Friday, 28 August 2015

Tarantula (1955)

Back in the 1950's there was a new type of horror science fiction genre created, giant bug movies. This pretty much came to the forefront with the giant ant thriller 'Them!', a movie about ants affected by radiation, nuclear mutants, and 50's America just loved nuclear stuff. A year later this aptly titled movie came along...and it pretty much speaks for itself really doesn't it.

Yep, so this movie is about a tarantula, and becomes giant and stuff. Well there is a little bit more to it than that, just a bit. A scientist is working on a super nutrient food, a replacement for actual food when the world eventually becomes overcrowded and food sources run out. Bare in mind this was the 50's! if people thought the world was overcrowded I need to finish that sentence? sheesh! So this super nutrient is tested on various animals, some die, but some survive and live on, sometimes growing to huge proportions. Alas this nutrient does not work on humans so far, it results in death via acromegaly, gigantism. So guess what, this scientist happened to be testing this nutrient on a tarantula, not sure why, odd choice of creature for this experiment, but nevertheless he was and it escapes, unsurprisingly.

I think we all know how these type of movies play out. The main smartly dressed male hero travels around trying to work out what's going on, pretty much a detective movie for the most part. There are various local characters, usually farmers, that report unusual happenings or deaths on their land. The local police are usually baffled, often a few outsider experts are brought in, usually military or some foreign scientists, and here and there the odd faceless hillbilly is eaten alive by the giant creature. One thing is for sure, everyone is smartly dressed in the proper attire and well spoken.

Lets face it though, the plot is meaningless here, in most of these creature features the plot is redundant. Bottom line, everyone is waiting for the giant bug to eat people and the big finale showdown. This movie doesn't disappoint, sure it starts off slow as they all do, the plodding plot must introduce the various stereotypical characters, backstory and the incredible reasons why someone is trying some ludicrously dangerous experiment involving atomic power/energy. Once the eight legged monster is on the loose things do become enjoyable, you don't see anything nasty of course, its the atmosphere generated that's thrilling. The constant eerie chirping/humming sound that the tarantula makes for example, like its calling card as it approaches, highly effective and creepy.

Its the special effects that stand out in this flick, believe it or not they actually still hold up today. The use of a real tarantula is the reason it works so well, they actually had miniature landscapes which a real tarantula would creep across, controlling it with air jets. For the most part footage of the real tarantula was matted against live action footage of the actors, occasionally a real object would be knocked over in real time to simulate the tarantula brushing against it (nice touch). This effect is pretty crude of course but it works wonders here, helped largely by the fact the film is black and white so you can't really see the joins or matte lines. At other points when people were attacked at close quarters, large models were used. One of the most effective and eerie moments has to be when Stephanie (Mara Corday) is being watched by the huge arachnid through a window in true 'King Kong' style. Those massive eyes surrounded by hundreds of coarse bristles, peering in, its actually quite scary.

This movie also displayed some highly effective makeup and prosthetic work for some character suffering from gigantism. Back in the day these effects were pretty shocking and very impressive, and honestly, they still are. Admittedly not all of what we see is brilliant, but the close up shots of Leo G. Carroll as the professor with a bad case of gigantism in the face, is really solid. If you think along the lines of 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' (1939), then you get a good idea...but this is much better.

As with all movies of this genre there is of course much hilarity to be had, acting ability aside. I just love the sequences where the characters are driving around in cars (obviously a prop car with footage playing in the background), yet their hair remains motionless. Everyone refers to Corday's character of Stephanie as Steve, which is weird. When our hero Matt Hastings (John Agar) discovers the large pools of arachnid venom, he tastes it! like yeah...that's what you do. Plus wouldn't it kill him? seeing as its venom. Its bizarre that no one sees or hears this humongous tarantula runnin' around the countryside, its not something you tend to miss really, a mega sized black tarantula the size of sports stadium. Why don't missiles from fighter jets harm it? sure its a big spider...but those are fighter jet missiles! Why are these giant mutant bug occurrences always in a desert?

To add to that, the movies poster...oh boy. What was it with these posters back then, who designed them and more importantly, who allowed them to go ahead?? Once again the poster is completely inaccurate, at no point does the tarantula carry a helpless female in its pincers, and the tarantula doesn't have two eyes likes a regular mammal. I understand it was to generate excitement for the movie but come on!

I like me some old cheese, and this movie wins, it wins big. If you're after one of the best examples of the big bug genre from the 1950's, then this is it. This flick has everything you would expect and want from such a movie, plus it actually has really good effects to boot. Hell its probably the best big bug flick around if you ask me, science fiction legend Jack Arnold does it again. Oh and look out for the Clint Eastwood cameo towards the...ah everyone knows about that.


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