Need a scorpion to sting on cue? A butterfly to flap on camera? A tarantula to do a crawl-on? Who ya gonna call? Call Steven Kutcher. He’s Hollywood’s top bug guy.
Kutcher, 46, has been wrangling movie insects for almost 15 years: He handled 3,000 locusts for Exorcist II; 40,000 carpenter ants for an episode of Wonder Woman; and hundreds of roaches for an Orkin pest-control TV commercial. But his job orchestrating Arachnophobia’s spider stars has been one of his toughest challenges. ”Everybody is afraid of spiders,” he says. ”That makes it harder.”
What also makes it harder is that spiders are notoriously bad actors; normal training methods are out of the question. ”You can’t actually teach them to do anything, ” Kutcher says. ”You just watch what they do, then figure out how you can apply it to what you want them to do.”
To help direct the spiders, Kutcher cooked up all sorts of clever behavior-modifying devices. For instance, arachnids are phobic about Lemon Pledge (it gums up their feet). Kutcher was able to control some of their movements by spraying blotches of the stuff on the sets’ floors and walls. Also, spiders don’t like heat, so hair dryers blown through pinholes were effective prods. For more exact choreography, minuscule leashes were attached to their abdomens with wax. And in some extreme intances, tiny metal plates, controled by electromagnets, were glued to their tummies. A technique, Kutcher assures, which causes them no harm.
Despite all the end-of-the movie carnage, none of the spiders was killed. When corpses were needed, those that died from natural causes were used. But protecting the delicate bugs during the filming was often a painstaking process. One scene called for Goodman to squirt a spider with insecticide, then squash it with his boot. The whole sequence lasts all of 20 seconds, but filming it took hours.
A rubber spider was used for the insecticide spray. Then Goodman donned a boot with a hollowed-out sole to keep the real spider from being smashed. ”It would just curl up inside and wait for the next take,” Goodman recalls. ”I swear, (Kutcher) was more concerned with the spiders than with us.” Kutcher doesn’t deny it: ”Insects are my life,” he says. ”I’ve always liked them better than people.”