The kind of amusement park thrill ride that makes you laugh and scream almost simultaneously, Frank Marshall’s Arachnophobia is a terrific good time. With squirm-inducing visuals and suspense thick enough to cut with a knife, the movie is a surefire winner, and it boasts a fun cast and impressive direction that keeps one on the edge of his seat. Hold on to someone or something and enjoy (but just make sure there isn’t something crawling up your arm during the viewing).
Directed by Frank Marshall
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 105 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 2.0 French, Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, French
MSRP: $ 20.00
Release Date: September 25, 2012
Review Date: September 21, 2012
A rare, almost prehistoric breed of lethally venomous spider found in Venezuela has killed a photographer and hitched a ride back to the United States in his coffin. By various means, it finds itself in the barn of new country doctor Ross Jennings (Jeff Daniels) who has moved his wife (Harley Jane Kozak) and two children away from the hubbub of San Francisco into the country expecting to take over the medical practice of old timer Doc Metcalf (Henry Jones). But when perfectly healthy people start dying of what appears to be heart attacks, Jennings wants autopsies performed, but Metcalf balks at such a suggestion. What he doesn’t know is that the South American spider has mated with a female in the barn and their offspring are now arachnid killing machines infecting the countryside and posing a significant threat to all life.
The Don Jakoby-Wesley Strick screenplay strikes an almost perfect balance of false alarm “boo” moments and the real thing (even though the violence is never overly graphic and the director keeps the creatures mostly out of sight for awhile apart from a leg here or a web there), and the fact that the victims and near-victims range from the innocent (a pretty young girl in a shower is unaware there’s a deadly spider scurrying around her only inches away) to the obnoxious keeps the murders and threat of danger random and constantly holding our attention. Apart from his own shower scene, director Frank Marshall has taken another leaf from Hitchcock’s Psycho playbook as he has Jennings (who has a mortal dread of spiders, hence the title) and his cohorts exploring a house knowing that the deadly entity can spring out at them from almost anywhere (much as Vera Miles’ wandering around the Bates house was unbearably suspenseful). And the tension only increases as the presence of spiders multiplies and the protagonists realize a single bite can cause almost instant death. By the time we get to the human and arachnid heads of household facing off at the climax, it’s gooseflesh time for a beautifully sustained final few minutes even if the hero’s ability to make his way through hundreds of spiders upstairs verges on the unrealistically miraculous.
Jeff Daniels makes a fine everyman battling against the antiquated methods and instincts of the lunkheaded old time doctor Henry Jones portrays, and it takes no suspension of disbelief to understand he doesn’t like spiders. John Goodman adds a shambling comic presence as the near-incompetent exterminator who gets off a few choice one-liners. Julian Sands as the doctor who makes the discovery in South America of these vicious creatures and Brian McNamara as his assistant both convey convincing scientific demeanor throughout the film. Harley Jane Kozak makes a rather indifferent wife for Daniels, but Mary Carver as one of the earliest victims is a bright presence which makes her loss all the more keenly felt. Stuart Pankin as the bullying, scoffing area sheriff certainly earns more than his share of audience disgust making him number one on the hit list, a very effective if one-note performance.
The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is presented in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. The image has an overall pleasant sharpness that’s never razor-edged, and color saturation levels are well managed apart from flesh tones which occasionally get a bit rosy and oversaturated. In the Venezuelan sequences, the transfer struggles just a bit with the lessened light and the amount of fog, but back in California, the brightness brings forth better overall resolution and nice black levels. The film has been divided into 8 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix makes the most of its elements with noticeable ambient jungle sound effects from the very beginning spread around the soundstage and later sounds of crowds at a party or the various night sounds which night signal one of the spiders somewhere on the premises. Trevor Jones’ music gets the wide soundstage treatment as the fronts and rears give wonderful support to its effectiveness especially as the tension ratchets up in the later scenes of the movie. Dialogue has been expertly recorded and has been placed in the center channel.
All of the bonus features are presented in 480i apart from the promo trailers.
The production featurette is a 2 ¾-minute montage of sound bites offering just the barest amount of information from the cast and crew (director Frank Marshall and star Jeff Daniels gets a word or two) on the film’s subject and genre.
A featurette on director Frank Marshall offers some of the same sound bites from the above featurette in this 3 ¼-minute look at Marshall’s first feature film directing job (he had served as second unit director on other projects).
A very brief 1 ½-minute glimpse of the cast and crew working in Venezuela for four weeks makes up this vignette.
The theatrical trailer runs for 2 minutes.
The promo trailers in 1080p on the disc are for Frankenweenie and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
4/5 (not an average)
The film’s the thing here: Arachnophobia is a wonderfully scary and funny comic thriller focusing on a fear lots of people share (a dislike of spiders). The bonuses don’t amount to much, but the video quality is quite pleasing and the audio is especially effective making for a film that is so good that a few minor drawbacks don’t really matter very much. Recommended!