John Agar as Dr. Matt Hastings
Mara Corday as Steve (Stephanie) Clayton
Leo G. Carroll as Prof. Gerald Deemer
Clint Eastwood as Jet Squadron Leader
Tarantula immediately sets the tone for it’s 1950’s sci-fi-ness by a bleak opening involving a dying mutant in the desert. Over the course of this movie the White Hero and Cold Female Scientist will work together to defeat the Monster Menace caused by the Old Mad Scientist in what would be a cookie cutter movie. It came out in 1955, one year after Gojira but one year before Godzilla with Steve Martin hit the US shores. How much that movie influenced this is unknown to me, but this is a pretty well made for the time giant monster movie on par with some of the earlier movies in the daikaiju genre. It even features a young Clint Eastwood as the leader of a jet squadron that is sent to send the spider to Spider Hell. This movie does differ in the spider is a real spider blown up to enormous size as opposed to a man in suit, so it is similar to other classics such as Giant Gila Monster.
Dr. Matt Hastings is a flying doctor and our hero for the next 80 minutes. The Sheriff calls him in to examine the body of the dead mutant from the opening credits. It turns out the mutant was some guy named Jacobs who worked for Professor Deemer, who runs a lab outside the small desert town of Desert Rock because that’s what all ma scientists do. Jacobs died of a disease called “Acromagalia” though it appears from his hideous mutant appearance he had it for thirty years, while in actuality he only complained of it a few weeks ago. Dr. Hastings is immediately suspicious, especially after Professor Deemer seems non-plussed.
Later Deemer is at his lab, which is populated by a giant rat and a gianter guinea pig, who grunts like a real pig so you know what it is. Deemer is injecting growth hormone into these animals, as well as a tarantula, because who doesn’t like a giant tarantula? Deemer then pulls out his monkey (no, a real monkey you sickos!) for the next experiments, ignoring the monkey screaming and screaming (the monkey does not like him at all!) Suddenly, MUTANT ATTACK! Yes, at the Deemer lab, rogue mutants wander in to beat up unsuspecting scientists and their monkeys. The lab is burnt during the struggle, and cages are shattered, and tarantulas escape. Eventually Deemer is strangled unconscious and injected by the rogue mutant, who then dies. Deemer wakes up, puts out the fire, and buries the mutant in the desert, and a stagehand tosses him his monkey.
Dr. Hastings is reading up on Acromagalia and Joe the reporter is introduced during some boring stuff. Then the ripest tomato in town arrives. Actually the only tomato in town. The town is pretty dead lady-wise. This lady even has a guy’s name, Steve Clayton (short for Stephanie) who has come to work at Deemers. The smooth Dr. Hastings muses “Give women the vote, and what do ya get? Lady scientists!” That apparantly wins the hearts of women in the ’50’s since she will become his love interest. Hastings takes her to Deemer’s, who shows off his pad, and speaks of the coming food shortages at the turn of the century when we have 3 billion, 625 million people on the Earth (he was only 2.5 billion short!) The science here then takes a twist for the “Huh???” as Hastings and Deemer duel their science penises. Hastings: “Synthesis is impossible without a bonding agent to hold everything together..” Deemer: “And we use the simplest of all…THE ATOM!”
Now that we’ve established that atoms are partially responsible for making giant spiders, I propose we ban them, as atoms cannot fall into the wrong hands. Everywhere I look, I see atoms, atoms, atoms, all unsecured. Al Qaeda could get a hold of atoms lickity split and probably already are planning to crash atoms into the Sears Tower.
Back to the business at hand, as Deemer is showing the lovely Steve the science ropes his arm that was mutant injected is causing him pain. Hastings does an autopsy on Jacobs, finds nothing, but takes Steve back to Deemer’s after some Steve-flirting in town, but there is a rockslide….Giant Tarantula induced rockslide! Nothing happens as they step two feet away and avoid the small pebbles. The Tarantula is now visibly larger than the four feet or so it was before. Steve tells Hastins about the experiments and the animals growing faster than they should. Hastings then gets a call and has to go, while Deemer chews out Steve for bringing guys to the lab (and as a noticeably morphed face.) Later Dr. Hastings is looking for the cause of the rockslide when Sheriff Jack shows up to ask for help about some cattle being eaten on a rancher’s range. (What about the phone call? This doctor had Attention Deficit Disorder) This is the second rancher who awoke to find bones instead of cows recently, and pools of mysterious liquid are around. Later that night the Tarantula attacks horses, the rancher, and some guys in a truck.
The next day at the truck crash site, Sheriff Jack and Dr. Hastings are examining the bones of the victims as that is all that is left, besides more mysterious white goo. Dr. Hastings then tastes the white goo. I make it a rule to never taste mysterious white goo I find next to people who have been skeletonized, but your mileage may very. Hastings figures out it is a type of spider venom, and talks to a spider expert 200 miles away who shows us boring spider movies on a projector such as How to be a Neat and Clean Spider and Tarantula Duck and Cover!
Meanwhile random people get eaten. But who cares, they’re extras!
Dr. Hastings tells Sheriff Jack to get as many men as he can and head to the Deemer place guns a-blazing! The Tarantula then becomes a Peeping Tom, spying on Steve (I Spy with my Giant Spider Eye…). Deemer’s face is malformed to the point he looks like the love child of Sloth from the Goonies and Dean Martin. Dr. Hastings rescues Steve from Tarantula Terror but Deemer is eaten. Sheriff Jack shows up and leaves two unfortunate souls with Tommy Guns to slow down the Giant Spider as it advances, and they are eaten soon after. Radio calls ahead get dynamite, which is placed on the highway to stop the spider, but the explosion does nothing but cost taxpayers money in highway repair.
The Air Force is called, who in 1955 were used to dealing with giant mutant monsters, especially since the Jet Squadron is led by…CLINT EASTWOOD! You feeling lucky, Tarantula? Obviously not, as you get napalmed off of God’s green Earth in a matter of seconds. Then the movie ends a matter of seconds later (resolutions are for chumps!)
This movie was much more enjoyable than it had a business being, especially since it was almost a complete 1950’s monster movie cliché. (Bad Science, giant monster, mutants, cold science babes and the white stodgy hero who can tame them)
Rated 7/10 (Mutant hand, old codger, SCIENCE!, SCIENCE!, escape, trap-door spider, CLINT!)
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