Director: Jack Arnold
Umbrella Entertainment

Jack Arnold's "creepy crawling monster" marches onto DVD in widescreen with Umbrella Entertainment's DVD of TARANTULA.

When the body of a man with heavily mutated features is found in the middle of the desert, Desert Rock physician Dr. Matt Hastings (John Agar, THE MOLE PEOPLE) cannot believe that the man had been Dr. Jacobs, the research partner of nutritional biologist Professor Gerald Deamer (Leo G. Carroll, SPELLBOUND), due to the advanced state of what he deems a pituitary gland disorder when he looked perfectly normal four days prior. The professor positively identifies him but refuses to provide an explanation and signs the death certificate himself. Sheriff Jack Andrews (Nestor Paiva, CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON) dismisses Hastings' concerns, but the arrival of new research assistant Stephanie "Steve" Clayton (Mara Corday, THE GIANT CLAW) gives him the opportunity to visit Deamer's desert lab where they – along with nosey reporter Jack Birch (Ross Elliott, INDESTRUCTIBLE MAN) – discover that it has been partially destroyed by an equipment malfunction according to Deamer. As Hastings tags along with the sheriff and Birch to investigate a series of cattle deaths in which the carcasses have been stripped clean, Clayton learns of Deamer's advances in creating a non-organic, atomic nutritional supplement to meet the demands of overpopulation that has resulted in rapid growth of animal test subjects. As a series of human deaths similar to those of the cattle start occurring in the surrounding area, Deamer is at first unwilling and then unable to help as he starts to exhibit the same signs as Jacobs (and a previous vanished research assistant) when it turns out that one of his arachnid test subjects survived the lab fire and is continuing to grow.

One of a handful of Universal-International 1950s sci-fi/horror efforts of the fifties, TARANTULA is just as silly but more technically proficient than the Bert I. Gordon films to come. Agar and Carroll give the scenario some gravitas while the local yokels provide intentional and unintentional comedy – including THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN's Hank Patterson as a nosy switchboard operator – while the progressive touch of a female graduate research assistant in Corday is saddled with lines like "Science is science, but a girl must get her hair done." The tarantula effects are reasonably well-done, although the live spider itself is deliberately underexposed even against the brighter backgrounds into which it has been composited, and there is one shot where one leg disappears behind a matte line; however, even the spider POV shots descending on victims are nowhere near as ridiculous as the idea that no one notices an exponentially growing tarantula wandering around desert flatland. Clint Eastwood makes an uncredited appearance during the obligatory bomb-it-to-hell finale (in which the locals cheer the dropping of tons of napalm without concern to their own exposure. The proficient photography is the work of Universal contract technician George Robinson (ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE MUMMY) but the film's most striking technical aspect are the make-up effects of Bud Westmore (SOYLENT GREEN) including the progressive facial and body mutations of human exposed to the drug (including one turn towards the camera reveal that is as striking as the reveal of Lon Chaney's PHANTOM OF THE OPERA).

Long unavailable after its theatrical release until Universal's 1990s videocassette which was followed a decade later by Universal's Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection two-volume DVD set (and a combined volume two years later) with THE MOLE PEOPLE, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, THE MONOLITH MONSTERS, MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS, DR. CYCLOPS, CULT OF THE COBRA, THE LAND UNKNOWN, THE DEADLY MANTIS, and THE LEECH WOMAN. When Universal remastered the film in high definition, they provided both 1.33:1 and 1.78:1 versions, both of which Koch Media utilized for their German Blu-ray. While other DVD editions – including the recent Universal Vault DVD-R – utilize the fullscreen version, Umbrella has gone with the widescreen one. The matting does not appear to crop anything of value away, with the tarantula's appearance climbing over a mountaintop losing nothing; however, the enhanced definition of even this standard definition down-conversion reveals just how good and how bad the opticals really are. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is clean and free of defects. There are no subtitle options or even a menu screen, with the disc just stopping after the end credits. The disc is labeled Region 4 NTSC but is Region 0. (Eric Cotenas)