Of the all the numerous 1950s sci-fi/horror/“big bug” movies, Tarantula (1955) stands out as one of the best. Its director, Jack Arnold, was among the leading filmmakers of the era, with hits such as It Came from Outer Space (1953), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), and The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). It offered what many considered advanced special effects for the ’50s. Tarantula also did well at the box office, and it has a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Not bad for a “B” film about a ginormous spider.


Yes, that was one of the film’s (goofy) taglines, and there were many. But speaking about science, nearly all of the mutant creepy-crawlies in the 1950s “big bug” movies were the result of either nuclear radiation or the efforts of a whacked-out mad scientist. Not so Tarantula. The scientist in question, Professor Deemer (Leo G. Carroll; Topper and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), has the best of intentions as he experiments with an artificial nutrient that could provide an unlimited food supply for growing humanity by making food sources larger. His isolated Arizona desert lab has a number of large test subjects, including rats, guinea pigs…and, of course, a tarantula.

Prof. Deemer welcomes his new lab assistant.

Against Deemer’s wishes, his two assistants test the nutrient on themselves. They both die, but not before one of them attacks Deemer and nearly destroys the lab. The tarantula escapes into the desert and will eventually grow to the size of an apartment building.


The other main characters—and the requisite love interest; hey, it’s the ’50s—are Dr. Matt Hastings (John Agar), sawbones for the nearby town of Desert Rock, and Stephanie “Steve” Clayton (Mara Corday). She has come to the desert to work for Prof. Deemer, who had been infected by one of his dying assistants. As the pair try to figure out what is really going on at Deemer’s lab, the tarantula—which is experiencing rapid growth spurts and is so much larger each time he appears on screen—is picking clean the bones of both large animals and humans all over the sparsely populated area. By the time it approaches the town and its unsuspecting residents, it has—according to all of the taglines—grown to over 100 feet. Time to call in the Air Force!

This roadblock will probably not stop the big creepy-crawly.

And speaking of the Air Force, we get a couple closeups of the squadron leader as the jets arrive over Desert Rock to drop napalm (really?!) on the big hairy guy. The (uncredited) actor: Clint Eastwood, who also had an uncredited role as a lab tech in Revenge of the Creature (1955).

I enjoy many of the 1950s “B” movies in my favorite genres. Tarantula, which I hadn’t seen in quite a while, is high on the list—even though I’m not a big fan of real creepy-crawlies!

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