Eight Legged Freaks (2002)
Release Date: July 17th, 2002 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Ellory Elkayem Actors: David Arquette, Kari Wuhrer, Scarlett Johansson, Scott Terra, Doug E. Doug, Tom Noonan, Rick Overton
standard movie biohazard barrel accidentally topples from a truck to land in a lake, poisoning the insect inhabitants, which are in turn fed to arachnids at Joshua Taft’s (Tom Noonan) exotic spider ranch. One week later, Josh is dead, and enormous, mutated, eight-legged monstrosities are loosed on Cochise County. Chris McCormick (David Arquette) returns (having been gone for 10 years) to his small, poverty-stricken hometown of Prosperity, Arizona, to oppose the sale of his decrepit desert mine, which he believes contains a “mother lode” of gold, even though it primarily houses methane gas. McCormick’s Mining Company coincidentally borders on the spider ranch.
Meanwhile, intelligent youngster Mike Parker (Scott Terra) figures out what has happened, but, as he points out via dialogue, he’s the kid that no one believes in situations like this (it probably doesn’t help that he regularly watches horror movies like “Them!”). His mother is local sheriff Samantha Parker (Kari Wuhrer, a few years after “Anaconda”), a woman who fancies Chris’ boyish good looks, and her daughter is troublesome teen Ashley (18-year-old Scarlett Johansson), who hangs around with the equally rebellious Bret (Matt Czuchry). When an army of 200 oversized spiders descends upon the townsfolk, it’s up to Chris and Sam and her children to herd the panicky civilians into the city’s only stronghold – the Prosperity Mall (comedically derivative of “Dawn of the Dead”).
Since “Eight Legged Freaks” is executive produced by Roland Emmerich (who directed “Independence Day,” “Godzilla,” “The Day After Tomorrow,” and “2012”) and produced by Dean Devlin (who produced “Stargate” and “The Patriot”), there’s an amusing amount of death and destruction present, even though the film is intended to be silly. Arquette is as goofy as ever, which fits perfectly with the purposeful comedic tones. The rest of the cast is acceptable in their generic roles, demanding little more than looks of disbelief and feigned bravery; supporting parts include a bumbling deputy (Rick Overton), a corrupt town leader (Leon Rippy), a crotchety old aunt (Eileen Ryan), an enfeebled barber (Roy Gaintner), and a paranoia-spouting, space-alien-fanatic, radio station lunatic (Doug E. Doug). The bad dialogue that accompanies these personas is more forgivable when the whole film is jokey.
A talking parrot gets a tarantula to the face, a cat is smashed so violently into drywall that it molds physical impressions of its contorted face, ostriches are plucked from their grazing in a puff of feathers, and an elderly Boston terrier is snatched up by massive spider forearms. It’s done in a humorous manner, but the filmmakers clearly aren’t afraid of offending viewers with animal cruelty. And the demise of spider foe probably won’t be scrutinized as carefully. The ridiculous music cues, which foreshadow the cuddly critter feasting and guide the dramatic shifts in tone (horror to romance to adventure and back again) don’t help matters either.
As for visuals, the computer graphics are much more convincing than in comparative killer animal movies, advancing in realism just enough not to be a complete distraction. The practical effects, such as giant spider legs and fangs, green goo spurting from severed limbs, and sticky webs squirting all over victims, are definitely more fun. Although the jumbo creatures include an entertaining mix of species (orb weavers, jumping spiders, tarantulas, trapdoor spiders), the smaller creepy-crawlers annoyingly chatter amongst themselves like “Star Wars’” Jawas, while the larger ones roar as if “Jurassic Park” dinosaurs. Unlike other monster movies that strive for sincere horror only to fail miserably, “Eight Legged Freaks” never tries to be serious, making it a tougher comparison when it also fizzles during key moments. Most notably, the film’s bookending by a cackling disc jockey retelling the story of the town’s run-in with giant spiders, which suggests the events could have been entirely fictional embellishment, might not have been the smartest choice.
– Mike Massie