"Holy cow!" is all one of the more vocal townspeople has to say as a towering, terrorizing tarantula comes lumbering down the road towards him. In this tame and schlocky, yet amusing and goofy, sci-fi/horror movie from 1955 "holy cow" is about as blue as the language gets. Tarantula, as part of a three-disc DVD set, is a fun look back at Eisenhower's idealistic yet paranoid America and a classic decade of cautionary monster movies.
In the conveniently isolated, hot and dusty town of Desert Rock, Arizona, a couple of barmy scientists have been playing with growth hormones, making guinea pigs sheep-sized and turning they themselves into weird, misshapen ape-men. As their final legacy before succumbing to the ill effects of their out of control experiments, the PhD's leave a hairy, eight-legged mess behind.
At first, no one in town can figure out what's killing the cattle — how a six-story, constantly-chirping aberration can hide in the bare desert is anyone's guess, but if you haven't been able to suspend disbelief by now, you never will. Riddled with clichés and populated by cardboard cutout characters spewing the most obvious lines ("I've never seen anything like this!") and daffy dialogue ("Did you ever see your best friend die in your arms?"), Tarantula lumbers along to its inevitable end (U.S. armed forces to the rescue!) set to urgent, super-dramatic music and gasp-inducing special effects.
Actually, the f/x — for the period, and the B-factor — are pretty impressive. The ambling arachnid set against the desert dunes looks almost plausible, even as its furry feet occasionally seem to glide above-ground. Also sublime is the sole female lead, a bullet-brassiered Stephanie "Steve" Clayton (Mara Corday, who was also in The Giant Claw), a grad student who steps into the fray with high heeled pumps and 50s femme fearlessness (punctuated by the occasional girly scream). Finally, look for a young, unknown Clint Eastwood as a spider-seeking missile launcher, shouting the command, "Dump 'em all!"
Along with Tarantula on this Universal DVD collection are: The Mole People (1956), The Incredible Shrinking Man and The Monolith Monsters (both 1957), and Monster On The Campus (1958).
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson