Arachnophobia (1990) / Comedy-Horror

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some scary images and language
Running Time: 103 min.

Cast: Jeff Daniels, Harley Jane Kozak, John Goodman, Julian Sands, Stuart Pankin, Brian McNamara, Mark L. Taylor, Henry Jones, Peter Jason, Brandy, Juan Fernandez
Director: Frank Marshall
Screenplay: Don Jakoby, Wesley Strick
Review published March 12, 2007

Like most films produced by Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment (Gremlins 2, Back to the Future Part III), Arachnophobia is fun cross-genre fare, aiming for every age bracket and, if nothing else, succeeding in being just entertaining enough for every one of them.  This also means that there is little edge, as we know that the deadly mayhem will never cross the line into being truly horrific (although severe arachnophobes will obviously be mortified). That doesn't mean there isn't a certain creepiness and scare factor along the way to make you squirm and jump in your seat from time to time.  It's not a horror film in the traditional sense (true horror fans will dismiss it as "for kids"), playing more like a mildly amusing family sitcom with adventure elements.  Still, it gets the job done for those who have an aversion to true horror.  It is a solid populist entry that's amiable, fun and perfectly suitable for an entertaining low-overhead diversion for the whole family.

The plot kicks off when a rare and extremely deadly spider is inadvertently brought from the jungles of Venezuela to the small, peaceful community in California.  It proceeds to make its nest and breed near the home of the town's newest residents, the Jennings, who haven't quite gotten to know the people of the town before they start to die one by one from the poisonous spiders that are now running rampant through the community.  With the assistance of the local exterminator, physician Ross Jennings (Daniels, The Purple Rose of Cairo), a lifelong suffer of arachnophobia (fear of spiders), must protect his family, home, and town from the hundreds of venomous spiders before they have a chance to wipe them all out all life in the area and beyond.

Arachnophobia is a bit of a throwback, going back to the era of the b-movie, where such common pests like frogs, ants, birds, and snakes could, in large enough numbers, terrorize an idyllic family community.  Sometime during the 1970s, these sorts of films played themselves out, mostly because they were pretty awful, even for fans of the subgenre.  Though the idea for the is a bit antiquated, Arachnophobia benefits by a large effects budget and talented stars, competently put together by longtime Spielberg co-producer Frank Marshall (Alive, Eight Below), making an impressive directorial debut.  Unlike your typical creature feature, there is more emphasis on characterizations and build-up, not letting things cut loose until the final scenes where it's just Ross against the spiders for the battle for the family home.

Arachnophobia is efficient, agreeably diverting, and nicely cast (especially by a scene-stealing John Goodman as the quirky exterminator), and, in the finest Spielberg tradition, is a perfect choice to watch with kids mature enough to handle a few mild scares.  A popcorn flick through and through, but tasty enough to snack on when you aren't in the mood for a complete meal. Just be sure to look closely in the bucket before you eat.

Qwipster's rating:

2007 Vince Leo