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Halloween Special: "Tarantula!" (1955) John Arnold

Jack Arnold’s 1955 science fiction film, “Tarantula!” is one of the most unique monster horror films ever made in Hollywood. This is because the special effects of enlarging animals such as the guinea pigs, rats, and most importantly, the tarantula gave viewers pure fear, but as the film ended and, in several areas, viewers realized that they were just special effects for pure entertainment to keep viewers on their toes. It was set in Southern Arizona (although it was filmed in Southern California), the perfect environment for Universal Pictures to use as a film set for developing a thrilling monster horror film.

What makes this film unique compared to traditional films during this time is that the film delayed the opening credits a few minutes because it allowed viewers to build up fear and anxiety before all the crazy plot points occurred, such as the investigations, a tour of the animal science lab and when the tarantula grows in an unrealistic size and all other clues where plot points would keep viewers on their toes.

Back in the 1950s, science fiction films were on the rise. Since this was one of the earlier ones, it was evident because they showed two science labs where they injected animals to enlarge them and another where they tested blood from a species, which was later concluded to be the tarantula. In that scene, they showed an informational film to the man investigating when some other guy’s cattle were being killed and eaten. They found a unique white substance that was eventually tested to be the spider’s venom.

During the height of the movie, several special effects were used to cause the viewers to develop fear and anxiety about what would happen if they saw this large creature running toward them at a slow speed. However, since this movie was made 67 years ago, technology is different from today, making it evident to modern viewers that the tarantula is fake. There was an instance where the tarantula stopped and froze completely and another instance when dynamite and bombs were attempted to blow up the tarantula. Still, the explosions and gunshots walk through them. Additionally, the damage when the tarantula attacked the house was minimal because of the limited availability of creativity the postproduction department had at the time.

Science Fiction as a genre could have been used back then to develop new futuristic technology or create films that give pure entertainment, like Jack Arnold’s film. A previous monster film, “King Kong” (1933), was like this film but less realistic because the monster used in this film, the Tarantula, looked more fake than the Giant Ape used in King Kong. The significant difference between the two films was that it was apparent to viewers that “Tarantula!” was science-based, and “King Kong” was not. Still, viewers found out later that it was also science fiction since creatures that large do not exist.

This film successfully created one of the most outrageous films in Hollywood history because the plot and content were so fake that this film had mixed reputations from different generations. Viewers at the time thought the plot was significantly over the top, creating fear and anxiety for any viewer who saw this in theaters back in 1955. Today, viewers realize science fiction and monster movies are just pure entertainment for Halloween and that there is nothing else significant for creating monster movies besides getting viewers riled up for Halloween. The American film industry continued with those types of films and has gotten to a point where these films are only aired during the Halloween season.

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