While on a job in Venezuela, a photographer is killed by a very poisonous and very bitey new breed of spider. The little bugger happily rides home with the corpse to a small town in America. Ross (Jeff Daniels), the town’s new doctor, is unfortunately quite afraid of spiders, but now has to deal with an army of deadly hybrids that are every bit as aggressive as their father. With the help of spider experts Dr. Atherton (Julian Sands) and Chris (Brian McNamara), as well as exterminator Delbert (John Goodman), he has to kill the queen and big bad Dad.
I saw Arachnophobia as a child with my uncle (who also introduced me to the Poltergeist movies, bless him). I found it more entertaining than scary. Despite the serious subject matter, there’s a goodish amount of jokes too, for example wacky Delbert, who loves his job just a little too much. It’s PG-13, so there’s not a tremendous amount of gore (though there are a few painful close-ups of fangs piercing skin). However, I wouldn’t recommend it to people who have arachnophobia, despite the major plot point of Ross overcoming his; I think it would only inspire paranoia.
Speaking as someone who won’t go into her backyard at night without a flashlight and a can of spider spray because of black widows, I can attest the movie makes spiders scarier. It emphasizes their aggression, ruthlessness, and also their ability to lay hundreds of eggs at a time. Not to mention disgusting scenes such as Delbert savoring the crunch of a spider under his boot, a pulsating egg sac, and an exploding spider.
Aside from being gross and sometimes creepy, the film has other good qualities. It builds suspense while still utilizing the humor used throughout the movie, like when town residents narrowly avoid being bitten without even realizing it. In addition, the characters are likable, my favorite being Ross’s wife Molly (Harley Jane Kozak). I find it amusing that she’s the spider-killer for the house, defying gender stereotypes. She’s completely fearless, and tries to encourage Ross to enjoy the beauty of spiders. She’s an interesting character—it’s too bad she gets phased out in the last half of the movie.
In addition, the spiders look real; there are only a few scenes (like when a spider is on fire) that it’s obviously a fake. Maybe it’s the childhood nostalgia talking, but to me the film is charming and amusing; it’s the kind of movie I can watch repeatedly. Give it a look if you’re neutral about spiders or will enjoy being freaked out by them.