I wouldn’t call Arachnophobia one of my favorite movies, but I do love it. What’s not to love? Jeff Daniels and John Goodman square off against displaced killer spiders, which quickly turn a small California town into a human graveyard!
The film has a memorable flavor, and not just because it’s about spiders that kill people. It’s a horror movie, of course, but it’s a weirdly friendly one. Arachnophobia wasn’t targeted at the same audiences who might see a Friday the 13th movie. Its producers wanted everyone. From cast to script to music, Arachnophobia is surprisingly smart and thoughtful. At least, it’s smarter and more thoughtful than a film about murderous spiders has any right to be.
Even with my own arachnophobic tendencies, I’ve always been a spider nut, and I totally saw this on the big screen back in 1990. I sat through most of the movie with my knees against my chest, and believe me, I wasn’t only one. (Leaving your feet on the ground was as good as taping a “LADDER FOR SPIDERS” sign on your leg.)
Below are my five favorite “spider moments” from Arachnophobia. Admittedly, this post works better if you’ve already seen the movie. If you haven’t, give it a shot. Even if you’re not particularly interested in maniacal spiders, it’s worth it for the random music that accompanies John Goodman whenever he walks onscreen. Over twenty years later, and I still get a kick out of John Goodman’s stupid entrance theme.
#1: Spider Romance!
Early in the film, a deadly male spider hitches a ride from Venezuela to California. It’s a previously unknown species, capable of killing humans with just one bite. After it settles in, the spider finds a suitable mate with a “regular” female.
The resulting offspring take more from their daddy’s DNA: They’re deadly drones, sent out to kill the competition so their family can sit safely atop the food chain. (Only with many repeat viewings have I come to appreciate the film’s plot. These spiders actually have a reason and an instinct to do what they do. In a lesser movie, they’d just kill for the hell of it.)
The “sex scene” is fantastic, if only because it’s juxtaposed with Jeff Daniels and Harley Jane Kozak doing the same thing. My only complaint is that Arachnophobia’s editors resisted the urge to go split-screen.
#2: The Egg Sacs!
The film takes a few creative liberties with these. Even the plainest spider egg sac might send shivers down your spine, but the sacs in Arachnophobia look more like those slimy things that Gremlins hatched out of. They’re big grey warty brains, covered in webs and bathed in spooky moonlight.
Picture a water balloon filled with killer spiders. That’s this. Back in the early ‘90s, the memory of these kept me far away from anything I found in nature that even remotely resembled them. Even if it was just a roundish rock covered in bird mess. (Not that I’d go terribly close to that, anyway.)
#3: Spider in the Toilet!
This was a pretty minor scene, but everyone who’s seen Arachnophobia seems to remember it. In summary: A guy sits on the toilet and very narrowly avoids having his asshole bit by a killer spider.
That’s all it took to send audiences into a collective frenzy. This simple fright turned toilets in sources of immense dread for millions of moviegoers. There are legends of people who managed to avoid shitting for more than ten years following Arachnophobia.
#4: Spider Invasion!
The nasty “general” may have been the spider to end all spiders (more on him in a minute), but the bulk of the movie’s scares come from his sexless offspring. Some of them were “portrayed” by rubber puppets, but hundreds of others were actually legit Avondale spiders, chosen for their decent size and fierce appearance. (And also because they’re relatively harmless to humans.)
Many of the spiders you see in the film – particularly during close-ups – were honest-to-goodness Avondales!
The film doesn’t blow its wad early. In most of the earlier scenes, we’re only dealing with one spider at a time. Only during the last act does the shit hit the fan, but it’s worth the wait. Hundreds of spiders try to kill Jeff Daniels, crawling out of and onto just about everything. (Including the TV set. When Tina Yothers brags about being in Arachnophobia, she ain’t lying.)
#5: THE GENERAL!
At the end of the film, it’s Jeff Daniels versus THE GENERAL. This was the original hitchhiker that started it all. Close-ups and camera tricks made it appear enormous. (Especially when they used a fake spider, as they did for the shot above.)
THE GENERAL is many times larger than the drones, and given his position as “final boss,” he’s much more ferocious. Rightfully pissed at Jeff for killing his queen and babies, THE GENERAL even works in a few supernatural screeches!
Up until this final battle, the spiders of Arachnophobia all act pretty “spidery.” (You know, despite their impossibly powerful venom, and penchant for human flesh.) But when THE GENERAL enters the fray, all bets are off. He makes it personal. He thinks and moves like no real spider could. He’s Freddy Krueger trapped in a spider body. I love him.
I don’t know how to end this post. Let’s go with assorted animated spider GIFs, stolen from the internet at large:
Third row, center. She’s my favorite.