Movie: Tarantula (1955)

I knew Leo G. Carroll was over a barrel …

… when Tarantula took to the hills….


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Next up in the Rocky Horror movie reference binge: Tarantula!

Tarantula (1955)
Release Date: 4 Nov 1955
Runtime: 80 Minutes

IMDb Synopsis: A spider escapes from an isolated Arizona desert laboratory experimenting in giantism and grows to tremendous size as it wreaks havoc on the local inhabitants.

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When a mysteriously deformed man, Eric Jacobs (Eddie Parker), is found dead in the desert, Dr. Matt Hastings (John Agar), a family doctor in the tiny neighboring town of Desert Rock, is called in to examine the body. Jacobs, a research scientist, worked with Prof. Gerald Deemer (Leo G. Carroll), a reclusive scientist who’s conducting mysterious experiments at an out of the way mansion near the town.

Leo G. Carroll in Tarantula (1955)

Twice in the film, Dr. Hastings lands his plane on an unpaved desert runway, yet the sound effect when the plane touches down is the screech of tires hitting pavement.

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Dr. Matt is baffled by the cause of Eric’s death. His distorted features suggest acromegaly, a disorder of the pituitary gland, but since Eric was fine just days earlier, Matt can’t understand why he would deteriorate so quickly. When Professor Deemer insists that it is acromegaly and refuses to authorize an autopsy, Matt is both annoyed and confused. The local Sheriff, Jack Andrews (Nestor Paiva) takes the Professor’s side.

John Agar and Nestor Paiva in Tarantula (1955)

Later, Deemer returns to his lab, where it’s revealed he’s working on creating a food nutrient to feed the world’s increasing population. He has injected the nutrient into lab animals, which have grown at astonishing rates. A caged tarantula is several times normal size. Suddenly, Deemer’s other assistant, Paul Lund (Eddie Parker) stumbles into the lab, his face as hideously distorted as Jacobs’. Delirious, Paul attacks Deemer and busts up the lab, setting the tarantula loose. He also injects the unconscious Deemer with the nutrient, then dies as the lab begins to burn. Deemer awakes in time to put out the fire, then buries Paul’s body without notifying authorities.

If you look carefully at the stained glass windows in the funeral parlor, you can see that at least one of them was used in the hallway of the Bates house in Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and its sequels. This movie, Psycho (1960), and the franchise that followed that movie, were made at Universal Studios.

Leo G. Carroll in Tarantula (1955)

As Dr. Deemer goes into the lab and puts on his apron, he wears a shirt with short sleeves, but when he puts his arms in the isolation box, the sleeves are long, like a lab coat, then short again in the wide shot when he pulls his arms out.

When the Tarantula escapes its cage, the stick used by the handler, is plain to see as it moves left and out of frame.

Eddie Parker in Tarantula (1955)

Doc, the sheriff and the newspaper have a lot of questions for Dr. Deemer. Things don’t seem to add up.

John Agar, Ross Elliott, and Nestor Paiva in Tarantula (1955)

The following day, beautiful Dr Stephanie “Steve” Clayton (Mara Corday) arrives in Desert Rock, having been hired by the late Jacobs.

Mara Corday in Tarantula (1955)

Matt gives her a ride to Deemer’s, informing her of Jacobs’ death. When they reach Deemer’s house, the Professor pretends the damaged lab was an accident. Deemer explains how he is making the nutrient using the power of the atom to bind the solution.

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Professor Gerald Deemer (Leo G. Carroll) predicted that by the year 2000, the human population will be 3.6 billion. In fact it was almost double that at that time.

Leo G. Carroll in Tarantula (1955)
Stephanie becomes an assistant to Deemer, helping him with his experiments.
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She also gets to know Matt, who shows her the town and desert scenery. Meanwhile, something odd is going on in the desert.

John Agar and Nestor Paiva in Tarantula (1955)

Something unknown is devouring the horses, their skeletal remains found by local ranchers.

John Agar and Nestor Paiva in Tarantula (1955)

Two human beings appear to have been devoured after an apparent car accident. Matt notices huge pools of a mysterious substance near the accident. After lab analysis, he discovers that it’s insect venom but in an enormous quantity.

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At the lab, Stephanie becomes concerned about Deemer, whose face is gradually becoming distorted, much like Jacobs and Paul.

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When Deemer finally confesses to Matt and Stephanie that Paul went on a rampage and released the tarantula, Matt becomes suspicious, making a connection to the recent phenomena. Meanwhile, the tarantula continues its rampage, killing two old prospectors in the desert.

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While in her bedroom that night, Stephanie doesn’t see that the tarantula is approaching in the distance, visible from her bedroom window.

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Once the tarantula begins wrecking the house, a horrified Stephanie tries to save Deemer, who’s convalescing in his room, his face now completely distorted.

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Unfortunately, the tarantula kills Deemer before Stephanie can save him.

Mara Corday in Tarantula (1955)

Matt drives up to the house as it collapses, but Stephanie gets out alive, rushing to Matt’s car. They drive off into the desert, notifying the State Police and Sheriff, who gives orders to evacuate the town. Efforts to kill the approaching tarantula with machine guns fail, and the monster kills two cops in the bargain.

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Another effort to kill the monster with dynamite also fails.

Tarantula (1955)
John Agar and Nestor Paiva in Tarantula (1955)
Tarantula (1955)
Mara Corday, George DeNormand, James Hyland, Nestor Paiva, and Ray Quinn in Tarantula (1955)
Tarantula (1955)

The tarantula was an actual live spider. Air jets were used to make it move in the desired way over a miniature landscape.

With the tarantula headed for town, fighter planes approach, with Clint Eastwood in an uncredited minor role as the jet squadron league. They drop bombs on the monster as it reaches Desert Rock. When traditional bombs fail, the planes drop napalm, setting the tarantula on fire as a relieved Matt, Stephanie and various officials look on.

Clint Eastwood in Tarantula (1955)

Second uncredited theatrical movie of Clint Eastwood (Jet Squadron Leader). His first being Revenge of the Creature (1955).

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The jets that take off to attack the tarantula at the end of the movie are F-84 “Thunderjets”; however, the attacking jets are F-80 “Shooting Stars.”


Leo G. Carroll in Tarantula (1955)
John AgarDr. Matt Hastings

Clint Eastwood
Jet Squadron Leader (uncredited)
Mara CordayStephanie ‘Steve’ Clayton
Leo G. CarrollProf. Gerald Deemer
Nestor PaivaSheriff Jack Andrews
Ross ElliottJoe Burch
Edwin RandLt. John Nolan
Raymond BaileyTownsend
Hank PattersonJosh
Bert HollandBarney Russell
Steve DarrellAndy Andersen

The spider that portrayed the giant tarantula later appeared in The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) as the spider that threatened the shrinking man.

Leo G. Carroll in Tarantula (1955)

Mara Corday (Stephanie “Steve” Clayton) was the lead female in this movie, with Clint Eastwood appearing briefly at the end as Jet Squadron Leader, her last four movies, Clint Eastwood was the star and she had small brief roles.

One comment

  1. This movie is great fun. If you want awards, watch Casablanca. If you want campy fun, it’s Taratula.

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