18 Creepy Facts about Arachnophobia

Jeff Daniels stars in Arachnophobia (1990).
Jeff Daniels stars in Arachnophobia (1990).
Hollywood Pictures Home Entertainment

Arachnophia—Frank Marshall's skin-crawling cult classic—crept its way into theaters in the summer of 1990. Here are a few things you might not have known about the first (and last) “thrill-omedy.”


Frank Marshall had produced a number of films for Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, including The Goonies, Poltergeist, Gremlins, Empire of the Sun, and The Color Purple (among many others). He had directed second unit photography and some short films—including making-of documentaries for the Indiana Jones movies, which he also produced—but Arachnophobia marked Marshall's feature film directorial debut. “As a producer for 20 years, I know how hard directing is, and I didn't want to do anything I'd had no experience with,” he told The New York Times. “Disney's Jeff Katzenberg sent me the script, and I felt it was something I could do. I didn't want to get into a serious dramatic piece that might stretch me beyond my capabilities.” 


When Jeff Daniels came on board to play Dr. Ross Jennings, Arachnophobia was a serious horror movie—one that Daniels told Philadelphia’s Daily News was pretty formulaic. "You could tell that the lines were kind of written by computer," he said. He and Marshall were hoping for a black comedy with a more ironic tone, so the script went through several revisions, and the filmmakers studied Hitchcock films and Jaws to get the tone right. One key change: Daniels’s character was given a fear of spiders.

The result, Daniels told the Orlando Sentinel, was a one-of-a-kind movie. “It's not really horror,” he said. “We don't have chainsaws going through necks and blood spurting. It's scary, but this is not The Attack of the Killer Spiders. We approached it as a comedy with a couple of thrills. We knew we had the thrills in there, so we worked hard to make sure the movie had a sense of humor about itself.” The humor, he said, “kind of relaxes the audience, so that we can come in and get them again.”

“We wanted it to be scary, but not too terrifying,” Marshall told Entertainment Weekly. “We didn’t want it to be a typical horror movie—The Spider That Ate Cleveland—so we used a lot of comedy. We tried to make it like a roller-coaster ride for the audience. It’s frightening, but in a fun way.”


For the opening sequence, which takes place in South America—and where a photographer is bitten by a deadly spider that then hitches a ride back to the States in his coffin—the crew headed to the Tepuis of Venezuela's Canaima National Park. No movie had filmed there before, and getting to it was hard work: They set up a base camp in a location that was meant for one-night stays, and stayed for four weeks, flying in all of the necessary equipment and food. They used five helicopters to fly up to the mountains every day.

“The Tepuis rise out of the rainforest almost 10,000 feet,” Marshall said in a featurette created for the movie. “Because they’re so high up, they’re right in the cloud bank, so the weather is [always] changing. Some days I would just get one take—not one scene, one take—and it would be an hour before the sun came out again. There was one day we were trapped the whole day; we had actually built the survival camp, and 15 minutes before we were going to be stuck all night, the clouds opened up.” Abandoning their equipment, the cast and crew “jumped on the helicopter and got out just in time,” Marshall said. “It was kind of exciting.”


The production required two species of spider: The first—the arachnid that hitches a ride from South America to California—needed to measure about one foot across. The filmmakers found their star in a bird-eating tarantula native to the Amazon; there was only one such spider in the U.S. Marshall named the spider Big Bob after director Robert Zemeckis. 


As terrifying as Big Bob was, he still wasn't scary enough for Arachnophobia. So the production painted purple stripes on his back and added a prosthetic abdomen “to give him greater bulk,” according to Entertainment Weekly


In the movie, Big Bob arrives in California and promptly mates with a house spider, creating super deadly offspring. To find the right arachnids for the job, Marshall and his team evaluated a number of species—including wolf spiders, tarantulas, and huntsman spiders—by putting them through a “spider olympics,” running each species through 10 tests, including speed (the faster the spider, the scarier it is), climbing ability, and reaction to heat and cold. 

The “gold medalist,” according to Marshall, was the three-inch-wide Delena spider, a harmless but sinister-looking huntsman native to Australia that was introduced to New Zealand in the 1920s. Marshall joked that “we got them all little passports,” which was sort of true: The production did have to jump through hoops to bring 300 of the spiders to the U.S. for filming (and that was just the initial shipment; supplies were replenished every two weeks).  


Though Daniels claimed that he was fine with small spiders, he acknowledged that “anyone in his right mind” would have issues with spiders as huge as Big Bob. But John Goodman, who played exterminator Delbert McClintock, wasn’t fazed. “I don’t have any problem,” he said. “We see each other eye to eye—well, two eyes to their 16—but we get along swell.”


“You can’t actually teach them to do anything,” wrangler Steven Kutcher told Entertainment Weekly. “You just watch what they do, then figure out how you can apply it to what you want them to do.” Still, he managed to come up with some solutions for controlling them: He discovered that the spiders hated Lemon Pledge—it gummed up their feet—and used lines of it on the set to control where they went; he also strung networks of wire, vibrating faster than the camera could see, to guide them. But sometimes, more extreme measures were needed. According to The New York Times,

To keep spiders in a relatively contained area, they are put to sleep with carbon dioxide, and tiny monofilament ''leashes'' are attached by wax to their abdomens. And for really complicated shots, minuscule steel plates are glued to the spiders with wax; electromagnets behind a wall then move them to the places where the script calls for them to be.

The wranglers would also sometimes chase the arachnids with hair dryers to get them to go where the camera needed them.


“One of the things I learned in my second unit directing days is the only way it’s going to be scary is to include the spiders in the same shots with the actors,” he said. “So we’ve been designing the shots so when you start on a person you pan over, there’s a spider there, and the audience will know the spiders are very, very close to all the actors.”


“This film takes a special kind of actor,” Daniels joked to The New York Times. “You have to realize from day one of shooting that the spiders come first. They're picked up first in the morning, they're first in the chair at makeup, they take lunch first. And they've also got the biggest trailer.'' 

The spiders didn’t always do what they were supposed to do on cue, or on the first try—so, Marshall told Entertainment Weekly, “You just have to keep shooting over and over again until they accidentally give you what you want.”

“You are basically waiting for the spider to get it right,” Daniels told the Orlando Sentinel. “And when he does, you better be great because that's the one [take] we are going to use.” Sometimes, they weren't even awake when the cameras were ready to roll: When Entertainment Weekly visited the set, the cast and crew had to wait for Big Bob to wake up. “This is the last time I work with insects,” Marshall said. “Next time it’s humans only.”


The New York Times reported that one of the most often heard phrases on the set of Arachnophobia was “Spiders, take 10.” Marshall told the paper that sometimes the cast and crew had "a spider lotto; everyone puts $5 on the take they think is going to work. Twenty-one takes is the longest we've gone.” 


The safety of the spiders was paramount throughout the entire production, so for one scene where Goodman had to spray an arachnid with insecticide, then squash it with his boot, the production went to extreme measures: First, a dummy spider was sprayed. Then Goodman donned special boots with a hollowed out sole for the squash shot. “[The spider] would just curl up inside and wait for the next take,” Goodman told Entertainment Weekly. ”I swear, [Kutcher] was more concerned with the spiders than with us.” The sequence lasts under half a minute on screen but took hours to shoot.


Even a painted up and tricked out spider wouldn’t be useable for all the shots. “He has to stalk Jeff Daniels; he has to stay in the right light, and if we waited for him to do that, we'd be here three or four months longer,” Marshall told The New York Times. "The main character had to become a creature, and no spider out there could give us the vicious, evil close-ups the script called for," added visual effects supervisor David Sosalla, "The evilest ones, with real ugly looking faces, were too tiny.”

So the production reached out to a Hollywood prop shop to build The General, a 15-inch mechanical Big Bob double—and it was created by none other than future MythBuster Jamie Hyneman. “Arachnophobia was one of the first films I did major effects for,” he said in 2014.


Marshall saved the shooting of Arachnophobia’s climactic fight between Jennings and The General until the very end of production. “All the other actors have been sent home, they've been put on planes, they've been waved goodbye to, they've had parties thrown,'' Daniels told the Orlando Sentinel. “They were gone. It was like, ‘Hey, great, thanks a lot! Now, Jeff, let's go ... down to the basement.’” 

The scene, which involved fire, explosions, and many smashed bottles of fine wine, took two weeks of 13-hour days to shoot. Daniels spent two of those days pinned under a 250-pound wine rack, hurling bottles of wine at Big Bob while under strict instructions to not hit the spider—and, in fact, always miss it by three feet or more. 

“When you're lying under a 250-pound wine rack for a couple of days, it's tough to walk to your car at night,” Daniels told the Sentinel. “Movies have a way of saving those life-or-death stunts for last, so that if you lose an actor, it's a shame and it's horrible, and we'll all be there at the funeral, but at least we got our film shot."


Throughout the Arachnophobia press tour, Daniels spoke openly of his animosity toward his big, hairy co-star—and we’re not talking about John Goodman. I had a problem” with Big Bob, Daniels told Entertainment Weekly. “Especially when the spider wranglers were off-camera wearing thick, heavy gloves, yelling, ‘If he comes after you, we’ll be jumping in right away.’ But meanwhile, it’s the movies, you know, and they’re going, ‘Let’s do it again. Let’s see if we can get him to crawl closer to Jeff’s hand.’ ... We had no rapport,” Daniels jokingly continued. “He’d rear up and hiss. They’d feed him a rat every weekend. It would be, ‘Have a good Saturday night, Bob. See ya Monday.”’

In an interview with Philadelphia's Daily News, Daniels recounted how Big Bob once blew a dozen takes: “I had to be great every time. Big Bob only had to be great once.” And when they were filming the climax of the film and a bottle broke near Bob, drenching the spider with wine, Daniels wasn’t that sorry—although filming did have to be delayed for a few hours to allow Bob to dry off. "The joke went that Big Bob was refusing to leave his trailer," Daniels recalled.

As for the Delenas? "I was OK with them,” he told Entertainment Weekly. "Though I’d rather they weren’t crawling on my face.”


"There was one ending where we are standing outside after it's all over,” Daniels told the Orlando Sentinel in 1990. “It's like, ‘Wow, we're OK,’ and the family is all right. All of a sudden, one bird lands on the swing set and then another ... and we just turn and look. I think [executive producer Steven] Spielberg was the one who said, ‘Let's not do that. Let's just make it its own thing.’”


When dead spiders were needed, the filmmakers used bodies of arachnids that had died of natural causes


According to materials released with the film, that meant “a thriller with a sense of humor.” The Washington Post called the term “clumsy coinage,” while Entertainment Weekly dubbed it “awkward” and said in a review that it was “an awful word!—it sounds like somebody got sick from too many rides on the Whip.” It didn’t catch on.

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12 Surprising Facts About T.S. Eliot


Born September 26, 1888, modernist poet and playwright Thomas Stearns (T.S.) Eliot is best known for writing "The Waste Land." But the 1948 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature was also a prankster who coined a perennially popular curse word, and created the characters brought to life in the Broadway musical "Cats." In honor of Eliot’s birthday, here are a few things you might not know about the writer.

1. T.S. Eliot enjoyed holding down "real" jobs.

Throughout his life, Eliot supported himself by working as a teacher, banker, and editor. He could only write poetry in his spare time, but he preferred it that way. In a 1959 interview with The Paris Review, Eliot remarked that his banking and publishing jobs actually helped him be a better poet. “I feel quite sure that if I’d started by having independent means, if I hadn’t had to bother about earning a living and could have given all my time to poetry, it would have had a deadening influence on me,” Eliot said. “The danger, as a rule, of having nothing else to do is that one might write too much rather than concentrating and perfecting smaller amounts.”

2. One of the longest-running Broadway shows ever exists thanks to T.S. Eliot.

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In 1939, Eliot published a book of poetry, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which included feline-focused verses he likely wrote for his godson. In stark contrast to most of Eliot's other works—which are complex and frequently nihilistic—the poems here were decidedly playful. For Eliot, there was never any tension between those two modes: “One wants to keep one’s hand in, you know, in every type of poem, serious and frivolous and proper and improper. One doesn’t want to lose one’s skill,” he explained in his Paris Review interview. A fan of Eliot's Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats since childhood, in the late '70s, Andrew Lloyd Webber decided to set many of Eliot's poems to music. The result: the massively successful stage production "Cats," which opened in London in 1981 and, after its 1982 NYC debut, became one of the longest-running Broadway shows of all time.

3. Three hours per day was his T.S. Eliot’s writing limit.

Eliot wrote poems and plays partly on a typewriter and partly with pencil and paper. But no matter what method he used, he tried to always keep a three hour writing limit. “I sometimes found at first that I wanted to go on longer, but when I looked at the stuff the next day, what I’d done after the three hours were up was never satisfactory," he explained. "It’s much better to stop and think about something else quite different.”

4. T.S. Eliot considered "Four Quartets" to be his best work.

In 1927, Eliot converted to Anglicanism and became a British citizen. His poems and plays in the 1930s and 1940s—including "Ash Wednesday," "Murder in the Cathedral," and "Four Quartets"—reveal themes of religion, faith, and divinity. He considered "Four Quartets,” a set of four poems that explored philosophy and spirituality, to be his best writing. Out of the four, the last is his favorite.

5. T.S. Eliot had an epistolary friendship with Groucho Marx.

Eliot wrote comedian Groucho Marx a fan letter in 1961. Marx replied, gave Eliot a photo of himself, and started a correspondence with the poet. After writing back and forth for a few years, they met in real life in 1964, when Eliot hosted Marx and his wife for dinner at his London home. The two men, unfortunately, didn’t hit it off. The main issue, according to a letter Marx wrote his brother: the comedian had hoped he was in for a "Literary Evening," and tried to discuss King Lear. All Eliot wanted to talk about was Marx's 1933 comedy Duck Soup. (In a 2014 piece for The New Yorker, Lee Siegel suggests there had been "simmering tension" all along, even in their early correspondence.)

6. Ezra Pound tried to crowdfund T.S. Eliot’s writing.

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In 1921, Eliot took a few months off from his banking job after a nervous breakdown. During this time, he finished writing "The Waste Land," which his friend and fellow poet Ezra Pound edited. Pound, with the help of other Bohemian writers, set up Bel Esprit, a fund to raise money for Eliot so he could quit his bank job to focus on writing full-time. Pound managed to get several subscribers to pledge money to Eliot, but Eliot didn’t want to give up his career, which he genuinely liked. The Liverpool Post, Chicago Daily Tribune, and the New York Tribune reported on Pound’s crowdfunding campaign, incorrectly stating that Eliot had taken the money, but continued working at the bank. After Eliot protested, the newspapers printed a retraction.

7. Writing in French helped T.S. Eliot overcome writer’s block.

After studying at Harvard, Eliot spent a year in Paris and fantasized about writing in French rather than English. Although little ever came of that fantasy, during a period of writer’s block, Eliot did manage to write a few poems in French. “That was a very curious thing which I can’t altogether explain. At that period I thought I’d dried up completely. I hadn’t written anything for some time and was rather desperate,” he told The Paris Review. “I started writing a few things in French and found I could, at that period ...Then I suddenly began writing in English again and lost all desire to go on with French. I think it was just something that helped me get started again."

8. T.S. Eliot set off stink bombs in London with his nephew.

Eliot, whose friends and family called him Tom, was supposedly a big prankster. When his nephew was young, Eliot took him to a joke shop in London to purchase stink bombs, which they promptly set off in the lobby of a nearby hotel. Eliot was also known to hand out exploding cigars, and put whoopee cushions on the chairs of his guests.

9. T.S. Eliot may have been the first person to write the word "bulls**t."

In the early 1910s, Eliot wrote a poem called "The Triumph of Bulls**t." Like an early 20th-century Taylor Swift tune, the poem was Eliot’s way of dissing his haters. In 1915, he submitted the poem to a London magazine … which rejected it for publication. The word bulls**t isn’t in the poem itself, only the poem’s title, but The Oxford English Dictionary credits the poem with being the first time the curse word ever appeared in print.

10. T.S. Eliot coined the expression “April is the cruelest month.”

Thanks to Eliot, the phrase “April is the cruelest month” has become an oft-quoted, well-known expression. It comes from the opening lines of "The Waste Land”: “April is the cruelest month, breeding/Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/Memory and desire, stirring/Dull roots with spring rain.”

11. T.S. Eliot held some troubling beliefs about religion.

Over the years, Eliot made some incredibly problematic remarks about Jewish people, including arguing that members of a society should have a shared religious background, and that a large number of Jews creates an undesirably heterogeneous culture. Many of his early writing also featured offensive portrayals of Jewish characters. (As one critic, Joseph Black, pointed out in a 2010 edition of "The Waste Land" and Other Poems, "Few published works displayed the consistency of association that one finds in Eliot's early poetry between what is Jewish and what is squalid and distasteful.") Eliot's defenders argue that the poet's relationship with Jewish people was much more nuanced that his early poems suggest, and point to his close relationships with a number of Jewish writers and artists.

12. You can watch a movie based on T.S. Eliot’s (really bad) marriage.

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Tom & Viv, a 1994 film starring Willem Dafoe, explores Eliot’s tumultuous marriage to Vivienne Haigh-Wood, a dancer and socialite. The couple married in 1915, a few months after they met, but the relationship quickly soured. Haigh-Wood had constant physical ailments, mental health problems, and was addicted to ether. The couple spent a lot of time apart and separated in the 1930s; she died in a mental hospital in 1947. Eliot would go on to remarry at the age of 68—his 30-year-old secretary, Esmé Valerie Fletcher—and would later reveal that his state of despair during his first marriage was the catalyst and inspiration for "The Waste Land."

This story has been updated for 2020.