Tarantula is a 1955 Jack Arnold movie—Arnold was the key 50s monster movie director/producer, and actually made some really great movies, such as his uncredited role as co-director of the fantastic science fiction film This Island Earth. This Island Earth was one of the few of those films to be paced and structured like a pulp fiction story. He also helmed Creature From the Black Lagoon, which revitalised the Universal monsters of the 1950s and was the last of the classic monster movies. His films always had clear plots and a fast pace.
As you might expect, Tarantula is about a mutant tarantula that quickly grows in size. It features everything you might expect:
Set in the desert? Check.
Mad scientist? Check.
Badly superimposed giant mutant beast? Check.
Love interest who needs to be saved? Check.
Army jets coming to destroy the creature? Check.
Uncredited performances by actors who later became famous? Check.*
The film is obviously a response to Them!, which came out the year before and was the first of the “big bug” movies, a genre that was pretty massive in the latter part of the 50s with films like The Deadly Mantis, The Black Scorpion and The Fly.
The director has said that the film’s concept worked well because people are generally afraid of spiders. Set in Arizona but shot in Apple Valley, California, a couple hours outside of LA. The monster is of course a real tarantula, superimposed at giant size on the landscape. The poster is fantastic but does not represent the actual film—the spider on the poster has two eyes and is carrying a woman in its fangs, something that never happens in the plot.
The transformation sequence where the mad scientist is affected by growth hormones that deform his face rapidly is pretty well done. The film has all the typical plot elements and is a fun romp through 80 minutes of action. It’s not quite as good as Them!, but not as forgettable as some from that era. It would be a good double-feature with Joe Dante’s Matinee, which is a loving tribute to the genre.
The disc is a bare-bones release with no extras other than a replica of the original poster.
* The unknown famous face is Clint Eastwood, who appears for about five seconds in the end as one of the pilots who bomb the monster.