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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

Tarantula  (1955)

Reviewed for by Dustin Putman

The Film
2.5 Stars
(Release Date: April 30, 2019) – As far as 1950s sci-fi B-movies go, director Jack Arnold's "Tarantula" is an engaging, competently made entry. The plot is simple and straightforward, the actors slide with ease into relatively stock roles, and the special effects (advanced at the time of release) prove surprisingly effective even today. Professor Charles Deemer (Leo G. Carroll) is a scientist experimenting with growth hormone injections in hopes of increasing the world's food supply. When Deemer is attacked by a deformed human subject out for revenge, a broken glass cage unleashes a large tarantula onto the Arizona town of Desert Rock. This arachnid, ever growing in size, must be stopped. Caught in the midst of this fight is local doctor Matt Hastings (John Agar) and Stephanie 'Steve' Clayton (Mara Corday), a graduate student who has recently arrived in town to work as Deemer's lab assistant.

Quaint by modern standards, "Tarantula" checks most of the boxes of its "giant-insects-run-amok" subgenre—save, perhaps, the old radioactive-waste standby explaining the bugs' size. Well-paced and handsomely shot in black-and-white by cinematographer George Robinson, the film provides plenty of charm even if, in 2019, it won't exactly get anyone's heart racing. John Agar and Mara Corday are likable protagonists as Dr. Matt Hastings and Stephanie Clayton, their meet-cute segueing into a life-or-death struggle against a massive rampaging spider. A set-piece in which the tarantula silently approaches Stephanie's bedroom window, gradually enveloping the room and the whole of the mansion where she's staying, is terrifically orchestrated. The fiery finale (featuring a young Clint Eastwood as an Air Force jet pilot) boasts technical showmanship, as well. While "Tarantula" is fairly standard stuff and is anything but deep or thought-provoking, it's an enjoyable 81-minute example of how to bring genuine craft and ridiculous fun to a kind of genre piece not often afforded much respect.

Blu-ray Picture/Sound

"Tarantula" arrives on Blu-ray from Scream Factory looking better than it ever has before on home video (a comparison between the HD quality of this almost sterling print and the unrefined, grubby theatrical trailer offered up as a special feature is startling). This 1080p presentation is clean and beautifully filmic, finding fresh detail and clarity in its actors and their surroundings. Grain is lush and even. A few minor age-related specks and a couple blink-and-you'll-miss-them scratches are about all the damage found. The picture quality is thoroughly impressive. As for the DTS-HD Master Audio Mono, it does the trick. Music and dialogue are in fine shape, clear and well-distributed. By the nature this is a low-budget feature from the 1950s, no one should be expecting sonic fireworks. Still, it provides exactly what one should expect.

Blu-ray Features
  • Audio Commentary with Film Historian Tom Weaver, Dr. Robert J. Kiss and David Schecter
  • Theatrical Trailer (1:52, HD)
  • Still Gallery (4:15, HD)
  • Poster and Lobby Card Gallery (4:55, HD)
Bottom Line
Fans of black-and-white sci-fi B-movies should run to pick up Scream Factory's excellent Blu-ray release of 1955's entertaining, silly, technically ambitious "Tarantula." Picture and audio are rock-solid, while special features include an informative commentary track from Tom Weaver, Dr. Robert J. Kiss and David Schecter. Recommended.

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© 2019 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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