory has provided an excellent 2K scan and the audio commentary is fun and informative.