A severely deformed man stumbles through the desert. Falls. Dies. But that is only the beginning, as the tiny Arizona town of Desert Rock is soon besieged by a horror unlike any other…
Tarantula (1955) is one of the better giant-insect films, both in terms of production and acting. It’s also one of my favourites, along with Them! (1954) and The Black Scorpion (1957). The special effects are fairly advanced for the time, and the opening sequence with its stumbling, irradiated victim in his striped pyjamas, is darkly effective. John Agar does his usual workmanlike job as square-jawed leading man. Jack Arnold, the director, was responsible for a few other favourites of mine, including Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954).
Unlike the Lovecraftian overtones of Creature… however, Tarantula is, at its core, a fable for the Atomic Age. The eponymous monstrosity is neither fish nor fowl, to mangle an old saying. It is neither an Outsider trying to get in, nor something ancient imposing itself on the modern era, such as The Deadly Mantis (1957) or The Black Scorpion (1957). Instead, the tarantula is an eight-legged (un)natural disaster – the inevitable result of man’s meddling in forces beyond his control.
The tarantula, the ants, even poor, malformed Colossal Man…they are all the children of Frankenstein, in spirit, if not in blood. Their monstrous nature is through no fault of their own. It is man who created the conditions which led to their existence, and man who suffers their ravages. The tarantula is an atomic nemesis, giving us our due in payment for the sin of hubris. And even its destruction brings no true comfort, for the terrible forces which created it still exist, hanging over the heads of the survivors.
Even as they exist today.