After a nature photographer (Mark L. Taylor) dies on assignment in Venezuela, a poisonous spider hitches a ride in his coffin to his hometown in rural California, where arachnophobe Dr. Ross Jennings (Jeff Daniels) has just moved in with his wife, Molly (Harley Jane Kozak), and young son. As town residents start turning up dead, Jennings begins to suspect spiders, and must face his fears as he and no-nonsense exterminator Delbert McClintock (John Goodman) fight to stop a deadly infestation.
Arachnophobia is a 1990 American horror film with comedic elements directed by Frank Marshall and starring Jeff Daniels and John Goodman. It was the first film released by Hollywood Pictures, as well as being the directorial debut of Frank Marshall.
The story centers on a newly discovered Venezuelan spider being transported to a small American town that produces a new race of deadly spiders, which begin killing the towns residents one by one.
Shooting took place in Venezuela and California and the film was released in the United States on July 18, 1990. It was a modest commercial success, gaining $53.21 million at the box office. It received generally positive reviews from critics.
A large spider from the jungles of South America is accidentally transported in a crate with a dead body to America where it mates with a local spider. Soon after, the residents of a small California town disappear as the result of spider bites from the deadly spider offspring. It's up to a couple of doctors with the help of an insect exterminator to annihilate these eight legged freaks.
Entomologist Dr. James Atherton (Julian Sands) searches the Amazon rainforest with the hope of discovering new species of insects and arachnids. Descending into an enormous sinkhole, his team sets up collectors on the ground below a large tree, then blow smoke up into the canopy of the tree. A large number of bugs fall into the collector, including a very aggressive new species of spider. The spider is captured and chloroformed for research; and is later revealed to be lacking sex organs, thus making it a drone, or soldier, highly unusual in an arachnid species. A nature photographer, Jerry Manley (Mark L. Taylor), who has been suffering a fever while traveling with the team, unknowingly has a fertile (non-drone) male spider of the same species jump into his backpack, that night sneaking into his sleeping bag and biting him. Manley has a massive seizure from the venom and dies. The remainder of the scientists takes his body back to the United States, blaming Manleys death on the preexisting fever. The spider crawls into the box and is sealed in with the corpse.
Manleys body arrives at the funeral home in his small town of Canaima, California and mortician Irv Kendall (Roy Brocksmith) does not notice the spider inside the coffin when he opens it. The spider makes it outside, only to be picked by a crow. Before the crow gets back to its nest, the spider bites it and it falls to the ground dead, in front of the barn of the Jennings family. Ross Jennings (Jeff Daniels) is a family physician, who had moved to the town from San Francisco, and faces a lack of patients due to elderly rival Sam Metcalf (Henry Jones), who was supposed to retire and shift his patients to Ross, but decided to maintain his practice.
The Amazonian spider mates with a female domestic house spider and makes a nest in Jennings barn, producing hundreds of infertile drone offspring, all of which have their fathers lethal bite. Ross, along with his son Tommy, has arachnophobia, making them targets of ridicule to wife Molly (Harley Jane Kozak) and daughter Shelly (Marlene Katz).
Ross first patient, Margaret Hollins (Mary Carver), dies after being bitten. The towns residents believe that she died from a heart attack, despite Ross suspicions that something else was at work since her body appeared to have had a seizure instead. After a spider also kills a football player, a death that is attributed to a football injury, Ross is known to the town as "Dr. Death", having all his patients dying after having seen him. When Doc Metcalf is bitten and dies, Ross suspects that deadly arachnids could be infesting the town.
Ross and county coroner Milton Briggs (James Handy) perform an autopsy on the victims and confirm Ross suspicion that the deaths were caused by spider bites. Atherton arrives in town with his assistant Chris Collins (Brian McNamara), joining Briggs, Sheriff Lloyd Parsons (Stuart Pankin) and exterminator Delbert McClintock (John Goodman) in the spider investigation. They discover that the killer spiders have a short life expectancy due to being a mixed breed. Atherton tells them that the spiders are soldiers, sent out to eliminate potential threats for the chief/general male spider. He also learns that the general spider produced a queen, which it likely mated with to produce a second nest someplace, guarded by the queen, which could produce fertile offspring. Atherton elaborates that, unlike the sinkhole of the spiders original habitat, which limited its territory, the transplanted spiders can progressively expand their territory, possibly culminating in their worldwide dispersal. The group sets out to destroy both nests and kill the queen and general, but Atherton plans to capture the general alive for his agenda after discovering where the first nest is located. Atherton plucks at the web to lure the general out, but gets caught by surprise as the general leaps from its hiding place and fatally bites Atherton.
Ross, Chris, and Delbert eventually discover that the nest is in Rosss barn, and Ross sends Delbert to destroy it, where the exterminator finds Atherton dead before destroying the nest. Chris gets the Jennings family out of their infested house, but Ross falls through the floor into his wine cellar, which turns out to be the spiders second nest, containing fertile offspring. After electrocuting the queen, Ross battles the general while also attempting to burn the second egg sac. He becomes trapped underneath fallen debris, with the general about to deliver the killing strike when Ross flings the general into the fire.
As the egg sac hatches, the general jumps out of the fire. Ross shoots it with a nail gun and the projectile sends the burning spider into the egg sac, destroying the nest with fire and ending the plague.
Having enough of the countryside along with the near-death experience, the Jennings family immediately moves back to San Francisco, appreciating city life once more, despite minor earthquakes disrupting them.Jeff Daniels as Dr. Ross Jennings
John Goodman as Delbert McClintock
Harley Jane Kozak as Molly Jennings
Julian Sands as Dr. James Atherton
Brian McNamara as Chris Collins
James Handy as Milton Briggs
Peter Jason as Henry Beechwood
Henry Jones as Dr. Sam Metcalf
Roy Brocksmith as Irv Kendall
Kathy Kinney as Blaire Kendall
Stuart Pankin as Sheriff Lloyd Parsons
Frances Bay as Evelyn Metcalf
Mary Carver as Margaret Hollins
Garette Ratliff Henson (billed as Garette Patrick Ratliff) as Tommy Jennings
Marlene Katz as Shelly Jennings
Mark L. Taylor as Jerry Manley
Brandy Norwood as Brandy Beechwood (uncredited)
Filmmaker Steven Spielberg was involved with Arachnophobia, with one of his earlier producers Frank Marshall directing for the first time. Spielberg and Marshall are both the executive producers of the film. Amblin Entertainment also helped produce it.
Marshall meant for the film to be like Alfred Hitchcocks The Birds, and added, "People like to be scared but laughing, like a roller coaster. No one wants to be terrified." The film also has similarities with the 1977 film Kingdom of the Spiders.
Jamie Hyneman, of MythBusters fame, stated in Popular Mechanics that Arachnophobia was one of the first movies he worked on and that he often relied on simple magnets for several of the effects.
The film made use of 374 Avondale spiders, from New Zealand, which were picked for their large size, unusually social lifestyle, and because they are essentially harmless to humans. They were guided around the set by the use of heat and cold, but the large "general" and "queen" were articulated models.
The movie was actually filmed in Cambria, California. All the school scenes were filmed at Coast Union High School. Students and staff were used in the football scenes and group events. The locker room and players were the actual students and players from CUHS.
To create the sound effects of spiders being stepped on or squished, Foley artists stepped on mustard packs or squashed potato chips.
Arachnophobia was the first film released by Hollywood Pictures. Advertisers were uncertain as to whether they should market the film as a thriller or a comedy. Therefore, television spots promoting the film billed it as a "thrill-omedy".
Arachnophobia debuted at #3 behind Ghost and Die Hard 2 with $8 million in its first weekend. The film was a financial success, grossing $53,208,180 domestically and going on to gross an additional $30,000,000 in video rentals. This allowed Spielberg to be the fourth wealthiest entertainer of the year, having previously been the second wealthiest.
In his book, critic Leonard Maltin calls the film a "slick comic thriller" and approves of the acting, warning, "Not recommended for anyone whos ever covered their eyes during a movie." Newsweek associated the film with B movies "about the small town threatened by alien invaders", and said it was well made but "oddly unresonant." Roger Ebert said it made audiences "squirm out of enjoyment, not terror", and listed details in the film that he felt were typical of such films, including "the bright young doctor, whose warnings are ignored" and "the loyal wife and kids", as well as "the usual cats and dogs, necessary for the obligatory scene in which they can sense something even when the humans cant." He gave the film three stars.
On the review website Rotten Tomatoes, 91% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 35 reviews, and an average rating of 6.8/10, with the consensus "Arachnophobia may not deliver genuine chills, but its an affectionate, solidly built tribute to Hollywoods classic creature features."
The film drew protests from some people interested in spiders, as they believed the film tarnished the public image of spiders.
The film won a Saturn Award from The American Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films for Best Horror Film and Best Actor (Jeff Daniels). Young actress Marlene Katz was nominated for a best actress award from the Young Artist Awards.
The film was first released on VHS in 1991. It was then released as a bare bones DVD in 1999. The film was released on Blu-ray on September 25, 2012.
A soundtrack album for the film, also called Arachnophobia, was released in 1990. It included Trevor Joness instrumental music from the film as well as dialogue excerpts and songs such as "Blue Eyes Are Sensitive to the Light" by Sara Hickman, "Caught in Your Web (Swear to Your Heart)" by Russell Hitchcock, and "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" by Tony Bennett. The European version of the album has the same cover art, but more score tracks, fewer songs and no dialogue. The two versions share 10 of the same tracks, but these are also not without their differences: several tracks are noticeably shorter on the European version like "Canaima Nightmare", which is nearly three minutes shorter; and another track has two different titles ("Cellar Theme" in America and "The Cellar" in Europe).
- "Blue Eyes Are Sensitive to the Light" by Sara Hickman – 5:11
- "Athertons Terrarium" – 0:21
- "Arachnophobia" by Brent Hutchins – 4:53
- "Millers Demise" – 0:37
- "Spiders and Snakes" by The Party – 3:40
- "Offspring" – 0:51
- "Boris the Spider" by Pleasure Thieves – 2:59
- "Delbert Squishes the Spider" – 0:49
- "Spider and the Fly" by Poorboys – 2:52
- "Web Photo" – 0:26
- "Caught in Your Web (Swear to Your Heart)" by Russell Hitchcock – 4:28
- "Main Title" – 5:36
- "Dont Bug Me" by Jimmy Buffett – 3:27
- "The Casket Arrives" – 1:55
- "Delberts Theme" – 2:04
- "Canaima Nightmare" – 6:21
- "Along Came a Spider" – 2:37
- "Cellar Theme" – 1:20
- "End Title" – 3:54
- "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" by Tony Bennett – 3:02
- "Main Title" – 5:38
- "Photus Manlii" – 2:24
- "Bob Hitches a Ride" – 4:18
- "The Casket Arrives" – 1:53
- "Blue Eyes Are Sensitive to the Light" by Sara Hickman – 5:05
- "Mollys Web" – 3:29
- "Arachnophobia" by Brent Hutchins – 4:48
- "Delberts Theme" – 2:32
- "Spider Lamp Shade" – 1:55
- "Under the Bleachers" – 2:05
- "Along Came a Spider" – 2:25
- "Bugs B Gone" – 3:04
- "Canaima Nightmare" – 3:45
- "Life in the Country" – 0:56
- "The Cellar" – 1:17
- "End Title" – 3:52
- "Dont Bug Me" by Jimmy Buffett – 3:27
Songs in the film that were not included on the soundtrack are:"Summer Wind" by Frank Sinatra
"Goin Ahead" by Pat Metheny
Unusually, the video game version of Arachnophobia was also released in 1991, for Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64 and DOS.
There is also a novelization of Arachnophobia written by author Nicholas Edwards.