Director: Jack Arnold, John Agar, Mara Corday, Leo G. Carroll

Cast: Jack Arnold, John Agar, Mara Corday, Leo G. Carroll


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A man with a strangely misshapen face wanders out of the desert near a small town and falls to the ground dead. The county sheriff (Nestor Paiva) tentatively identifies the dead man as Eric Jacobs, a laboratory assistant to Professor Deemer (Leo G. Carroll), a research scientist living a few miles out in the desert. But there's something strange about Jacobs; his


A man with a strangely misshapen face wanders out of the desert near a small town and falls to the ground dead. The county sheriff (Nestor Paiva) tentatively identifies the dead man as Eric Jacobs, a laboratory assistant to Professor Deemer (Leo G. Carroll), a research scientist living a few miles out in the desert. But there's something strange about Jacobs; his facial features and bodily extremities are distorted to a point where he's barely recognizable. The sheriff calls in Dr. Matt Hastings (John Agar), the local physician, who makes a diagnosis of acromegalia, a glandular disorder that affects the body's growth. He also tells the sheriff that it can't possibly be acromegalia, because symptoms as pronounced as those he sees in this case take years to develop, and the man was in perfect health just three months earlier. Hastings refuses to believe the professor's account of Jacobs' rapid deterioration, but the sheriff takes the word of the scientist. Back in his laboratory, Deemer continues his work, going over tests of a chemical on various animals, all of which are jumbo-sized, including guinea pigs the size of rabbits, baby mice the size of full-grown rats, and a tarantula three feet long. Suddenly, the professor is attacked by his assistant (Eddie Parker), whose face and hands are distorted in the same manner as Jacobs, and who injects the helpless scientist with the experimental chemical before collapsing dead. A fire starts during the attack and in the confusion, the tarantula's glass cage is broken and it escapes the burning laboratory, wandering out into the desert. Weeks go by, and a new assistant, Stephanie "Steve" Clayton (Mara Corday), arrives to begin work for the professor. When Hastings gives her a ride to Deemer's home, the scientist explains to the doctor that he's been working on a radioactive nutrient, that, if perfected, could feed the entire world's population. He also says that Eric Jacobs made the mistake of testing the chemical on himself and it caused the disease that killed him. Hastings and Steve begin a romance, unaware that wandering around the desert is the tarantula from Deemer's laboratory, now grown to the size of an automobile and getting bigger with each passing day. Soon livestock and then people begin disappearing, and the sheriff is at a loss to explain any of it, or the one clue left behind in each case: large pools of what seems to be some kind of venom next to the stripped skeletons of the victims. Hastings takes some of the material in for a test; meanwhile, Steve notices that Deemer is going through some bizarre changes. His mood has darkened and his features now appear to be changing, as the acromegalia, caused by the injection, manifests itself. Hastings learns that one of the professor's test animals was a tarantula, which was presumed destroyed. When he learns that the pools near the deaths are composed of spider venom -- equivalent to what it would take many thousands of spiders to generate -- he's certain that the tarantula from the laboratory survived. By this time, the title creature is bigger than a house and ravaging the countryside, killing everything in its path and knocking down power lines and telephone poles as it moves. Hastings arrives just in time to rescue Steve from the attacking creature, which destroys Deemer's house and kills the professor. The sheriff and the highway patrol are unable to slow the creature, now the size of a mountain and moving at 45 miles an hour, even with automatic rifle fire, as it follows the road through the desert toward the town. Even an attempt to blow it up with dynamite fails when the monster walking right through the blast. Finally, the creature is poised to attack the town, when jets scrambled from a nearby Air Force base (led by a young Clint Eastwood, barely recognizable behind an oxygen mask) swoop in. When rockets fail to divert the monster from its path, the jets roar in for a second pass and drop enough napalm to incinerate the creature.

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Bruce Eder
Jack Arnold's Tarantula was clearly modeled after Gordon Douglas' Them, the first of the giant insect movies, which had scored a huge hit for Warner Bros. the previous year. The story, however, was also tailored to the elements that Arnold favored in his own work, utilizing the notion of the isolated desert community as well as the topography of the desert and its psychological implications to full effect. Tarantula used as its jumping off point a distantly related script entitled "No Food for Thought," which had been done on Science Fiction Theater, and added the element of the giant spider ("No Food for Thought" was about an artificially developed nutrient that renders its victims incapable of surviving on natural sustenance). The script was especially clever in seldom more than hinting at the horror to come through most of the first 30 minutes, even as it offered all kinds of tantalizing elements of horror and mystery, assembled like points on a map leading us to the conclusion. The mystery here isn't as deftly woven as it was in Them, but there is more than enough to keep audiences guessing as to how all of these elements can possibly tie together with the monster that we know we'll be seeing at the denouement. John Agar, Nestor Paiva, Hank Patterson, and Leo G. Carroll handle the acting chores with success and even some inspiration, and Mara Corday makes one of the most delectable-looking heroines ever seen in a mid-'50s monster movie. It's Jack Arnold who pulls it all together, evoking his expected poetic look at the desert (a staple of his movies since It Came From Outer Space) and handling the personal elements of the story very smoothly. He even uses the desert shots that were a fixture of his horror titles to play off of the chills that we know are coming -- shots linger for long seconds, teasing us (will we see the ever more menacing spider, and if so, for how long?). There are enough horror elements before we get a look at the mountain-sized tarantula in the daylight to keep fans entertained, though it is obvious in the final phase of Professor Deemer's acromegalia that it is someone other than Leo G. Carroll under the makeup. The only major flaw with video, laserdisc, and television transfers is that its very difficult to discern the giant arachnid's size or shape in the scenes depicting the night attacks, which was not the case when this movie was shown on television during the 1960s, and certainly wasn't true in theaters -- perhaps the eventual, inevitable DVD release will solve that problem. Universal should also probably consider adding "No Food For Thought" to any DVD edition of Tarantula, to enhance its value and show off other, related aspects of Arnold's work.

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Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
John Agar Dr. Matt Hastings
Mara Corday Stephanie "Steve" Clayton
Leo G. Carroll Prof. Gerald Deemer
Nestor Paiva Sheriff Jack Andrews
Ross Elliott John Burch
Clint Eastwood 1st Pilot
Edwin Rand Lt. John Nolan
Raymond Bailey The Old Man,Townsend
Hank Patterson Josh
Bert Holland Barney Russell
Steven Darrell Andy Anderson
Dee Carroll Telephone Operator
Edgar Dearing Miner
Jane Howard Coed Secretary
Jim Hyland Trooper Grayson
Tom London Actor
Bob Nelson Actor
Bing Russell Deputy
Bob Stephenson Warehouseman
Jack Stoney Helper
Stuart Wade Major
Billy Wayne Murphy
Rusty Wescoatt Driver
Bud Wolfe Bus Driver
Eddie Parker Paul Lund
Vernon Rich Ridley
Donald Dillaway Jim Bagney

Technical Credits
Jack Arnold Director
Alexander Golitzen Art Director
William Alland Producer
Martin Berkeley Screenwriter
Leslie I. Carey Sound/Sound Designer
Robert M. Fresco Screenwriter
Russell A. Gausman Set Decoration/Design
Joseph E. Gershenson Score Composer,Musical Direction/Supervision
David S. Horsley Special Effects
Ruby Levitt Set Decoration/Design
Henry Mancini Score Composer
William Morgan Editor
Jay A. Morley Costumes/Costume Designer
George Robinson Cinematographer
Frank Shaw Asst. Director
Herman Stein Score Composer
Clifford Stine Special Effects
Alfred Sweeney Art Director
Bud Westmore Makeup
Frank H. Wilkinson Sound/Sound Designer

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