Usually, when a scientist decides to start experimenting on animals with strange formulas, it leads to all sorts of nasty business. At least that seems to be the case in cinema. Those scientists are almost always looking to get themselves ahead in life, whether it is finding the key to immortality, invulnerability, invisibility or what have you. This movie is a little strange for the fact that the mad scientist wants to aid all of humanity instead of just helping himself. More to the point, he wants to help cure global hunger before it even becomes a major problem. A lofty goal if there ever was one, but one that should be done with safeguards in place, a facility of some kind of which this scientist’s house in the middle of nowhere is not. As it is, Dr. Deemer is doing a good job with his work, advancing steadily until things start going wrong and bodies start piling up. It is a bit of a twist on the mad doctor formula and a little refreshing to see a film like this put a spin on it.
The creature in question is of course the one the movie is named after and it is monstrous to say the least. Tarantula’s are scary as they are and a tarantula that is over one hundred times larger and can clean the meat off of cows as if they were nothing whatsoever is even scarier. The special effects for the tarantula and the movie were surprisingly good and quite effective. At times the tarantula was a little blurry when they tried to do close-ups, but all in all, the film looked good and the tarantula looked like a credible threat to the characters of the movie. It also helped that cinematographer George Robinson and director Arnold Drake created a very tense atmosphere with some great open desert expanses to really nail down that feeling of impending dread. While the horror of the film comes mainly from the monster in question, desolation can be just as scary with nothing for miles around and here it was put on display to incredible effect. Not every movie really needs the aid of special effects if a good director and cinematographer are present, though if your film is centered on a giant creature of some kind it is a little essential.
The tarantula of the film though was not the only creature as Dr. Deemer and his former assistant unwittingly became monsters themselves. To be fair, the men were not actually monsters as they were exposed to Deemer`s formula, though their personalities changed for the worse. So while some camera trickery was used to create the giant spider, good old practical makeup was used to make the men look like their faces were melting off and it turned out really well done.
Universal Pictures really knocked it out of the park with this film. It might scream B movie, but it is done so well as to be a film on par with those of a bigger budget. The acting is on point with the dependable and charismatic John Agar in the lead and the lovely Mara Corday as lab assistant Stephanie Clayton. Agar can always be counted on to put in a good performance and during this time period, seemed to be the go-to guy when you needed a leading man for your science-fiction film. They also managed to recruit Leo G. Carroll, star of both the big and small screen in a supporting role as the well-meaning scientist Dr. Deemer. The film has it all with suspense, horror, drama, mystery and from top to bottom, features great production. As it is, Tarantuala stands as one of the best giant insect movies of all time.