Universal Pictures would follow up their 1955 science fiction feature This Island Earth, with another larger than life science horror tale.
This time the focus would be a monster creature feature and developing one of humanity’s greatest fears, the spider, more specifically the tarantula. It would take on one of the popular themes of the time, by increasing the size of creatures (or in some cases, shrinking the humans) to maximise the threat factor on screen.
Set in the fictional town of Desert Rock, Arizona, Tarantula! Is essentially your science gone wrong, film, and picks up with a deformed man emerging out from the vast landscape before dying. The man in question was biological research scientist Eric Jacobs, and we later find out that it was his research that was his own undoing.
Our lead protagonist and local town doctor, Matt Hastings (John Agar) is intrigued by Jacobs’ strange deformity and is compelled to find out the truth. His investigations naturally lead him into danger when he finds out just how life threatening Jacobs’ research has gone. The research laboratory is in the back of beyond, where Jacob’s colleague Professor Gerald Deemer (Leo G. Carroll – Strangers on A Train, North By Northwest) resides and appears to be continuing with the experiments. It also turns out that part of the formula that is being tested on the animals in the lab, speeds up the growth rate, including the titular Tarantula who escapes following the initial fire outbreak and is now growing at an alarming rate and consuming all the local cattle… before taking a fancy to human flesh!
It’s all b-movie material with close ups of the victims as the tarantula descends upon them and they meet their end.
Of course it wouldn’t be a 50s sci fi horror without a love interest thrown into the mix, which is where lab assistant and student, Stephanie Clayton (Mara Corday) enters the scene and into the spider’s lair, so to speak, to become the damsel in distress but with smarts.
By the film’s conclusion, humanity has to resort to some heavy duty firepower to rid the world of this menacing creature, and it comes from the Air Force, carrying napalm and piloted by a certain cameo by Clint Eastwood.
- Saul Muerte
Tarantula is currently available at Umbrella Entertainment as part of a double bill blu-ray with The Incredible Shrinking Man.