B&W, 1955, 80 mins. 13 secs.
Directed by Jack Arnold
Starring John Agar, Mara Corday, Leo G. Carroll, Nestor Paiva, Ross Elliott
Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Koch Media (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany RB/R2 HD/PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), 101 Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL), Universal (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)

One Tarantulaof the heaviest hitters in the big monster craze of the '50s and perhaps Tarantulathe most beloved of the numerous ones turned out by Universal, Tarantula is part of a string of beloved projects from director Jack Arnold. Made hot on the heels of Creature from the Black Lagoon (and its sequel) and It Came from Outer Space, the film cemented Arnold's reputation as a solid entertainment craftsman and paved the way for what would be his masterpiece for the studio two years later, The Incredible Shrinking Man (also with a menacing spider attack, albeit in a very different context). Here the film delivers what it promises, namely a giant tarantula terrorizing a desert community, but there are also plenty of eccentric little grace notes as well to lift this one well above the norm and establish it as a bona fine matinée monster favorite.

When a strangely malformed man ends up dead in the Arizona desert, Dr. Matt Hastings (Agar) is puzzled by the accelerated condition of the deceased, a scientist he knew. Following the trail by trying to perform an autopsy leads him to research professor Gerald Deemer (Carroll), who's secretly using injections of a new formula to breed wildly oversized animals including a guinea pig and a tarantula. Another misshapen man intrudes on the lab and attempts to destroy it, causing a fire and setting the rapidly growing tarantula loose in the process. Now injected with his own formula as well, Deemer finds his dream of solving the world's food supply problems turning into a nightmare as his physical appearance begins to change. Meanwhile Hastings teams up with lab assistant Stephanie Hastings (Corday) to Tarantulaget to the Tarantulabottom of the mystery, which quickly involves reports of cattle carcasses picked clean to the bone. Before long, it becomes clear that this very special tarantula will pose a threat far greater than anyone could have imagined.

Offering a virtual checklist of '50s sci-fi monster ingredients, Tarantula packs a lot of entertainment into its brisk 80 minutes with veteran character actor and Alfred Hitchcock regular Carroll getting the juiciest bits as his face falls apart throughout the second half of the film. The spider scenes are sparing but effective with rear projection showing the beast scuttling across the desert and facing off against the military, a very young Clint Eastwood fleetingly among them. The fact that tarantulas are pretty genteel creatures in real life is also reflected here with most of the mayhem either happening offscreen or simply as a reaction to the panic its presence causes.

Universal first released this film on DVD in 2006 as part of its DVD set, The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection compiled with The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Mole People, The Monolith Monsters, and Monster on the Campus, with a later separate release in 2014 as one of the studio's MOD Universal Vault Series editions. The film made its Blu-ray debut from Germany's Koch Media in 2014, featuring both widescreen (1.78:1) and open matte (1.33:1) options as well as the Super-8 German version (8m14s), a silent "Norman 8" reel (2m16s), German and U.S. theatrical trailers, alternate German credits, and Jack Arnold interview (26m10s), plus a promotional gallery. As the film was made during the crossover period when widescreen films were being integrated slowly from coast to coast, the film was shot to be adaptable to any aspect ratio between 1.33:1 and 1.85:1 (a la On the Waterfront). The widescreen option on the German disc is the weakest of them in motion with coarse edge enhancement and an unappealing, chunky appearance throughout caused by what appears to be simply zooming in the 1.33:1 version, which is tighter and more natural in motion. The full frame one Tarantula(which adds a Tarantulalot of extraneous info to the top and bottom while losing a minimal amount on the sides) has also been cleaned up more with less element damage. A subsequent U.K. dual-format release from 101 Films followed in 2017 with just the open matte version.

In 2019, Scream Factory gave the film its U.S. Blu-ray bow with a new "2K scan of the original film elements," which isn't precise but does result in yet another alternative, free of edge enhancement and with more damage clean-up. This also means it isn't as crisp so some may prefer the German disc depending on personal taste. The slightly tighter 1.85:1 framing doesn't seem to affect the compositions one way or another but features tighter cropping on the sides as well. The DTS-HD MA English mono track sounds just fine and clean throughout with optional English SDH subtitles. A new audio commentary by Tom Weaver follows the model of his solid one for Scream Factory's The Deadly Mantis as he spins out tons of info about the major and minor players on display while bringing in audio contributions from a few guest stars including Joe Dante, Dr. Robert J. Kiss, and David Schecter, plus some judicious actor recreations. Most interestingly, he goes into the convoluted origins of the film with Arnold telling many different stories about how it all began even if it was definitely tied to a sci-fi TV episode he shepherded called "No Food for Thought," minus the spider angle. The theatrical trailer is also included along with a gallery (4m55s) of posters, sketches, and newspaper ads.

Scream Factory (Blu-ray)

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Koch Media (Blu-ray) (1.78:1)

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Koch Media (Blu-ray) (1.33:1)

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Reviewed on April 30, 2019.