Arachnophobia (1990): Frank Marshall’s Black Comedy Horror, Starring Jeff Daniels and John Goodman

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Frank Marshall directed Arachnophobia, a black comedy horror, starring Jeff Daniels and John Goodman.

The first film released by Walt Disney Studios’ Hollywood Pictures, it was Marshall’s directorial debut.

Its plot centers on a newly-discovered, prehistoric spider from Venezuela which is transported to a small California town. The spider produces an invasive species of deadly spiders which begin killing the town’s residents.

Shot in Venezuela and California, the film was released on July 18, 1990.

It was a modest commercial success, earning $53.21 million at the box office.

In a Venezuelan tepui, entomologist James Atherton captures  aggressive new species of spider of prehistoric origin. The spiders lack sex organs, indicating they are laborers or soldiers, thereby existing as hive (atypical of spiders).

A fertile male of the same species bites bedridden American nature photographer Jerry Manley, who, after severe seizure from the venom, dies. The scientist sends Manley’s body back to Canaima, California, unaware the spider has crawled into the coffin.

In the end, Ross shoots it with a nail gun, sending the flaming spider into the egg sac and destroying the nest. Delbert rescues Ross, with the general, the queen and the nests destroyed and the soldiers dying, the spiders’ threat is over.  Missing their old life, the Jennings family returns to San Francisco.

Spielberg was involved, as Frank Marshall (one of his earlier producers) made his directing debut. Spielberg and Marshall were executive producers for this Amblin Entertainment production.


Marshall hoped the film would be reminiscent of  Hitchcock’s 1963 masterpiece, The Birds: “People like to be scared but laughing, like a roller coaster. No one wants to be terrified.”

Arachnophobia also bears similarities to the 1977 film, Kingdom of the Spiders.

Jeff Daniels as Dr. Ross Jennings
Harley Jane Kozak as Molly Jennings
John Goodman as Delbert McClintock
Julian Sands as Dr. James Atherton
Brian McNamara as Chris Collins
James Handy as Milt Briggs
Peter Jason as Henry Beechwood
Henry Jones as Dr. Sam Metcalf
Frances Bay as Evelyn Metcalf
Mark L. Taylor as Jerry Manley
Roy Brocksmith as Irv Kendall
Kathy Kinney as Blaire Kendall
Stuart Pankin as Sheriff Lloyd Parsons
Mary Carver as Margaret Hollins