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Tarantula Review

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Professor Deemer synthesises a formula designed to increase the growth of livestock. Struck down with a deforming disease which is a side-effect of exposure to the formula, Deemer loses control of the experiment – and a spider grows to giant size.

★★★★★

One of the best creepy-crawly monster movies of the 1950s. It opens with a memorable nightmare image – a scientist with a hideously-malformed face staggering through the desert in his pajamas – and spends a great deal of time on a sub-plot about acromegaly, the pituitary disease which actually causes gigantism (as opposed to making things gigantic) and has been a topic of fascination in films from The Monster Maker to Doomwatch (the minor 1940s horror star Rondo Hatton suffered from the condition and was tastelessly billed as the only monster actor who didn’t need make-up).

Mild-mannered Leo G. Carroll is an unusually well-intentioned mad scientist, going the monster route as his features expand lop-sidedly before the business with the giant spider kicks in. John Agar is the usual two-fisted small-town hero and Mara Corday makes a fetchingly imperilled lab assistant, though the monster is actually done in at the end by napalm dropped from a jet-fighter by a young Clint Eastwood, who plays his entire part with a pilot’s mask over his lower face. Stills tend to make the monster look like a giant puppet, but that only appears in a few inserts – for the most part, the big tarantula is a genuine arachnid optically inserted into the landscape or rampaging across effective miniature sets. Director Jack Arnold was a monster specialist, whose major credits were It Came From Outer Space, The Creature From the Black Lagoon and The Incredible Shrinking Man; Tarantula – like Monster on Campus and The Space Children – is a step down from those lasting classics, but still great fun.

One of the best creepy-crawly monster movies of the 1950s.