Cinema Sunday: Tarantula (1955)

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Title: Tarantula

Distributor: Universal Studios

Writers: Robert M. Fresco, Martin Berkeley (screenplay), story by Jack Arnold

Director: Jack Arnold

Producer: William Alland

Starring: John Agar, Mara Corday, Lewis G. Carroll, Clint Eastwood

Released: December 14th, 1955

MPAA: Approved

 

After showcasing one great director (Bert I. Gordon) from the sci-fi genre last week, I couldn’t help but gravitate to his counterpart, Jack Arnold, this week! The giant bug/animal craze started with THEM! in 1954, and really hit its stride the following year with last week’s film, and this one. Of course, what would a sci-fi movie be without a leading action hero? Not so great, and that’s why we have none other than B-movie legend, John Agar, to save the day in this movie!

The quality of this film is better than the Gordon film, but probably had a bigger budget as well. And let’s not forget you have a better cast, and that makes a huge difference. The movie follows the typical plot lines of the times, but definitely has some cool moments. OK, let’s get right down to it!

 

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The film begins with a man (in his PJ’s) wandering around the desert of Arizona. We eventually see that he’s been mutated from something, and really bloated looking. He falls to the ground, and seemingly dies. The scene then switches to a plane landing, and a doctor, Matt Hastings (John Agar – 2nd image below), steps out, and tells the technician to check the plane. The doc then checks in at his office…that’s in the local hotel (yeah, don’t ask). He then receives a call from Sheriff Andrews (Nestor Paiva – 2nd image below), and heads out to see him. Once he arrives at his office, the sheriff explains that they need to check out a body that found along the highway earlier in the day. The sheriff can’t explain what’s wrong, because he doesn’t know what happened to the man and he needs Doctor Hastings to examine the body.

 

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Once they arrive at the coroner’s office, they talk with doctor that was working with the deceased man. Professor Deemer (Lewis G. Carroll), seems distraught about his friend’s death, but also troubled about something. They theorize that the man died from Acromegaly but that’s typically a disease that takes years to process, and this man was seen days earlier, with no signs of the disease. Later, Professor Deemer retreats to his lab, and we see why he was anxious when the others were questioning him about his assistant. He’s been using a secret formula on animals, that increases their size exponentially! The last one we see is a giant Tarantula (about the size of a medium dog)!

 

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The next day, Professor Deemer is at it again, but a figure shambles in through the back door. It’s another man who looks like he has the same disease, but this one has some life left in him yet. He creeps up behind the Professor and attempts to murder him. As they struggle, the glass gets smashed to some of the cases, and the tarantula escapes! The disfigured man chokes him out, then injects him with the serum. A fire breaks out, and it looks as if the Professor is doomed, but then he wakes up (conveniently), and escapes the flames. He then finds the body of the man outside, slumped over, dead. He buries him out in the backyard, and we see the shadow of a spider the size of an elephant.

 

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Dr. Hastings has a conversation with the sheriff, and attempts to convince him that Professor Deemer might be up to shenanigans. He’s not very responsive at first, but he does ponder his next move. Outside, a bus arrives, and a beautiful lady steps off, and heads into the hotel to ask for a cab. You see, Stephanie Clayton (Mara Corday – image below), has come to town to aid Professor Deemer in his experiments. Since Dr. Hastings is heading out that way to question Deemer, he gives “Steve” a ride to his place. Once they arrive, a local newspaper reporter is there and taking pictures. This angers Deemer, and he tells him to hit the road.

 

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As Steve and Professor Deemer begin their work, over time, she notices that his face begins to be deformed. The serum is finally getting to him, and he eventually succumbs to the same fate as the others. As the story moves on, large animals are found with the absolutely nothing left but bones! They’ve been sucked dry of all living tissue. Hastings finds some fluid near the bones, and eventually finds that it’s spider venom. He then surmises that Deemer’s new formula must be mutating animals, and that a giant spider is the culprit for the dead animals and destroyed homes.

 

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Can Mr. B-Movie, John Agar stop the giant beast? Or will a barely recognizable Clint Eastwood (image below) have to get the job done? Watch the film to find out!

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

This is one that I first watched with my son a few years ago, and loved from the very first minute. Maybe it has some sentimental value to me, and that raises it up slightly, but Agar and Carroll are fantastic in this film. This is actually one of the few films from this era that doesn’t use atomic radiation as a MacGuffin. There are a couple of moments of absolute hilarity, where blatant sexism occurs, but again, this was 1955. Plenty of cigarette smoking as well. I think Agar must have owned stock in R. J. Reynolds.

The sets were pretty good for the time, and the desert shots definitely stood out. Of course, the special effects leave a lot to be desired in this day and age, but for back then, they were pretty cool. Even now I can imagine little kids in a downtown movie theater, screaming their heads off when the tarantula attacks. Watch these films with a lens of nostalgia, and you’ll definitely enjoy them. Thanks to people like Jack Arnold, we’ll always have these classic “B” movies to give us laughter, and good times!

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

Cinema Sunday: Invisible Invaders (1959)

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Title: Invisible Invaders

Distributor: United Artists

Writer: Samuel Newman

Director: Edward L. Cahn

Producer: Robert E. Kent

Starring: John Agar, John Carradine, Jean Byron

Released: May 15th, 1959

MPAA: PG

 

Another Sunday, and another sci-fi flick! This classic from 1959, stars the awesome John Agar, and if that wasn’t enough, we get another titan from the sci-fi/horror industry in John Carradine, as well! Both of these men had extensive careers in the film industry (especially Carradine), and have some fantastic credits on their filmography lists. During this decade, the explosion of “alien” films was crazy, and some are just terrible. Most didn’t have the luxury of having big names like these two, so it made the films seem bad because we know the budget for special effects wasn’t going to wow anybody. Alright, enough about that already, let’s get down to the movie!

 

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The film begins with an experiment gone wrong, and the person that loses his life, is Dr. Karol Noyman (John Carradine – image above). The scene turns to Dr. Penner (Philip Tonge) discusses the accident with officials at the Pentagon. He wants to stop using nuclear tests for science. The Pentagon scoffs at him, and tells him it will continue. Penner leaves, and then gets a visit later that night at home. The dead Dr. Noyman comes for a visit, and tells him that he’s actually an alien invader that has reanimated the corpse of Dr. Noyman, and that the Earth must submit, or there will be a war. He also informs the good doctor that their ships are invisible, so the military will have no chance of stopping them. He even gives him a demonstration of the material that they use for the ships, and it is indeed invisible. Penner tells him that they won’t listen to him, but the alien tells him he’d better find a way or else! Then he exits the house.

 

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Even later that evening, Penner’s daughter, Phyllis (Jean Byron) and her date, Dr. John Lamont (Robert Hutton) return home. Her father explains what has happened, but they think he’s had a nervous breakdown. He insists it happened, and begs Dr. Lamont to go to Washington D.C. and tell them of the impending doom. Dr. Lamont begrudgingly agrees to tell them, but we soon see newspaper headlines that make him out to be a kook. Dr. Penner is watching the clock, and wondering when the aliens will attack. He then prays to God, begging that this experience was all a dream. Dr. Lamont and Phyllis return, and give him the bad news. Dr. Lamont is kind of wiener about the situation, but soon, he’ll be a believer.

Dr. Lamont suggests that they try to contact the aliens and ask for more time. The all agree to head over to the cemetery and seek out the aliens inhabiting the corpses. Dr. Penner calls out to the aliens, and suddenly, they hear a growling noise. Something pushes its way through the brush, and then makes tracks in the soil. It’s at this time, that Phyllis and Dr. Lamont become believers. The alien then speaks to him, and he tells the alien that he failed and that no one will listen. He begs to get more time to try again, but the aliens refuse, and tell him that they will give one more warning to the people of Earth. The three of them realize they can do nothing to stop this, so they head for home.

 

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The aliens then inhabit the body of a pilot who crashed his plane. He heads to a hockey game (don’t ask), and knocks out the announcers, and gets on the mic, and warns them of their impending doom. The people scatter like a bunch of ants. The alien then leaves the body of the corpse, and opens the door, leaving the room. The announcers wake up and are stunned to see this going on. Over in California, a car accident victim is possessed, and heads over to a large stadium and makes the same ominous warning. Again, people run away, and head for the hills!

 

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Shortly thereafter, the aliens begin their invasion. They destroy bridges and roads, buildings and everything else in their path. They also start to possess every dead person on Earth. More people are killed in the chaos, and police cannot control the mobs that are going berserk. Washington D.C. then breaks into the news coverage, and tells everyone that Dr. Penner has agreed to rejoin the nuke project, and Major Bruce Jay (John Agar), is assigned to bring him in to the underground bunker. While on their way, a man with a shotgun holds them up, and attempts to steal their jeep. There are aliens (zombies) everywhere, and the man wants out. The next thing you know, something is stirring in the bushes nearby, and the man is distracted. Major Jay uses this opportunity to shoot the man in the head, killing him instantly. An alien then sneaks over and possesses the man.

 

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Once they get to the bunker, Dr. Penner, Major Jay, and Dr. Lamont, head over to the lab, and begin to try to formulate a plan. The outside world is being decimated, corpse after corpse is being inhabited, and it looks as if there is no hope for humanity. Can this small group somehow find a way to stop the alien invasion? Watch it and find out!

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

This is one of those movies that any fan of the genre must see. No excuses, get out and grab or stream it on Netflix. Carradine is creepy as a zombie, and Tonge is quite good as well. Of course, you get an awesome “tough guy” from John Agar, and you can really see why he fits this mold very well. He’s a great action hero for this time period, and really commands the scenes that he appears in during the film. Of course the nuclear angle is something used HEAVILY in this time period, but it doesn’t detract from the cool factor of this flick.

The shots of the destruction are pretty cool, but the ones of the people running around are quite cheesy, and are most likely stock footage of something completely unrelated. Other than that, the film is pretty solid, and is a good representation of the time/genre. The revelation of what the invisible aliens actually look like is pretty cool too, and as I said before, the special effects obviously didn’t consume a good chunk of the budget, but they were good nonetheless. I try to imagine some of these older films in color, but honestly, this one is perfect in black and white. This is a must watch for movie fans of the genre, plain and simple.

 

Click here for the trailer!