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Featured Blu-ray Review: Arachnophobia

September 23rd, 2012

Arachnophobia - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

Arachnophobia is a movie I've seen many, many times and I loved it when it first came out. However, it has been probably a decade since I've seen it last. Does it live up to my previous opinions? And is the Blu-ray worth the upgrade?

The Movie

When the film begins, we are in an Amazon rainforest in Venezuela where Doctor James Atherton is exploring the rain forest to discover and study new species. He's hired Jerry Manley (Mark L. Taylor) to photograph all of the new specimens. They are behind schedule, because Jerry was / is sick with a fever. The first expedition goes well and among the species discovered is a very large, very venomous spider. One of these spiders hitches a ride in Jerry's backpack and bites him while he sleeps, killing him. The others think he died due to his fever and pack his body in a wooden crate and ship it back to the States. Unfortunately, they ship the spider back with him.

So where does the box and the spider end up? In a small town U.S.A., specifically Canaima. After what can be described as a Rube Goldberg-like journey, it winds up in the barn on the Jennings's farm. The Jenning family, Ross and Molly, and their two kids Tommy and Shelley (Marlene Katz), have just moved to Canaima, because Ross is taking over as the town doctor. The old doctor, Sam Metcalf (Henry Jones), is retiring and will send all of his patients to Ross. At least that was the plan. When he gets into town, Dr. Metcalf has decided he doesn't want to retire and the town isn't big enough for two doctors.

Fortunately, Ross does find an ally in Margaret Hollins, his new next door neighbor. Not only does she intervene when Sheriff Lloyd Parsons tries to give him a ticket, she agrees to be his first patient. Unfortunately, shortly after his first examination, she dies. She was in her 60s, so having a heart attack isn't too surprising, but Ross thinks it was something more. He does get another patient, more than a dozen of them, the high school football team, to be exact. All young men that should be healthy, so not exactly the type to need a doctor a lot. But after examining one of them, he has a seizure and dies. Ross is convinced something it happening here, but the rest of the townsfolk think it was a football injury. ... and they start to think Doctor Ross is cursed and some start calling him Doctor Death. That's bad for business. When Sam Metcalf and his wife, Evelyn, die, well, that's good for business.

Doctor Metcalf's death does help in another way, as it allows Ross to get an autopsy done. High levels of toxins were found that are consistent with poisoning, or a spider bite. He gets the first two victims exhumed and more tests run. He's so convinced that he contacts Doctor James Atherton, the foremost authority on spiders and asks for help. At first Doctor Atherton thinks he's being paranoid, until he learns where he lives. Canaima rings a bell, so it's worth sending his assistant, Chris Collins. After confirming each victim had a spider bite, but only one, Chris is in a bit of a panic. The deadliest spider on Earth shouldn't be able to kill a healthy adult with just one bite. With that news, Doctor Atherton agrees to get there the next day, but wants Chris to get him a living specimen to test in the meantime. Meanwhile, the war on the arachnids has a new front. After Becky Beechwood (Cori Wellins) was attacked in the shower, her father calls in an exterminator, Delbert McClintock.

After Doctor Atherton dissects the live specimen, he realizes the true extent of the danger. His Venezuelan spider crossbred with a local spider producing an incredibly dangerous and highly aggressive new breed. If it can establish a foothold in this town, it will be able to wipe out all other species, including the humans. Do they still have time to take out the original nest?

I skipped over some of the details. For instance, Ross Jenning has arachnophobia, which adds to the film's tension. Also, while the characters are slow to realize the danger, the audience follows the spiders as they establish the nest, kill off their first few victims, etc.

I'm happy to report that Arachnophobia is just as good as I remembered it was. There are very few films that manage to balance the humor and the tension better than this film does. The overall plot doesn't break any new ground. In fact, one could call it an homage to the classics from an earlier era or one could almost call it a remake of Kingdom of the Spiders. However, the execution is amazing. The way Frank Marshall shot the film is near perfection and he is able to maximize the tension, by placing the spiders front and center while giving us the potential victims in the background. As the victims come closer and closer to their doom, you will squirm. But by sparing enough, you never know when the deaths will occur or when at the last minute they will be saved. It is obvious they were going for a Hitchcock level of tension (there's even a shower scene) and I really think they did it.

The film is also aided by a lot of great acting. Jeff Daniels is able to portray his phobia very well, which makes the film more believable. John Goodman doesn't have a lot of emotional depth to his character, but he's got some of the best lines and nails them. Many of the victims are short-lived, but like Mary Carver, they give memorable performances before they die.

The Extras

The only extras are three short production featurettes with a total length of about seven minutes. The video is good, for the most part. There are a few scenes that are a tad dark and lack details, but for the most part, this is a well-lit film with excellent details, lively colors, etc. There's no signs of digital manipulation or compression issues. The audio track has a lot of ambient sounds in the early jungle scenes, but less so once we get to the small town. There's enough separation and activity in the rear speakers to not sound dull, but it isn't a complicated track. The dialogue is clear, and that helps. The Blu-ray costs $16, which is high, but I think it is worth it.

The Verdict

Arachnophobia is such a good movie that it deserves a special edition loaded with new extras. However, there's little hope that will happen any time soon. In the meantime, the Blu-ray is worth picking up while you wait.


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