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Monday, October 14, 2013

Arachnophobia

So, before I go ahead and launch right into another spooky and scary edition of the Macabre Monday Matinee, I have something very important to wish all of my North American readers of this blog.

First things first, I want to take the time to shake myself out of my turkey induced haze to wish all of my fellow Canadians a very happy Thanksgiving Day. In Canada the harvest season is a full six weeks earlier than in the United States, so as a result of this phenomenon, we celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October. I hope that my Canadian friends spend the day with cherished loved ones, have all the turkey, pumpkin pie, and stuffing they can eat, and just have a wonderful holiday. Believe me, we all could use a day of rest and relaxation.

And for those of you who live south of the Canadian border in the United States, it happens to be Columbus Day weekend. I'm fairly sure that some of you will also have the day off (especially if you work in the government sector with the shutdown that is in effect as of right now), so I hope that those of you who have a holiday from work have a great day and that you all live it up.

So, why not celebrate your day off by taking just a few minutes out of your day by reading today's Monday Matinee? And in the spirit of all things spooky, I think that I've come up with a winning topic for today.

I think that it is a safe bet to say that some of us in this world don't particularly like insects.  I think it's also safe to say that there are some of us in this world who would cower in fear, run out of a room screaming like a banshee, or who would use up an entire can of Raid if they ever saw a bug crawling around their living spaces.

Believe me.  I understand you completely.  There are some bugs in this world that I absolutely can't stand.

When I was younger, I used to be freaked out by bees.  I think ever since I accidentally stepped on one and got stung between the toes by a great big bee, I used to hate them for years.  Now I consider bees to be cool.  Wasps and big black hornets on the other hand...they can disappear from this world forever as far as I am concerned.  Bees can stay.

I'm also not a fan of centipedes either.  Not that they are the most deadliest of creatures, mind you (most North American centipedes are harmless), but they sure do look really ugly! 

Weirdly enough though, I have little to no fear of the bugs that most average people despise.  I mean, almost everybody hates the sight of a cockroach, but considering that I have only ever really seen one or two in my lifetime, I've never really been exposed to them enough to actually develop a sort of fear to them.

Same deal with grasshoppers.  I know some people who find them gross and disgusting, but I don't mind them.  I actually find it cool when they leap and jump.  Though, if I were to ever come across a living version of those super enormous grasshoppers that we had to dissect in tenth grade biology class, I may change my tune.

And then there are those eight-legged creatures known as spiders.

Again, for the most part, I am okay with spiders.  Spiders don't really creep me out.  Of course, in Canada, I don't think we have too many deadly ones to worry about, nor do they grow excessively big.  I would imagine that if a tarantula were crawling on the floor of my bedroom, I might feel differently.  But spiders and I can co-exist.

But some people have a huge fear of spiders.  It's a phobia commonly known as arachnophobia.  And, with some of the hundreds of thousands of species of spiders crawling around our world, I can't say I blame you.

Take the "Black Widow Spider" for instance.  The female variety of the spider has a red hourglass shape on its underside.  If you ever see that marking on a spider, run as fast as you can.  One bite can kill you within minutes unless you seek immediate treatment from a hospital.

Huntsman spiders are not really all that dangerous to human beings, but their spider bites are supposedly quite painful.  Judging by the size of the spider, I can see why that might be the case.

And, then there's the Avondale spider, native to New Zealand and Australia.  These guys are absolutely harmless to human beings.  They certainly look quite scary, and they can become ferocious when other insect creatures try to invade their territory (even going so far as to eat them!), but in all actuality, they are intimidated by human beings and will very rarely bite people.  If you think about it, an Avondale spider would make a pretty good house pet...well, if you're into that sort of thing, that is.

But when 374 Avondale spiders were cast in a 1990 film, all 374 spiders had to break character and play something that they were not...deadly, vicious creatures from Venezuela who could kill off an entire community of people if they were left to their own devices.That film was the Steven Spielberg produced/Peter Marshall directed "Arachnophobia", which was released on July 18, 1990.  The movie starred Jeff Bridges and John Goodman, two men who have to work together to find a way from eradicating a deadly species of spider from a California town before the entire town succumbs to the spiders' deadly venom.




Between box office sales and rentals from video stores, the film generated a total of $88 million dollars.  A nice chunk of change, don't you think?  And for what it's worth, the film itself never made me frightened of spiders.  I wasn't even all that frightened by the movie, though there were a few scenes which sort of freaked me out as a young kid.  You'll likely see some of those scenes as we continue on with today's topic.  For now, why don't we take a look at how the small community of Canaima, California became the site of the deadliest spider infestation in the world?

The story begins in Venezuela within the Amazon where a group of scientists led by Dr. James Atherton (Julian Sands) are there to discover new species of insects and spiders for research purposes.  During their research, the scientists descend into a sinkhole where they discover a large tree within.  Blowing smoke up the tree's trunk, the scientists are excited to see several bugs raining down upon them.  As it so happens, one of these bugs is an extremely aggressive spider...a species that none of the scientists have ever seen before.  Dr. Atherton immediately immobilizes and captures the spider so that he can research it further.




Of course, the scientists have no idea just how deadly the spider really is.  But for poor ill-fated nature photographer Jerry Manley, he found out too late just how deadly the spiders were.  Already suffering from a fever, when one of the spiders bites Manley during the night he immediately has a huge seizure caused by the venom of the spider and dies almost immediately.  The other scientists pack up his body inside of a wooden crate and they fly back to the United States...unaware that the spider that killed Manley has stowed away inside of the makeshift coffin.

When Manley's body is brought to a funeral home in the town of Canaima, California, the mortician is mortified to discover that the body is completely drained of all fluids.  He is so baffled by the sight that he doesn't even realize that the spider that traveled with Manley has escaped and is now loose in the town of Canaima, looking for an eligible bachelorette spider to spend the rest of his short life with and have hundreds of little babies together.  The spider is picked up by a crow, but before the crow can fly back home, the spider bites it and it drops dead right in front of the property of physician Ross Jennings (Daniels), who has relocated to Canaima from San Francisco to set up a practice.  He lives in a farmhouse outside of the town with his wife Molly (Harley Jane Kozak), and two children Tommy (Garette Patrick Ratliff) and Shelly (Marlene Katz).  

What is interesting about the Jennings family is that Ross and Tommy have a mutual fear of arachnophobia.  They are both terrified of spiders, which makes for interesting irony as our spider bachelor has found love with a barn spider inside the Jennings' barn.  They plot the rest of their future together and set up a nest, which spawns hundreds of baby spiders which descend upon the residents of Canaima.  

Hundreds of little spiders who are unable to reproduce, yet have their father's deadly bite.  One by one, people of the community of Canaima drop dead - victims of spider bites.  A neighbour of the Jennings, a high school football player, a rival physician of Dr. Jennings...all dead of a spider bite.  And since all three victims were closely associated with Dr. Jennings (he either treated them as patients or worked alongside them), the community started giving Jennings the label of "Dr. Death".

But Jennings suspected that something else was responsible for the deaths of the citizens of Canaima.  When the coroner's reports came in and proved Jennings' hypothesis that the victims were killed by spiders was true, it became a race against time to try and find out where the spiders came from before they kill off more of the town's population, unaware that the source of the nests are in Jennings' own backyard.  Jennings teams up with Dr. Atherton, Sheriff Parsons (Stuart Pankin), coroner Milton Briggs (Handy), Atherton's assistant Chris Collins (Brian McNamara), and exterminator Delbert McClintock (Goodman) to try and eliminate the nests before the spiders can expand their territory and invade the whole world, putting humanity at risk.




Now, I won't go too much further into the plot because I don't want to spoil it for you.  But let's just say that one of the crew doesn't make it out alive.  Let's just say that the shower scene above will make the scene in "Psycho" seem less scary in comparison.




Let's just say that there's a reason why you should check your bowl before you put microwave popcorn inside of it.

How's that for a "bankrupt" moment?

And, let's just say that the ending of the movie has a lot of fire.  Lots and lots of fire.

That's all that I have to say about the movie "Arachnophobia"...now let's talk behind the scenes trivia.  Believe me, there's a lot to talk about.

1 - The Avondale spiders were chosen specifically for the movie because of their large size, social lifestyle, and the fact that they were mostly harmless to humans.  

2 - The spiders were "directed" in a way.  By controlling the temperature of the room, the spiders could be directed to crawl from room to room.

3 - The "general" spider and the "queen" spiders were not real spiders.  They were constructed models.

4 - The movie was released on DVD in 1999, making it one of the first titles to be offered in that format.

5 - The sound of a spider being squashed was simulated by Foley artists stepping on mustard packages and bags of squashed potato chips.

6 - Canaima, California is a factional city.  The city that posed as Canaima was the real-life city of Cambria, California.  The name Canaima came from the Venezuelian National Park where the film's first few minutes were shot.

7 - There's a scene in the film which has spiders crawling all over a television set.  The television set is playing "Family Ties" at the time - a television show which Chris Collins appeared on as a guest star in one episode.

8 - Apparently, the house that Dr. Jennings lives in was known as "the old Daniels place".  Dr. Jennings is played by Jeff Daniels.

9 - Cameo alert - The lady who dies after eating the spider laced popcorn is played by Kathy Kinney, who would achieve fame five years later on "The Drew Carey Show", playing the role of Mimi.


10 - The film was the first to be released under Disney's "Hollywood Picture" label.

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