Spiders. Arachnids. Eight legged freaks. The very idea of these web spinning creepy crawlies sends some into uncontrollable fear, breaking into shakes and sweats. To be fair, it’s almost understandable. With approximately 40,000 known species, of which a few are poisonous, and able to create nightmarish vistas such as the one to the left, the spider is a horror trope that has been used so many times that you’d be hard pressed to count just how much they’ve been utilised – even if you used your fingers, toes and all their legs combined.
Amazingly, you’d also be hard pushed to find many horror stories, especially full novels that have the creatures as their central plot point. Instead, they are used as tricks of the trade to send shivers down the spines of the readers. Sometimes this works extremely well. On other occasions, it comes across as nothing more than a cheap gimmick. News agencies are flush with excitement when a true life spider story rears its head, like with poisonous species being found in a bunch of bananas that have been flown over from a hot, exotic foreign country.
The fact is that the main source of arachnophobia is those poisonous species. If no spider was able to kill a human, why would we be scared of these little creepy crawlies that eat flies? Be thankful that in the UK, we don’t have to check the underneath of the toilet seat every time we need to use the loo, making sure that there’s no funnel web lurking underneath.
Smile, safe in the knowledge that there are very few black widows or tarantulas in our country – although numbers are apparently increasing due to the more clement climate that we are experiencing these days. Also, if you found a false black widow, which are quite common on our shores, you really don’t want to take your time trying to find out if it’s a real one or not. This is where the good old internet comes in and stokes the fires a little more.
Remember the viral videos that shot across the web a few years ago about camel spiders? Huge things that live in the desert and apparently liked to bite the legs of a sleeping soldier on duty in Afghanistan, numbing them, before eating their feet. These stories were debunked, but once stories like that are put out there, there’s no controlling them. To be fair, whether they could or not, would you stick around if one of these started to run at you?
That’s actually biting through a lizard’s neck!
So it’s not all media hype. We’re betting that watching those videos, whether you suffer from arachnophobia or not, you felt a little squeamish didn’t you? Ready for something else? You’ve heard of earwigs – what about an ear spider? Here’s the proof…..
So, what about the use of spiders in our favourite genre? Well, as with literature, they are used primarily as background scares. This is seen via the spider-like alien that is presented at the end of IT and pretty much any old gothic horror film set in an old house or castle that has been left to ruin, covered in those incredibly sticky cobwebs. They are used appallingly in Fulci’s The Beyond to munch a man’s face off as well, the Italian auteur using a mixture of real tarantulas and very obviously unreal mechanical versions.
Spiders have been better served, however, when they are front and centre of a horror film. Take the 1990 Julian Sand starring Arachnophobia. It may have only garnered a PG certificate, but for sufferers to watch, it would have been as tortuous an ordeal as the one suffered by Alex in A Clockwork Orange. There was the less serious Eight Legged Freaks which took its cues from the old 50s and 60s science-gone-mad movies such as Tarantula and Them!
So thanks to movies and the general media, we have been programmed to fear the spider. Mind you, if even the staunchest spider lover were faced with an army of arachnids heading their way, venomous or not, we’d be willing to bet that they’d high-tail it out of there quicker than you could say pholcus phalangioides (that’s a Daddy Long Legs to you). Sheer volume is one reason why so many people are scared of spiders and there are numerous tales of someone stamping on or killing a spider, only for it to release a horde of baby spiders as a result. Stories such as this one.
So if you suffer from the very rational fear of arachnophobia – rational because of the fact that some of them are poisonous and can actually kill you – then we suggest not watching films about them and that you avoid going into dusty abandoned buildings any time soon. If your garage or shed needs cleaning out, get someone else to do it.
We’ll leave you with one last thought – urban legends state that we eat, on average, between two and four spiders per year whilst we are sleeping. Urban legends are thought to always be false, but who knows what happens when we are asleep? Enjoy your dreams tonight folks and if you wake up coughing, you probably know why.