Tarantula!, written by Robert Fresco, Martin Berkeley, and Jack Arnold, directed by Jack Arnold, starring John Agar (Dr. Hastings), Mara Corday (‘Steve’ Clayton, and Leo G. Carroll (Professor Deemer) (1955): Giant ant movie Them! was such a hit, it kicked off a slew of giant insect movies. The law of diminishing returns soon held sway, though Tarantula! is one of the best of these movies, primarily because of the skill of longtime science-fiction and comedy director Jack Arnold. Arnold knew how to sell a threatening landscape, and indeed it’s the desert — and not the giant tarantula — that looms most menacingly in this film over the puny humans.
Professor Deemer and his scientific cohorts are working on some crazy-ass, radioactive food supply to make things grow really big without them having to eat anything other than the radioactive food supply. As the film opens, giant rats, guinea pigs and a tarantula the size of a Great Dane attest to the success of the experiments. Then all hell breaks loose, and it’s up to the always affable John Agar as a small-town doctor to figure out what’s killing cattle, horses and people. Oh, right. It’s a tarantula the size of a ten-story apartment building. Or maybe large — there are some scale issues with the tarantula.
The tarantula looks surprisingly good. There are only a couple of model shots of the spider, with most of its appearances combining real spider action with shots of the desert, houses, what-have-you. The spider really is a jerk — it seems to go out of its way to knock down telephone lines, power lines, and the occasional transformer tower, for reasons only a giant tarantula could know. The ending is abrupt, and features a young Clint Eastwood as a jet pilot. Good times! Recommended.