Tarantula (Umbrella) (1955) (NTSC)
|Year Of Production||1955|
|RSDL / Flipper||No/No||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||1,2,3,4,5,6||Directed By||Jack Arnold|
Leo G Carroll
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (384Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.78:1|
|Video Format||480i (NTSC)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.85:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
When the body of a man with a malformed face and hands is discovered just outside a small desert town in Arizona, local doctor Matt Hastings (John Agar) is baffled about the cause of death. The man is identified as a co-researcher of Professor Deemer (Leo G Carroll), who has a facility in a house twenty miles out into the desert. When attractive Stephanie “Steve” Clayton (Mara Corday), a research student who has been invited to work with Professor Deemer, arrives in town Matt takes the opportunity to drive her out to Deemer’s house and to find out more about his research.
Deemer has been experimenting with a serum that wildly accelerates the growth of mammals and arthropods. There are, naturally enough, side effects including the death of some of the the test subjects because the serum is unstable. Deemer is attacked by another malformed co-worker, the lab set on fire and one large test tarantula escapes. The spider continues to grow to a massive size, killing livestock and humans until Matt is able to figure out what is going on, although the town Sheriff (Nestor Paiva) and newspaperman (Ross Elliott) dismiss his initial findings. They are soon convinced but the question remains; how do you destroy a 100 foot, aggressive tarantula?
Tarantula is another film, like Them! which came out the previous year, where human meddling with the natural world produces a massive insect that threatens mankind. Tarantula is a more low key effort (there is only one spider, not a whole colony of ants) but it builds tension effectively and does not overdo showing the spider until a fair way into the film. Other than a close up of the spider’s face which is a puppet, the rest of the film uses footage of a real tarantula which is either projected onto the background plate or filmed on miniature rocks. The plus is that this means that the spider in the film moves like a real spider (which it is); the negative is that especially in the night scenes the projection results in frames where detail is lost and the spider indistinct, especially when the spider is blown up to a massive size. But this is how special effects worked in the 1950s and it adds to the charm of the film.
Tarantula benefits from the direction of Jack Arnold. In his later career he directed more light weight TV fare such as episodes of The Brady Bunch and Gilligan’s Island but in the 1950s he certainly was the go to sci-fi horror man at Universal, directing such classics as It Came from Outer Space (1953), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Revenge of the Creature (1955) and The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), a more than decent CV! Tarantula, in his hands, may be formulaic, but it is a heap of fun.
John Agar is a square jawed but not a particularly charismatic hero. He also appeared in Revenge of the Creature but fearing being typecast in sci-fi horror moved onto other genres, including westerns, finishing with 96 credits on his resume. Perhaps, however, his biggest achievement was to be married to Shirley Temple for five years. The most recognisable actor in Tarantula, if only for his distinctive deep voice, was Leo G Carroll who later appeared in 105 episodes of The Man from Uncle. And, if you look closely, you can see a very young Clint Eastwood as a fighter pilot.
Tarantula is a black and white film presented in an aspect ratio of 1.77:1, 16x9 enhanced, in the NTSC code. The IMDb indicates both 1.85:1 and 1.33:1 as the film’s ratio.
The print looks pretty good for a black and white film made in 1955. When special effects were not involved close-up detail was strong. Backgrounds when back projection is used, such as when Matt and Steve are driving in his car, are softer. As noted, sequences with the spider, especially at night, also lack detail. Blacks and greyscale is acceptable, contrast and brightness consistent. Nice film grain is present. There are some minute marks and some motion blur against items such as louver doors, but nothing serious.
No subtitles are provided.
Audio is English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono at 384 Kbps.
Dialogue is clear and easy to understand. The effects, such as shots, car or aircraft engines are predictably flat but ambient sounds, such as the wind through the bushes or the sound of the spider, are quite effective. There was occasional very slight hiss in segments without music or effects.
The score is stock 1950s; very strident! It was composed by an uncredited Herman Stein.
Lip synchronisation was fine.
|Surround Channel Use|
Nothing. There is no menu, the programme starts when the DVD loads.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
The only other DVD release of Tarantula I can find listed is in Region B UK. It is PAL and has more language and subtitle option but no extras as far as I can tell.
Tarantula is pretty much as expected from a 1955 black and white sci-fi horror film from Universal Studios and director Jack Arnold; a 100 foot, hungry and angry spider, a square jawed hero, a town under threat and a girl in peril. What’s not to enjoy!
The print is fine for a 60 year old film, the audio is the original mono. No extras.
|DVD||Sony BDP-S580, using HDMI output|
|Display||LG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.|
|Audio Decoder||NAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.|
|Speakers||Studio Acoustics 5.1|