Tarantula (Jack Arnold / U.S., 1955):

"The desert gives people wonderful ideas." Jack Arnold seizes it with his first image, a lateral scan of the Arizona prairie that catches a furry mutant stumbling about in striped pajamas and dropping dead. The nature of the corpse befuddles doctor John Agar and sheriff Nestor Paiva, but the local scientist (Leo G. Carroll) assures them there's nothing out of the ordinary before retiring to his lab, which houses a rodent the size of a tapir and a tarantula quickly growing "hundreds, even thousands of times its regular size." A scuffle gets Carroll injected with his own "concentrated nutrient" serum (which leads to expressionistic makeup) and frees the arachnid, which proceeds to brunch on cattle and farmers. Curiosity and dread exist side by side in Arnold's view of the unknown, the arid landscape admired by Agar and Mara Corday ("serene, quiet... strangely evil") is tranquil one moment and quaked by boulders the next. The director is a Cold War surrealist with an endless fascination for the strangeness of the cosmos and, like Walt Whitman and Cronenberg, an easeful appreciation for the image of the poet as spider -- the fearsome colossus here is an eight-legged King Kong, imbued with a seismic rattle and a lion's roar, emerging unscathed from a dynamite blast to creep toward the camera. The dreamlike effects have the tarantula dismantling an edifice to claim its creator and then facing a napalm blitzkrieg (led by a young Clint Eastwood), but Arnold sees nature as no less beguiling than artifice, and includes a couple of choice documentary minutes of a spider defending its home against a marauding serpent, all "part of the world around us." With Ross Elliott, and Edwin Rand. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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