Field Guide to Invertebrates in Film: Sherlock Holmes in The Spider Woman

The Spider Woman, Sherlock Holmes in (1944)
Critter: The deadliest wolf spider in the movie world, Lycosa carnivora
Size: Hand-sized, 6-8 inches in diameter
Modus Operandi: Bites victim and injects poison that is so excruciating the victim is driven to suicidal madness
How the Menace Emerges: Brought to London from central Africa by an eccentric entomologist and spider-collector, purchased and unleashed by the clever, but deadly "mistress of murder"
End Goal: To bite men while they are sleeping in their “pyjamas” and drive them to suicide so that their mistress can get rich

Our first entry in the guide that comes from outside of the horror/sci-fi genre is also our oldest thus far. Like the poor, winged honey-makers in The Deadly Bees, the spiders in The Spider Woman are the hapless victims of an evildoer with a murderous urge. This fun little WWII set piece is stocked with comic-book characters and more British cleverness than you can shake a stick at. Basil Rathbone is the iconic Sherlock Holmes, and he does not disappoint. Gale Sondergaard (The Cat and the Canary) gives a fantastic performance as the spider-wielding, pygmy toting villainess with enough brains to give old Holmes a sly grin. In a Holmes mystery, realism goes out the window, but the witty dialogue and clever twists are enough to keep butts in the seats. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a Sherlock Holmes flick, but if they’re all as snappy as The Spider Woman, I’m game.

Nit-picking Science: Come, come Dr. Gilflower, surely you recognize that a spider isn’t an insect! Et tu, Holmes? Tsk, tsk.

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