harsens_rob (harsens_rob) wrote,

Movie Reviewed: Tarantula (part ii of ii)



Scene 33: At the ranch, the guys find three sets of cattle bones completely stripped of all meat with no sign as to the attacker. Andy is understandably concerned that whatever did it could be back and end up wiping him out.

But Jack can’t exactly offer protection against something that he can’t identify. He and Matt leave with no more idea of what happened than the cows’ owner.

Commentary: And how could they even guess? After all this giant tarantula is doing something that no spider can do… it’s stripping flesh! Which is a real problem for this script, and doesn’t really make sense. Surely, somebody knew that spiders liquefy their prey in order to ingest the protein soup left behind.

Now, it’s possible that this is what the mysterious patch of white-unknown crap was supposed to be representing, and it’s also possible that the stripped bones were meant to represent the enzymatic fluid used to break tissue down and that would’ve been fine. Except, the bones don’t show any signs of an acidic compound and the cattle bones should’ve had dried up liquid that could’ve been collected for analysis. So, if they were trying to stay true to the feeding habits of actual tarantulas, they still failed.

But worse for this scene, is that Sheriff simply wandering away with a shrug. It’s ridiculous. Couldn’t they have had the Sheriff mention calling out a vet to take a look at the bones for signs of their predator? And wouldn’t it have made more sense, and not really impacted the story any, if we’d seen the Sheriff bagging up some of the skeleton for analysis by said vet?

The dead cattle bones are dramatic and everything, but the whole scene fails both in science [which admittedly is not a big deal when we’re talking about bugs as large as houses] and in logical, police actions [which is far more problematic to me].

Scene 34: That night at a horse ranch, the animals in their pens start to get wiley. As the horses begin looking for a way out of their pens, the large arachnid crosses up over a hillside nearby. The spider hesitates but the horses are panicking and it’s drawn down. They all look like goners.

The rancher, which turns out to be Andy, comes out to see what all of the racket is about with a shotgun, but finds himself standing frozen in horror at the worst time. So much for him.


Commentary: I really liked the camera work for this sequence. The spider is of course blue screened in to look huge next to the horse corrals which with 1950’s technology has some problems if you want to be picky about it. But once the attack begins we get a great shot looking up at the spider’s rearing body above us, and then we swap views between it’s hairy forearms as it menaces first a horse caught in its sights and then of Andy firing his weapon uselessly and then not running when he had the chance. It’s a wonderful, creative way of handling the necessary POV shot without only resorting to a cameraman angle or using ridiculous looking fake legs to brush against the “victim” while they flail around. I was really happy with this scene.

Scene 35: Also out on the road in their old truck, are two sheep farmers carrying a load of the animals. The tarantula, still wandering through the hillsides, crosses the road in front of the truck. The vehicle is sent tumbling through the air and down an embankment before the farmers can react to what they’re seeing.

Commentary: And again, there is some really nice work done here to sell the illusion including a truck actually being dropped off an embankment to slam down on the hillside and then tumble. It more than makes up for a few of the giant spider shots that have those technological limitations. But, I must say that the matting of the tarantula onto scenery is handled really well in general -- if not exactly “real life looking”. There are only a few specific shots where the illusion is blown by the spider not quite touching the ground, so somebody obviously really cared about being careful with their matting and it’s very much appreciated since this is, after all, a little creature feature. Bert I. Gordon could’ve used a little more care in his giant bug opuses.

Scene 36: The following morning, Matt joins Jack, his men, the highway patrol and reporter Joe at the site of the truck accident. Sheriff Andrews draws Matt to take a look at the remains of the accident victims, which are in the same state as the cattle over at Andy’s ranch.

The highway patrol commander next asks for him to take a look at something else they’ve found while combing the area. On the ground is three more patches of semi-liquid just like was found near the cattle bones. Jack then tells Matt that this is the third scene with this same substance nearby, and goes on to tell him about Andy’s wife finding his remains.

Matt suggests that everyone keep their mouths shut about the weirdness until they can determine what the hell is going on -- which seems like a good trick, considering all of the people trampling about. In the meantime, Highway commander grabs up a thermos for Matt to collect some of the fluid for analysis … [like, maybe should’ve been done at the cattle attack site].

Commentary: And let’s not even mention the officer that messed with the evidence (or I guess, let's do) by gathering up the bones and piling them away from where they were found… WHY?… and then not even noticing before the three huge piles of liquid white on the ground. IDIOT.

Scene 37: Sometime later, Matthew pulls away from his microscope to inform the Sheriff and Joe that the substance is somehow related to insect venom, as ridiculous as that sounds.

Joe can’t believe that Matt is right, so he offers to have a second analysis performed by Professor Deemer with his own lab equipment.

Scene 38: Over at Deemer’s place, Stephanie answers the phone. She’s telling Matt that she really needs to talk to him, while at the same time we see Deemer’s feet coming down the stairs behind her.

Clayton goes on to tell him that the professor looks very sick but won’t listen to her advice to see a doctor. She hints at his facial and hand deformity. Before she can get into specifics, Deemer grabs the phone from her hand. She screams as she gets a good look at the professor.

Matt calls for her, but is hung up on. He rushes for the professor’s home.

Scene 39: As Matthew is rushing to the rescue [naturally without calling the Sheriff first], in the background and behind him, we see the giant tarantula behind a hill and heading in the same general direction.

Commentary: And I will point out that this is one scene where the special effects failed in a big way. The spider is heading straight, and you can suddenly see the shape of whatever object they put in front of it to make it change direction for the camera sitting in mid-air. They were doing so well, too but this one was really badly done.

Scene 40: At the Deemer residence, Steve is waiting in front of the house. It turns out that far from threatening her, Gerald was seeking her help. She reports that the scientist is hardly able to breathe.

They find the professor sagged over a work table and when they check on him, they find him in a full on Acromegaly attack, just like the unfortunate Paul Lund and Eric Jacobs before him.


Dr. Hastings gets him stabilized for the moment, but Deemer is already aware that there isn’t anything to stop the progression of the sudden onset disease. Matt asks about Jacobs and the doctor spills everything that had happened with their studies. It seems that Paul and Eric actually caused their own deaths by injecting themselves with the isotope boosted nutrient tincture to prove that the occasional failed animal test wouldn’t necessarily be duplicated in humans. They were wrong [and unethical, and deeply stupid]. He guesses that Paul injected him with the synthetic nutrient while he was unconscious and he’s spent day and night trying to unlock what went wrong to save his own life.

He then goes on to extol the success that they did have with the larger than normal animals existing only on the few injections a week of the compound. Just before he collapses again, Professor Deemer claims that the tarantula burned in the fire with his rat and guinea pig.

Commentary: Which, of course, explains why he didn’t ever mention the spider’s escape. But I’m not fully buying this explanation because the script is a little clumsy about it. The spider was too large to have fully burned up without leaving a charcoal husk behind, so it seems to me that Deemer should’ve recognized that the animal wasn’t in the debris of the cage. Not to mention that he had to have heard all the shattering glass from Paul breaking the tank with his chair flinging. So, while I’m glad that I don’t have to dislike the doctor for nefariously hiding the spider’s existence while it was out killing, I also can’t accept his explanation for director-failure reasons.

Scene 41: After they’ve gotten Deemer comfortable and sedated in his room, Matt gives Steve pain pills to give him when he awakes. He tells her that there isn’t any hope for his recovery.

He leaves so that he can go look into something regarding that tarantula that supposedly burned in the fire.

Scene 42: We then return to the Desert Rock Airport, where Matthew takes off in his private plane. His destination is Phoenix where he’s had tests run on the substance collected from the sheep rancher crash site. The etymologist confirms Hastings results, though the quantity amazes him.

Matt shares that he found pools of this venom, but the doctor can’t quite go that far as to believe him, even though he also doesn’t think that Matthew would fly a hundred miles just for a joke at his expense.

For some reason, the insect scientist insists on sharing a school film on tarantulas with Matt.

Commentary: Ugh. The bane of 1950’s monster films… stock footage movies to share information that nobody needs or that the protagonists already all know. In this case though, it’s even more annoying because if they had this film available to the filmmakers then why are we still finding stripped bones without any other signs of enzyme action on the bodies that would’ve explained them? Spiders don’t eat meat strips! Their enzymes can’t break down tissue without leaving evidence behind of the action! They even mention the enzymes, without ever explaining how it all vanished from the scenes!

Scene 43: While Matt is getting his school grade education in tarantulas, the insect is busy knocking down telephone lines. When Matthew learns that his calls can’t get through, he rushes out of Phoenix for home.

Scene 44: Meanwhile, tarantula also manages to take out some power lines without ill effect on it [oh, c’mon… it at least would’ve jumped back or been stunned].


A short distance away, two men are camped out and building a fire for the night. The men joke around a bit, while the giant spider is creeping up on their night of drinking. They hear its approach, and unlike the unfortunate Andy, don’t stand there with mouths agape or screaming for mercy that won’t come. The two take off running.

A chase scene ensues.

Scene 45: The tarantula, alas for the two men, doesn’t get bored nor does it tire out before they do. It also doesn’t help that Dark Denim Guy can’t stay on his feet. Or that Light Clothes Guy doesn’t leave him to his fate, and so shares it.

The spider rears over them….

Scene 46: In the meantime, Hastings has arrived back home to the airport. From the office, Matt calls Jack and pleads with him to pull in the state police and get over to the Deemer place where he’ll presumably share what is going on, since he doesn’t say here. Once Jack finally agrees - though reluctantly - Matt rushes out on his way over there, too.

Scene 47: Our wandering tarantula, meanwhile shorts another power line. In her room studying, Stephanie’s lights flicker.

[Somehow, despite a single short making her light flicker, when the tarantula barrels through the lines and all kinds of sparks ensue, nothing happens to her lights. Why was that necessary? Why have the light flicker at all… it doesn’t add anything and nothing is lost if you weren’t going to plunge her into the dark for the spider’s arrival.]

Steve goes across the hall to check on the professor. She finds him still asleep and breathing.

Scene 48: In his car, Matt races toward the Deemer place.

Commentary: This is the sort of editing trick that really gets on my nerves… though usually only when I’m trying to transcribe scenes. But we really didn’t need to see Matthew in his car looking concerned - we already know that he’s on his way to the Deemer place and this micro-scene serves zero purpose.

Scene 49: Meanwhile, outside of the Deemer place, we see the spider on the approach. We join Steve in her room for a moment, to see the spider approaching behind her through her window. Back outside, the spider continues to creep up to the building.

[Back and forth, back and forth] Steve is still engrossed in her studying while the spider continues to draw nearer and nearer the vulnerable two story, which it is now as tall as.

For some reason, the spider doesn’t ignore the mostly darkened house and instead shoves its face into her bedroom window for some peeping tom action.


As she crosses the window, the usual Character Trait of Peripheral Vision Fail occurs. She climbs into bed without seeing the huge spider face in the window… TWICE.

The spider suddenly decides that the prey inside the building is too irresistible and rears itself onto the structure, starting to collapse it to Stephanie’s screeches of terror.

Scene 50: In his bedroom, Professor Deemer is awakened from his drug stupor. While he’s slept his face is completely twisted out of proportion by his nutrient fail.

He sees his experimental tarantula returned to the lab as the house is torn down about him. As Steve makes her way to the professor’s room, she’s just in time to see a spider leg sweep the professors sickly body through the window and into the spider’s maw.

She screams and runs for the stairs to the bottom floor.

Scene 51: She then dashes outside, just as Hastings is pulling up to the house in his car, where he slides to a dusty stop at the foot of the driveway. As he’s pulling her into his arms and helping her to the car, the house is completely flattened.


The spider then starts chasing after the car’s taillights.

Commentary: I really liked this scene in spite of itself. There are problems with it… the usual periphery vision nonsense and the professor just had to get killed by his creation, because we can’t forget about that cliché. But the sequence was well paced, the interior of the home coming down on Mara and Leo’s heads was well done and the spider’s interactions with the model for the house, interspersed with the live set was expertly arranged and filmed. It was an excellent, exciting attack and the spider’s advancing toward the camera down the driveway with the wreckage in the background was really good looking.

You know what, the visual effects crew really put care and hard work into this picture and they receive my KUDO for their efforts. Great job, you guys!

Scene 52: Now, while Gerald was dying and Matt was rescuing Steve the state police and Sheriff Jack have been racing to the scene.

Scene 53: In the meantime, Matt and Stephanie are racing in the opposite direction toward them. But the giant spider has quite the gait and speed and is not that far behind them, still chasing after them from their driveway retreat.

Matt intersects with the police and they all stop. He yells at them to turn their cars around and get out of the area. He tells them that there isn’t time to explain… which is true. Because the spider comes from over a hillside and is much closer than is comfortable.

Two cops are ordered to cover the others’ retreat with submachine guns, while having instructions to race away in Hastings’ left behind car if they can’t stop the arachnid.

Guess what happens to them when doc’s car inconveniently won’t start.

Scene 54: In the sheriff’s car, State Police Commander radios ahead into Desert Rock to have the town evacuated in less than 30 minutes. Sheriff Andrews then suggests that they try a truck full of dynamite to stop it.

Hastings then suggests calling the air base in Sands and asking for a squadron for assistance.

Commentary: Really? Just because it’s the State Police Commander [and is nearing the end of our run time] nobody questions the “Giant Tarantula is heading toward town… evacuate!” order? Really-really?

Scene 55: Just after dawn, the hardware store is raided for its supply of dynamite. While this is finishing up, others in town are rushing to their vehicles to make their escape.

Commentary: Okay, then. Apparently really-really.

Scene 56: Meanwhile, jets loaded with rockets and napalm bombs are dispatched from Sands.

Scene 57: The truck with the dynamite makes its way to the police set up where the road is rigged to explode when the tarantula tries to cross their line.

Joe Burch follows the dynamite truck out to the site… though he’s still skeptical about this report of a monstrous spider threat.

That doesn’t last long, as the tarantula continues its march along the highway toward Desert Rock.


Commentary: This is another difficult shot that I wish they’d shown some restraint on it. When the spider is kept in long shot, he looks great… but then they try a close up and we get the usual problem with matting at this point… the spider’s legs start to go transparent. If they’d just included the long shots, this would’ve been almost flawless. Darn it!

Scene 58: The gang retreat before stopping to await the wired dynamite. At the dramatic time, it’s naturally Matt who gives the order to blow them. Alas, the tarantula isn’t impacted despite it blowing up right under its belly.

It continues to chase the retreating meals on wheels (hah!).

Commentary: And the bombastic horns of noise are in full overdone mode now, let me tell you. I’m starting to get a headache with the constant sound barrage.

Scene 59: In town, everybody stops… unwisely. They watch as the spider makes its way toward the outskirts of town. But, wait! Up in the sky! It’s a plane! Or, rather a squadron!

Everyone watches as the jets make several passes, destroying plenty of sun scorched desert but not stopping the tarantula from continuing its advance on the idiots standing there watching their death approach.

The jets switch from their explosive rockets to their napalm rockets and the spider almost anti-climactically bursts into flame and collapses into a pile of chemical fire.

Commentary: Which fortunately does not radiate any heat because convention only occasionally exists in Movieverse, so our spectators don’t suddenly start screaming in painful horror as their skin begins to blister and their clothing and wooden buildings don’t start charring.



The Good: I give John Agar some flack for his habit of cheezily grinning without end, but he's likeable and he does a fine job as Dr. Hastings.

I also really liked Leo g. Carroll as Professor Deemer and especially his interacting with Mara Corday as Stephanie Clayton, who does great work herself opposite him.

The desert is well filmed and we can understand when Steve is taken by it.

The visual effects on this one are winners and the team deserves a bow [with only a very few exceptions].

I was very happy and relieved that the love interest angle was largely left out of the plot altogether. While Steve and Matt spend some time together, they don't bring the film to a crashing halt so we can follow them around making goo-goo eyes at one another.

The Bad: I don't like this movie's soundtrack and its constant use on loud really grates my nerves after about three quarters way into the film.

I didn't much like Sheriff Jack Andrews because his character seemed to keep running hot and cold without adequate explanation. I also found Nestor Paiva to be overacting - especially with his facial expressions.

Adding to my dislike surrounding the Sheriff's scenes is how he's deliberately shown not doing one damned thing any other lawman would've done at the bizarre attack scene at the ranch.

The idea that Leo G. Carroll could've dug a shallow grave for his assitant and dragged his body out to hide it all by himself is ridiculous. The poor fellow would've keeled over.

There are those few isolate shots where the spider matting didn't work and blows the illusion, alas.

Other Thoughts: I think that the scientists' part in the story would've worked better if we'd gotten some more background on their working relationships. It was hard to understand how the assistants' could've become so deformed after seeing how many injections were given to the animals - until much, much later when we find that it only takes a single one in humans to induce the Acromegaly. But even then, we don't really get any information on why one dose is so fatal to human life but not to other mammals.

I have mixed, but mostly positive feelings about the two mysteries going on that are related, but largely treated seperately between the assistants and what happened to them and the giant spider hijinks. I think the scripting could've been tighter in how the two phenomena were related to one another through the nutrient fluid, but at the same time the fact that giantism is the common theme isn't lost. I'm a bit up in the air on how the two plot points never really intersect, but we can tell that they are related.

I've not got any problems with Steve as a character either as she shows up or after the professor is discovered sick, but her complete data dumping of the scientist's research to Matt really bugged the hell out of me. But then it's kinda made okay by her being dressed down for basically not respecting the privacy of the scientist's work anyway. Kinda.

I liked the spider attacks and how they were filmed, but it's undercut by the "evidence" left behind being in no way keeping with the after effects of a spider's actual attack.

The Score: Overall, I had a really good time with this one not getting bored by the spider spending most of its time offscreen as we focused on the Professor's secrets. The film was obviously made with care, especially in the special photography area and this was much more fun than other giant bug films like "The Deadly Mantis".

3.75 out of 5 stars.

Tags: review tarantula

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