Revisiting a Cult Classic: Arachnophobia

Starring: Jeff Daniels, Harley Jane Kozak, John Goodman, Julian Sands, Stuart Pankin
Director: Frank Marshall
Walt Disney Studios / Hollywood Pictures
Rated PG-13

The best horror movies aren’t the ones with loads of blood and gore; the best are the ones that play on our fears and get into our minds. A great horror film sticks in our brains and makes us reflect on it for days on end. One of the best films to do this is the 1990 horror (with a good mix of comedy thrown in) film Arachnophobia. Arachnophobia is cult classic with a fervent and loyal fan base. It’s one of those films that was overlooked when initially released, but has since obtained notoriety. Fans have been clamoring for this movie to receive a Blu-ray treatment for a while now. Director Frank Marshall “tweeted” on October 30, 2010 (!/LeDoctor/status/29187672738) that perhaps this year the film would get the high-definition treatment. We here at VUDU say why wait?! Arachnophobia is available to rent in SD, HD, and HDX and is part of our $2 for 2 Nights program. No matter what video quality you rent in, you’re guaranteed 48-hours to watch the movie as many times as you want!

Arachnophobia follows Dr. Ross Jennings (Jeff Daniels) having just moved his family to the small town of Canaima. A family medical practitioner, Jennings is supposed to take over as the town’s doctor, but things take an unexpected turn when current town doctor Sam Metcalf (Henry Jones) changes his mind about retirement. However, when normal, healthy people begin mysteriously dying throughout town, Jennings and Metcalf clash over their medical opinions—Jennings opting for modern medicine and Metcalf who’s stuck in the past. Jennings is convinced that a lethal species of spider is responsible, but no one will listen to him. When Metcalf dies, Jennings assumes full medical authority and vows to discover why these people are dying. Unfortunately, his worst fears become revealed when spider’s are the cause, and now he must stop them before they take over and destroy the entire town.

Arachnophobia (Latin for “fear of spiders”) does not disappoint with its depiction of these eight-legged creatures causing havoc. The film preys perfectly on the fear of spiders with scenes depicting spiders biting people, spiders crawling on us when we don’t know it, people walking into spider webs, and people being surround by and swarmed by spiders. Arachnophobia will send chills down your spine and put goose bumps on your arms for sure! One of the things that horror movies do best is build the suspense and heighten the tension before the big payoff. This film is a perfect example. Using slow building music and prolonging anticipation, Arachnophobia is full of moments where the spiders are just about to do something, only to be subdued. This lulls the audience in to a false sense of safety because only moments later, the spider will attack in an unforeseen manner. With quick editing and jarring musical cues, Arachnophobia ups the surprise factor and does not let down until the movie ends.

Arachnophobia isn’t a pure horror movie by today’s sense of the term. In fact, compared to the gore and slaughterfests that inundate today’s horror scene, Arachnophobia is quite tame. But its focus is less on the gory visuals and more on creating an uncomfortable atmosphere. It has added elements of comedy (thanks to a great supporting performance by John Goodman as the local exterminator) that help to ease the tension and let the audience regroup before the next spider scene. Arachnophobia deserves to be revisited by those who initially passed on it, and it deserves to be discovered by a new generation of movie viewers.


Director Frank Marshall is more well-known in the Hollywood scene as a major producer of Hollywood blockbusters. Along with his producing partner Kathleen Kennedy, they’ve been involved in many of Hollywood’s top tier films for the past 30 years, including several films with their friend, director and producer Steven Spielberg.