Tarantula! (Blu-ray Review)
Release Date(s)1955 (April 30, 2019)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures/Universal-International (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: C+
A major money maker for Universal Pictures in 1955, Tarantula! is often heralded as one of the better giant monster movies of the era, particularly due to the special effects. Directed by genre veteran Jack Arnold (Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Incredible Shrinking Man), the film takes place in the desert towns and farms of Arizona, where various experiments on animals and insects go awry. One of them, the titular tarantula, manages to escape its confines, growing even larger and terrorizing the area by taking a bite out of citizens and local livestock.
It’s safe to say that films like Tarantula! scared the pants off of generations of young kids and teenagers who either saw it during its original theatrical run or discovered it through repeated airings on television (no doubt through late night TV hosts like Zacherley, Chilly Billy, and Svengoolie). The story is pretty standard science-gone-amuck territory, but with a cast that includes John Agar, Leo G. Carroll, and the lovely Mara Corday, it’s hard to resist. Also popping up briefly is Clint Eastwood, who has a couple of fleeting moments as a fighter pilot. Sadly, any and all of the previous scenes that featured his character were excised from the final cut.
Other films produced by various studios from this era continue to strike a chord with monster movie fans, including classics like Them!, The Deadly Mantis, and It Came from Beneath the Sea, but many don’t hold up quite as well as Tarantula!. Granted, not all of the effects are completely successful – the close-ups of the spider in particular are certainly not that great – but the moments featuring the giant arachnid crawling slowly across the desert landscape along the mountainous horizon can still make one’s skin crawl.
Scream Factory brings the film to Blu-ray stateside for the first time with a “new 2K scan from original film elements” in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio (previous home video presentations have been presented in either 1.33:1 or 1.78:1). It’s a solid black-and-white presentation with nice grain reproduction, outside of the use of opticals, as well as occasional bits of stock footage. Grayscale is well-balanced with deep blacks, revealing much more detail than previously seen, as well as excellent contrast. Everything is bright and well-defined but with an inherent softness due to the original elements. The image is also stable with only minor defects leftover such as speckling and light scratches. It’s definitely the best the film has ever looked on home video.
The audio is presented in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. Overall clarity is good, despite the narrowness of the track. Dialogue is clear and precise, including sporadic uses of overdubbing, while sound effects and score have good separation to them, leaving no room for distortion. It’s also a clean track that’s lacking in leftover damage, such as hiss, crackle, or dropouts.
The extras include an excellent new audio commentary by film historian Tom Weaver with intermittent snippets from Joe Dante, music producer David Schecter, author Dr. Robert J. Kiss, and Robert M. Fresco & Mara Corday re-enactors Larry Blamire & Jennifer Blaire; the original theatrical trailer; a still gallery containing 55 promotional and behind-the-scenes images; and a poster and lobby card gallery containing 64 images. Not included from the Koch Media Region B Blu-ray release is an interview with Jack Arnold, the Super 8 version of the film, a shorter 8mm version, and a German opening and trailer.
Long overdue for a Blu-ray release in the U.S., Scream Factory delivers Tarantula! with an excellent transfer and an entertaining set of extras. For monster movies fans, this one is a no-brainer. Highly recommended!
– Tim Salmons