Sunday, February 17, 2013

Monster #6—Giant Spiders

I'm not an arachnophobe, but I can certainly understand why so many people are. Spiders are scary. I don't freak out if I see one in my house, but having one show up unexpectedly can still be startling. Especially if it's a black widow or something equally instantly recognizable as something that can put me in the hospital. But for the most part, I quite like spiders; they eat ants and flies and other pests that I'm much more frustrated with, and actually most of them are quite graceful and beautiful in their lovely alien ways.

But certainly, the bigger a spider gets, the more intimidating they become. Like the one we found at Paizo one day a few years ago, crawling around on the floor in front of Jason Bulmahn's office—that one was a beast! See the video for proof—that's Sean K Reynolds holding the spider up for me to catch all its glory with my iPhone. We let the big guy loose in the grass out behind the building once his 15 minutes of fame were up... and since we couldn't be sure it wasn't a hobo spider, we made damn sure not to let him bite us. Of course, when a spider gets to be big enough, it doesn't matter if it's poisonous. It hurts to be bitten by something with visible fangs.

There's a fair number of movies about spiders out there, small and large. Most of them aren't all that good, but fortunately for spider fans like me, there's lots of them, and that means the total number of giant spider movies that are good increase. My absolute FAVORITE giant spider movie of all time, and indeed one of my favorite movies of all time, is Tarantula, a movie from the mid-50s about a mad scientist who is trying to build a new type of radioactive chemical that causes animals to grow to enormous sizes. He hopes to solve the world hunger problem by, essentially, increasing rabbits and guinea pigs and other smaller creatures up to cow size, giving us all an unlimited amount of food to eat. In typical charming 50s style, the repercussions of eating meat grown via the introduction of radioactive super-science are more or less completely glossed over.

The repercussions of what happens if a lab tarantula gets dosed with the stuff, on the other hand, are NOT glossed over. The movie uses a real tarantula for the bulk of the scenes, superimposed into barren southwestern deserts or set free on well-built models with double-exposed victims running in fear or attempting in vain to explode the spider with dynamite. They used tiny blasts of compressed air to guide the spider along the route through these sets, and the result looks really good, even today. Now and then, for the tarantula's close-ups, they use a puppet that's really pretty frightening and effective looking. In the end, they have to essentially call in Clint Eastwood to save the day. No joke! This movie's one of his first roles, with a cameo as a jet fighter pilot—you can only see his eyes and hear his voice, but since it's Clint, that's all that you need!

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