Tarantula! Blu-ray Review

Wonderfully entertaining sci-fi "bug movie" looks great. 4 Stars

One of the most entertaining and fondly remembered of the “giant bug” movies of the 1950s by baby boomers everywhere, Jack Arnold’s Tarantula! has only gained in critical and popular appreciation down through the years.

Tarantula (1955)
Released: 20 Feb 1956
Rated: Approved
Runtime: 80 min
Director: Jack Arnold
Genre: Horror, Sci-Fi
Cast: John Agar, Mara Corday, Leo G. Carroll, Nestor Paiva
Writer(s): Robert M. Fresco (screenplay), Martin Berkeley (screenplay), Jack Arnold (story), Robert M. Fresco (story)
Plot: A spider escapes from an isolated Arizona desert laboratory experimenting in giantism and grows to tremendous size as it wreaks havoc on the local inhabitants.
IMDB rating: 6.5
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Universal
Distributed By: Shout! Factory
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 20 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 04/30/2019
MSRP: $29.99

The Production: 3.5/5

One of the most entertaining and fondly remembered of the “giant bug” movies of the 1950s by baby boomers everywhere, Jack Arnold’s Tarantula! has only gained in critical and popular appreciation down through the years. An engaging premise, more than decent production values, and an attractive and familiar cast sell the notion of a giant spider on the rampage wonderfully resulting in a movie that’s a thrilling and fun cinematic excursion that’s not to be missed. Shout Factory’s Blu-ray release corrects the open matte framing of the DVD and presents the movie in a lovely high definition transfer.

Esteemed scientist Professor Gerald Deemer (Leo G. Carroll) has been experimenting with a radioactive nutrient solution in the hope of finding ways to keep mankind alive as the world’s population reaches otherwise unsupportable limits. During a fight with his lab assistant over the nature of his experiments, an ever-growing tarantula who had received six injections of the unstable serum over twenty days is allowed to escape into the Arizona desert unknown to Deemer or his new graduate student intern Stephanie Clayton (Mara Corday). Young town doctor Matt Hastings (John Agar) gets drawn into the mystery when cattle, a farmer, and some miners are found with their flesh stripped from their skeletons with pools of white goo nearby, pools that appear to be some kind of insect venom. Hastings, town sheriff Jack Andrews (Nestor Paiva), and newspaper editor Joe Burch (Ross Elliott) seek answers to this conundrum.

The screenplay by Robert M. Fresco and Martin Berkeley manages to fit two side-by-side plots (the deadly tarantula’s desert rampage and Dr. Deemer’s ever-worsening condition) into a tidy eighty-minute running time, but nothing feels rushed or short-changed, and the thrills are plentiful as the writers use dramatic irony cleverly to allow us to know about the spider’s existence and lurking menace long before the film’s principals are aware of its lethal presence. We get great spider point-of view shots as it goes in for the kill time and again while the majority of the cast doesn’t get up to speed on what’s going on until the film’s last twenty minutes where, in the great tradition of movie monsters, bullets and dynamite are of no use whatsoever. And the special effects are excellent with a real and fiercely threatening tarantula being matted into real locations giving the images a believable danger that the animatronics used in the otherwise superlative Them! (perhaps the best 1950s sci-fi “bug movie”) couldn’t achieve. Director Jack Arnold uses some effective jump scares, some hideous make-up creations by Bud Westmore, and a canny mix of studio sets and real locations to keep his scary yarn humming consistently. Particularly good is a sequence involving a rockslide that mixes a real location with a soundstage miniature that’s spot-on, and like all of these monster movies, the key question of how the creature is to be eliminated becomes a real enigma that keeps first-time viewers on the edges of their seats. The conclusion here is a satisfying one.

No stranger to this kind of sci-fi thriller, John Agar comes off well as the good-natured but concerned doctor. Mara Corday may seem a bit mature for a grad school assistant, but she pairs nicely with Agar. Leo G. Carroll is aces as the scientist probing for answers who falls victim to his own experiments. Doing their usual sturdy work in supporting roles are Nestor Paiva as the town lawman, Ross Elliott as the newspaperman, Raymond Bailey as a specialist on arachnids, and Hank Patterson as the well-meaning busybody hotel clerk. As all fans undoubtedly know, that’s Clint Eastwood behind the aviator’s oxygen mask as the aerial squadron leader in the film’s climactic moments.

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is faithfully rendered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is excellent throughout as wrinkles in backdrops and continuity errors become more visible with the extra resolution of high definition. The grayscale is solid with rich black levels and pure, clear whites. An occasional speck of dust or hair momentarily makes itself known, and some of the stock footage looks unsurprisingly weak, but most of the age-related anomalies have been eliminated. The movie has been divided into 12 chapters.

Audio: 5/5

The film’s soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. It’s a very solid and engrossing mono track with clear, crisp dialogue mixed superlatively with the random music cues and the effectively chilling and sometimes thunderous sound effects. No evidence of age-related aural problems like hiss, crackle, flutter, and humming is present.

Special Features: 3.5/5

Audio Commentary: film historian Tom Weaver weaves a fascinating story of the film’s production sharing background on the major players and giving us the rundown on much of the film’s production history. In addition to a comment from director Joe Dante and some actor recreations of comments made by other production personnel, music historian David Schecter details the origins of the many music cues used in the movie, and Dr. Robert Kiss adds information on the movie’s lengthy theatrical release history.

Theatrical Trailer (1:52, SD)

Animated Stills Gallery (4:15)

Animated Poster and Lobby Card Gallery (4:55)

Overall: 4/5

Recommended! Lovers of 1950s-styled “mutant bug movies” will thoroughly enjoy Shout Factory’s Blu-ray presentation of Jack Arnold’s Tarantula! With some fun special features and a fine disc presentation, this release is all one could hope for one of the decade’s most celebrated chillers.

Published by

Matt Hough

editor,member

24 Comments

  1. Since this is being released this week, I thought I'd bump up the review for those who missed it the first time around. It'll give fans a place to comment once they've seen this fine Blu-ray presentation.

  2. This is a favorite of mine. It’s the only time that I can think of, that I’ve liked the use of an actual animal to portray a giant version, that really works. IMHO. There’s a moment when the tarantula pauses at the crest of a hill which is chilling. I hope I’m wrong, but I think they actually burned a tarantula for the final scene. Even for a bug, it’s a cruel way to go.

    Your review is spot on. Hank Patterson is great.

    Are all the commentary participants on one commentary? Tom Weaver is amongst the best.

  3. Johnny Angell

    Are all the commentary participants on one commentary? Tom Weaver is amongst the best.

    Yes, Weaver does the heavy lifting and turns the commentary over to others at various times later in the film.

  4. haineshisway

    Matt, have you seen the DVD Beaver "review?" I'd love to hear YOUR comments on it.

    http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film4/blu-ray_reviews_62_/tarantula_blu-ray.htm

    As you know, I find his "reviews" not only poor, but filled with so much misinformation, suppostion, guesswork – but this one is a baffler after reading your review.

    Bruce, for someone who continually criticizes DVD BEAVER, you seem to spend an awful lot of time on that site; which is not, by the way, a criticism.

    As you know, I'm a student of paradox, and certainly in terms of the cinephile-sphere on the internet, no site abounds in paradox as much as DVD BEAVER, usually to my joy and occasionally to my disgruntlement.

    What I find especially paradoxical about the reviews/screen caps on DVD BEAVER is that he will praise the quality of a film (for example A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH) while his screen caps will look abysmal, and not in the least related to what the images look like on the Blu-Ray in question.

    With TARANTULA! we have the opposite phenomena. A very critical–one might even posit scathing–review of the quality of the
    HD master, while the screen caps to my eyes look exactly the same as those for the German Blu-Ray (which the Beaver praises) and possibly in some case sharper and more highly resolved.

    Of course, I have learned not to trust the screen caps that are on Beaver's site; nonetheless, these TARANTULA! caps which are supposedly dreadful, look pretty good to me.

    Go figure.

  5. haineshisway

    Matt, have you seen the DVD Beaver "review?" I'd love to hear YOUR comments on it.

    http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film4/blu-ray_reviews_62_/tarantula_blu-ray.htm

    As you know, I find his "reviews" not only poor, but filled with so much misinformation, suppostion, guesswork – but this one is a baffler after reading your review.

    As a rule, I don't read his stuff, but if I get a minute tonight, I'll take your link and go there. I really like DVD Savant/Cine Savant's writing if I'm going to read reviews of discs. He seems to get around to almost everything of merit.

  6. DB is also mostly just writing a comparison of the discs, rather than simply reviewing the new disc on its own (which he admits "looks pretty good on my system").

    The screen caps all look pretty good to me, too, on both versions.

  7. lark144

    Bruce, for someone who continually criticizes DVD BEAVER, you seem to spend an awful lot of time on that site; which is not, by the way, a criticism.

    As you know, I'm a student of paradox, and certainly in terms of the cinephile-sphere on the internet, no site abounds in paradox as much as DVD BEAVER, usually to my joy and occasionally to my disgruntlement.

    What I find especially paradoxical about the reviews/screen caps on DVD BEAVER is that he will praise the quality of a film (for example A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH) while his screen caps will look abysmal, and not in the least related to what the images look like on the Blu-Ray in question.

    With TARANTULA! we have the opposite phenomena. A very critical–one might even posit scathing–review of the quality of the
    HD master, while the screen caps to my eyes look exactly the same as those for the German Blu-Ray (which the Beaver praises) and possibly in some case sharper and more highly resolved.

    Of course, I have learned not to trust the screen caps that are on Beaver's site; nonetheless, these TARANTULA! caps which are supposedly dreadful, look pretty good to me.

    Go figure.

    Regarding the DVD Beaver review, on my computer every Koch screen cap looks noticeably sharper than the Shout version.

  8. lark144

    Bruce, for someone who continually criticizes DVD BEAVER, you seem to spend an awful lot of time on that site; which is not, by the way, a criticism.

    As you know, I'm a student of paradox, and certainly in terms of the cinephile-sphere on the internet, no site abounds in paradox as much as DVD BEAVER, usually to my joy and occasionally to my disgruntlement.

    What I find especially paradoxical about the reviews/screen caps on DVD BEAVER is that he will praise the quality of a film (for example A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH) while his screen caps will look abysmal, and not in the least related to what the images look like on the Blu-Ray in question.

    With TARANTULA! we have the opposite phenomena. A very critical–one might even posit scathing–review of the quality of the
    HD master, while the screen caps to my eyes look exactly the same as those for the German Blu-Ray (which the Beaver praises) and possibly in some case sharper and more highly resolved.

    Of course, I have learned not to trust the screen caps that are on Beaver's site; nonetheless, these TARANTULA! caps which are supposedly dreadful, look pretty good to me.

    Go figure.

    I go there to see what he's up to – it's kind of addictive in its own way. Every time I think it can't get more outre, he confounds my expectations.

  9. haineshisway

    I go there to see what he's up to – it's kind of addictive in its own way. Every time I think it can't get more outre, he confounds my expectations.

    Gotta love that Thick(TM) Tight(TM) HD Sourced(TM) Soft Palate Image(TM) in the Bastardized 1.78:1(TM) ratio with Deft Sepparations(TM) in the rear!

    …seriously who talks like this? Is this how you try to impress your northern Scandinavian coffers eh Gary?

  10. I already own the Koch Tarantula! Blu, but was contemplating an upgrade to Shout! Factory’s newer scan after reading Matt’s fine review here.

    I followed the DVD Beaver link supplied here to see the comparative review for Shout’s new Blu-ray. The screen caps there changed my mind about double-dipping, as I couldn’t see any appreciable improvement.

    While at the DVD Beaver site, I looked up some of his other reviews and clicked through his link to add The Curse of the Cat People (also by Shout!) to my Amazon shopping cart.

    It seems Gary Tooze owes you fellows a big vote of thanks for directing business traffic his way.

  11. RMajidi

    I already own the Koch Tarantula! Blu, but was contemplating an upgrade to Shout! Factory’s newer scan after reading Matt’s fine review here.

    I followed the DVD Beaver link supplied here to see the comparative review for Shout’s new Blu-ray. The screen caps there changed my mind about double-dipping, as I couldn’t see any appreciable improvement.

    While at the DVD Beaver site, I looked up some of his other reviews and clicked through his link to add The Curse of the Cat People (also by Shout!) to my Amazon shopping cart.

    It seems Gary Tooze owes you fellows a big vote of thanks for directing business traffic his way.

    So, you based a purchase decision based on his caps, which are notoriously bad? O-kay. I am rarely at a loss for words – but I think I'll let this be one of those times 🙂

  12. haineshisway

    So, you based a purchase decision based on his caps, which are notoriously bad? O-kay. I am rarely at a loss for words – but I think I'll let this be one of those times 🙂

    His screen caps aside, he is often sloppy when discussing the film content. For example, in his recent review of Painted Desert as part of the RKO Classic Adventures set, he mentions a brief appearance by Clark Gable in the Painted Desert along with George O'Brien and Laraine Day. He is accurate about Gable but Laraine Day and George O'Brien are not in the 1931 Painted Desert along with Gable. Day and O'Brien starred in the 1938 version of Painted Desert while William Boyd stars in the 1931 Painted Desert which features a pre-stardom Gable. Nitpicking? Perhaps but a Laraine Day fan might get pretty upset buying it based on his review when they finds out she isn't in it.

  13. haineshisway

    So, you based a purchase decision based on his caps, which are notoriously bad? O-kay. I am rarely at a loss for words – but I think I'll let this be one of those times 🙂

    I don’t have any avowed, dogmatic views about screen caps that I feel I need to publicly rehash and defend at every turn.

    The Beaver’s Koch stills look very representative of my Blu-ray, and for a black & white title, there are only shades of grey to compare, rather than the full colour spectrum; so I’m more confident about trusting the caps, as it remains primarily about picture sharpness, at which properly-captured stills are in my experience reliable. I have less trust in caps from colour films, but I don’t dismiss them altogether.

    So yes, on this occasion, I made a couple of decisions based on screen caps. What a big-time gambler, I know.

    Now, will your loss for words be a very temporary condition, I wonder.

  14. RMajidi

    I don’t have any avowed, dogmatic views about screen caps that I feel I need to publicly rehash and defend at every turn.

    The Beaver’s Koch stills look very representative of my Blu-ray, and for a black & white title, there are only shades of grey to compare, rather than the full colour spectrum; so I’m more confident about trusting the caps, as it remains primarily about picture sharpness, at which properly-captured stills are in my experience reliable. I have less trust in caps from colour films, but I don’t dismiss them altogether.

    So yes, on this occasion, I made a couple of decisions based on screen caps. What a big-time gambler, I know.

    Now, will your loss for words be a very temporary condition, I wonder.

    Yes, my loss for words will not be a temporary condition. You may just want to take a leaf from my book re loss of words. Just a thought.

  15. lark144

    With TARANTULA! we have the opposite phenomena. A very critical–one might even posit scathing–review of the quality of the
    HD master, while the screen caps to my eyes look exactly the same as those for the German Blu-Ray (which the Beaver praises) and possibly in some case sharper and more highly resolved.

    Of course, I have learned not to trust the screen caps that are on Beaver's site; nonetheless, these TARANTULA! caps which are supposedly dreadful, look pretty good to me.

    Go figure.

    Weird. I see just the opposite. To me the German Koch caps look slightly more resolved and sharper than the Shout Factory caps. But I agree the difference is minimal. Given my druthers, I'd choose to buy the Koch release.

  16. haineshisway

    Yes, my loss for words will not be a temporary condition. You may just want to take a leaf from my book re loss of words. Just a thought.

    It’s difficult to accurately judge a person based on online communications, and I sincerely don’t discount the possibility that you may be a darling man in real life. However, insofar as usage of words is concerned, I think you’ll understand that I shall have to decline your invitation to use you as my role-model.

    Bringing this back on topic (since no part of your post seemed connected to it), I do genuinely thank you for supplying that DVD Beaver link, as you saved me a needless purchase; and judging by some of the other posts here, I think there are other members who are likewise in your debt.

    Perhaps I can discharge my part of this debt by sending you a copy of the recent Oz Blu-ray release of Douglas Sirk’s Written on the Wind. My copy is on its way from JB-HiFi, and if the good folks here at HTF are agreeable, I can send a copy for you care of HTF and they can then perhaps redirect it to you, keeping your address private.

  17. Mark-P

    Weird. I see just the opposite. To me the German Koch caps look slightly more resolved and sharper than the Shout Factory caps. But I agree the difference is minimal. Given my druthers, I'd choose to buy the Koch release.

    Thanks for the feedback Mark. It's possible I was looking through the wrong end of my progressives, but they seem exactly the same to me. I prefer the SHOUT caps only because they appear more film-like, whereas the Koch, to these ageing eyes, looks overly sharp in an artificial, unpleasing manner, but of course we're dealing with the Beaver's caps, which, like the plot line of TARANTULA, isn't always accurate.

  18. Watched the Shout Factory TARANTULA yesterday on my 56" high screen and it looked fine. Yes, the dissolves and optical work were a bit soft, but i am sure that is inherent in the source material. More distracting was Professor Leo G. Carroll's dire predictions about the future overpopulation of the world, which turned out to be twice as bad as he predicted.

  19. RichMurphy

    Watched the Shout Factory TARANTULA yesterday on my 56" high screen and it looked fine. Yes, the dissolves and optical work were a bit soft, but i am sure that is inherent in the source material. More distracting was Professor Leo G. Carroll's dire predictions about the future overpopulation of the world, which turned out to be twice as bad as he predicted.

    I’ve noticed that before too. I didn’t find it distracting, just something that places the movie in that time.

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