Matt Pais, @mattpais
RedEye movie critic
10:34 AM CDT, October 30, 2013
Once in a while, a movie slips under your radar. For about, oh, 20 years. In ‘Big-screen blind spot,’ we sit down with those ‘classic’ movies everybody but us has seen and give them the nostalgia critic treatment.
Confession: I had never seen 1990’s “Arachnophobia,” which arrived in theaters four months before “Home Alone” and thus made the escape of Buzz’s tarantula completely innocuous by comparison. I only realize this now, of course; everyone has their thing that freaks them out, and since mine is big-ass spiders I didn’t exactly make an effort to see “Arachnophobia” when it came out.
If you haven’t seen it: Jeff Daniels plays a doctor whose earliest, most traumatizing memory is when he was 2 and a spider crawled along his skin. After he and his family move from San Francisco to the small California town of Canaima, a lack of patients proves not to be doc’s biggest problem. Actually, attending to an infestation of deadly Venezuelan spiders would probably be the top item on most low-key communities’ agendas.
Had I seen it in 1990 at the age of 7: Considering I still remember where I was when I became aware of the existence of “Arachnophobia,” I’d say the film would not have gone down well. The PG-13-rated movie isn’t graphically violent by any means. Still, most fears are worse in our head than in reality, so had I been subjected to the directorial debut from Frank Marshall—who very strangely went on to direct the true-life-horror “Alive,” the unwatchable “Congo” and the dopey Paul Walker-dogsled flick “Eight Below”—I would have gone in expecting the worst and shaken imaginary spiders off my skin and clothes throughout the screening.
Now: Yes, some moments had me clenching my teeth from the perspective of, “I would not be happy if that happened to me.” A large, ugly, hairy beast appearing in your popcorn bowl or shower, or a house overrun by them while you’re inside? What a nightmare. I’m surprised and happy to say “Arachnophobia” effectively blends creepy and fun to be about as good as a PG-13-rated horror-comedy from 1990 about deadly spiders could be. John Goodman’s hilarious as an exterminator, and Daniels makes a good hero with a fatal flaw, telling his kids, “Let’s go find your mom to take care of that spider,” not knowing what he’ll have to battle later. The movie’s unintentionally funny when cuing dramatic music with the slow movement of a tiny killer, and, really, enough city mouse/country mouse commentary about how some in Canaima reject the doc’s Yale-educated viewpoint. When it’s just letting the spread of something terrible quietly infect the population, “Arachnophobia” is like a precursor to “Contagion.” With impressive performances by its eight-legged jerks.
Notable: I know the “Jurassic Park” film was based on Michael Crichton’s 1990 novel, but still. That movie, which was directed by “Arachnophobia” executive producer Steven Spielberg, virtually duplicates moments from the spider flick’s prologue: Nervous guy takes boat to remote spot. Curious science types take helicopter to mysterious South American region. An unexpected, painful death foretells danger to come. How could you, Steven.
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