Arachnophobia: A Thrill-omedy

1990 PG-13

#whatbugsme #movies

     Ever  since I started reviewing bug movies I knew Arachnophobia would be on the list. It is a must watch movie for any PCO (Pest Control Operator). Kinda like Full Metal Jacket was for me headed to Marine Corps boot camp, Star Wars for my generation, Dazed and confused for the genXers and Cinderella for my parents (according to my mommy 🙂 ).  So far I have done scary and weird movies so in the interest of insect equality…..

And now for something completely different…

Knoxville pest control     Our story opens with a research team in Venezuela searching for new insect species in a remote area. On the helicopter the native guide warns the photographer who is already nervous, about a “24-hr ant” on his leg. The Bullet Ant is often referred to as the 24-hr ant because of the 24 hours of pain after a sting but the Entomologist says that it will kill in 24 hrs. Entomological strike number 1.  The ant used in the film is definitely not a bullet ant. It is hard to tell but it looks more like a leaf cutter ant or Solenopsis Geminata. They have a native indian guide who only takes them so far but won’t go any further. Who knows why, what a cliche. The research team and photographer enter an area untouched by humans in search of the new species while the entomologist in charge tells the photographer that his specialty is insects and spiders. I can’t believe they actually got something correct! spiders are not insects, they are arachnids. But this praise is quickly squashed by the classic horror movie use of Madagascar hissing cockroaches and a preying mantis for the icky factor. I thought they were in Venezuela not Madagascar. Entomological strike number 2.

The Set Up

      The team begins to set up large funnels for specimen collection and grabs a thermal fogger that looks like a bazooka to kill any knoxville pest controlthing in the tree above the collection funnels. Insects rain down including an aggressively large spider which they collect. PETA would have a cow at this method. As you could imagine, one of the spiders hitches a ride back to camp to bite and kill the photographer. Upon examining the specimen they note the spider does not have reproductive organs and to most that would just seem weird but to me I instantly thought drone. That means a queen, and a good set up for some classic horror. So they seal the dead photographer up in a makeshift coffin and guess who hitches a ride back to the sleepy little town where we meet the good doctor and his family. The body of the photographer shows up desiccated, presumably from being fed upon by the spider. Spiders inject liquefying agents into their prey and then suck out the juices. So I guess that is somewhat plausible.

Arachnophobia: scared of harmless spiders

     Ross Jennings, played by Jeff Daniels is the new doctor in town that moves his family to the country to get away from the big city and all it’s dangers, another classic horror film cliche. He tells a story about his 1st memory with a spider that caused his arachnophobia into adulthood. Little does he know, his new country home is where this hitchhiking monster spider sets up shop. In a weird scene, it mates with a local spider. Entomological strike number 3. The spiders used in the film were actually Avondale spiders (Delena Cancerides), a harmless New Zealand species. Our favorite walrus Jamie Hyneman of Mythbusters fame built the 15 inch mechanical spider used in some of the shots. For the queen and king spiders that were not puppets or animatronics, a bird-eating tarantula was used because of its menacing size. All the live spiders were managed by Entomologist Steven R. Kutcher. Kutcher and his bugs have been seen in over 200 films and advertisements.

Hollywood Pest Control: Oy Vey!

Exterminator Knoxville TN     After discovering termite damage in his new basement Mrs Jennings calls the exterminator Delbert McClintotock, played by John Goodman.  He portrays the typical Hollywood fallacy of a bug man, an odd soul who shows up strapped with hoses and flashlights including an old System 3 unit which my PCO friends will recognize.  This portrayal of the pest control industry really bugs me. Pun intended. We have come so far from this image and every time Hollywood has their chance they perpetuate this ridiculousness. Oh well, the fight continues.  After that the neighbor throws a party for Dr Jennings and is bit shortly after. Several more victims are bitten until Dr Jennings demands the bodies be exhumed. What is it with morticians always eating a sandwich in the morgue? Another Hollywood joke I guess. The examining team commits the ultimate foul, identifying the wounds as spider bites. You cannot identify the bug by the bite!  Entomological strike number 4. Next on the list of atrocities is Delbert inspecting the home of the local coach. He says he uses asbestos gloves coated in Demon EC which he says is environmentally conscious, biodegradable, and organic. Oy Vey! Demon EC, which is no longer available is a synthetic pyrethroid. Entomological strike number 5. He way over applies the pesticide and doesn’t follow the label which is the law. Entomological strike number 6. His treatment is more like hunting individual spiders than any logical effective treatment but he does stomp one in satisfaction. I can relate to that. My boot is a pesticide and a good one at that.

The Spider Apocalypse

Knoxville pest control     After calling in the entomologist they figure out that the queen must have a nest and track it back to Dr Jennings house and barn where the entomologist plucks the massive web and gets bit for his actions. Realizing the severity of the situation Delbert suits up in the typical ridiculous movie bug man attire. He dons himself with dual tanks on his back and hoses to dual wield sprayers like the wild west.  Using his “private stock” that acts like acid, he begins to hunt the spiders down one by one spraying everywhere. Let me assure you, there is no private stock or magic chemical we keep hidden in the back for really bad infestations. Entomological strike number 7. In the fight Dr Jennings falls over the banister and through the termite ridden floor to the basement as spiders come out of every nook and cranny. Here he finds the other nest where he ends up electrocuting and setting the queen on fire then shooting her with a nail gun mid air towards the large pulsating egg sack burning them all and facing his arachnophobia. Silly but fun. Having faced his fears he moves his family back to San Fransisco.

Back to Reality

     So maybe I am being too hard on this film because pest control is my passion. This was a fun ride but not a award winning movie. Despite my opinion, it managed to win 2 Saturn Awards for best horror film and best actor for Jeff Daniels.  Jeff Daniels is a great actor but I manage to only see him as Harry Dunne in Dumb and Dumber. Man I love that movie. IMDB gave Arachnophobia a 6.4/10. Rotten Tomatoes rated it a 91% but the audience only gave it 53%.
Phoenix gives Arachnophobia 4/5 spiders for a fun ride.
     If you find yourself with hybrid Venezuelan murderous spiders, give us a call. I promise we wont show up like Delbert McClintock, but we are kinda geeky when it comes to bugs.

Phoenix Pest Control serves Knox and Blount counties in East Tennessee.

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Aaron Veal