Universal-International, a studio capable of cranking out films at a breakneck pace, surprisingly took an entire year-and-a-half to make its first entry in the “Big Bug” cycle that began with the success of Warner Brothers’ Them!  1955’s Tarantula was a simple, monster-on-the-loose offering, much less ambitious than Them!, but it was tremendously entertaining, and probably has the distinction of being the second-best giant bug movie.

A breath of fresh air was provided by Mara Corday, who plays Stephanie “Steve” Clayton, a graduate student who, for the most part, is a fully-rational female with an occupation other than housekeeping.  It was this acceptance of sexual equality that often helped elevate a 1950s monster movie to a higher plane (The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Them!, It Came From Beneath The Sea).  Of course, a partially-undressed Miss Clayton does get ogled at through a window by a 500-foot Peeping Tom spider, but it’s the only titilation in an 80-minute movie, and that restraint merits some commendation.

Because giant creatures are generally purposeless in who they kill, women could no longer fulfill the  roles they had in the monster films of the 1930s and ‘40s, which was to be carried off by the beast for amorous or other purposes.  As far as most giant monsters are concerned, women are no different from men -- they are merely food.  Therefore, the easiest way to incorporate a woman in a 1950s sci-fi story was to make her a scientist or at least a lab assistant, which is what Tarantula did.

Tarantula was the fourth sci-fi thriller directed by Jack Arnold, who seemed to find his element in filming stories about people isolated from civilization who are threatened by fantastic, larger-than-life adversaries.  The film’s excellent showing at the box office helped guarantee that movie-goers would soon witness an invasion from just about every giant insect or arachnid that film makers could dream up, with the thankful exception of a 400-foot chigger.

To learn about Tarantula’s exciting music score by Herman Stein and Henry Mancini, click HERE.


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