Arachnophobia (1990) Directed by Frank Marshall 

A Family Physician moves to the small town of Canima, California with his family to take over the practice of a retiring doctor. Unbeknownst to the people of the town a newly discovered spider from Venuzuela hitches a ride back to the small town in the coffin of an unfortunate photographer. There the spider produces hundreds of drone offspring with their father’s lethal bite.

You may want to watch the film first and think about:

  • How does the film depict spiders? Are they monsters or animals?
  • How does the film depict scientists? Are the villains, heroes, or support?

Arachnology (Spider science)

The expedition

  • Some accurate-ish field collection techniques
  • Extremely well-funded expedition to have a helicopter
  • Explanation for new species is plausible
    • Many species in tropical regions are adapted to narrow habitat range
    • Temperature difference in the sinkhole could be enough to isolate

Social spiders

  • There are several dozen species of spiders which live in social groups
  • Social behaviour may have evolved to allow tackling larger prey
  • Social spiders often construct 3-dimensional webs rather than orb webs as in the film
  • In reality social spiders are not as differentiated as shown in the film, all the individuals in social spiders can reproduce
  • Spiders used in the film are an actual species of social spider
    • Delena cancerides – the flat huntsman spider
  • colonies up to 300, but they are highly aggressive and commonly cannibalistic toward members from other colonies.

Invasive species

  • All the pieces of the invasive species concept are in the film, though it does not use the term
  • No longer contained by the temperature gradient and geography, new spider could spread across the countryside

Depiction of spiders

Plays on common fears of spiders such as the way they move, and large numbers of spiders, lurking small dark places etc. Doesn’t make up exaggerated monster spider with lots of ‘powers’.

  • Takes advantage of existing fears without creating new ones?
  • Doesn’t do anything to dissuade you from your fears
  • Doesn’t do as much to alter the image of spiders in the same way that Jaws gave sharks the reputation for being bloodthirsty monsters

Depiction of science

There are some elements of the film which cast science/scientists as the villains.

  • Killing and collecting butterflies, which are much beloved
  • Atherton’s focus on the spiders and collecting live specimens for research.

However scientists are not as directly responsible for the events of the film. Quite different from the role of scientists in the Jurassic Park films, for example. Scientists are crucial to the positive resolution of the film. Their knowledge of spider behaviour is necessary to find and destroy the nest.

  • Dr Atherton’s focus on scientific discovery is contrasted with his assistant’s focus on the welfare of the town.
  • Caring about the human impact of science

The making of Arachnophobia – YouTube video


Music in this episode – Gradual Sunrise by David Hilowitz

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