Earth vs. the Spider (2001)
Earth vs. the Spider (2001)

Genre: Sci-Fi Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 30 min.

Release Date: October 7th, 2001 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Scott Ziehl Actors: Devon Gummersall, Amelia Heinle, Dan Aykroyd, Theresa Russell, Christopher Cousins, John Cho

 


 

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t begins as if a legitimate comic book adaptation, arranged with upbeat, jazzy music, along with pages from “The Arachnid Avenger” comic. The tone is very much that of a light, goofy, coming-of-age superhero flick, nearly spoofing the likes of the upcoming “Spider-Man” movie (debuting a year later). Were it not for the eventual R-rated gore, this could have been an airy comedy. Amusingly, it proceeds to mix the humor with horror elements for an effective bit of entertainment.

23-year-old Quentin Kemmer (Devon Gummersall), a lowly security guard at Biochemco, toasts some bread, feeds his beagle Thor, and flirts with next-door neighbor Stephanie Lewis (Amelia Heinle), a real looker. The apartment building in which they live is scummy, but it’s all they can afford; his income is meager and she’s in nursing school. Although they have little in common, they’re both concerned about news of the seventh victim of the Midtown Murderer (as reported by the unlikely Jack Upyurs). “I hate it when the bad guys win.”

“She’s out of my league.” While he’s not pining over Stephanie, Quentin patronizes his local comic shop (Hero Worship), run by pal Han (John Cho, providing a thick Asian accent), where they fawn over an Arachnid Avenger statue and the latest graphic novel. Once at work, he chats with fellow guard Nick (Mario Roccuzzo), bringing up their respective romantic interests as well as the laboratory’s experimentations on tarantulas. As luck would have it, Quentin’s day is about to become exciting and terrifying: armed men break into Biochemco to steal data on their latest weapons resistance research, resulting in a deadly shootout and an opportunity for the young man to inject himself with a highly classified drug.

It doesn’t feel entirely fresh for a comic-book-obsessed youth to become the superhero he always dreamed of (in this case, he literally takes the form of his fictional idol), though his desire to dispense with a nice-guy image and to stick up for himself has all the hallmarks of a supervillain instead. And, indeed, as Quentin’s condition changes unexpectedly (for him, not for the audience), he crafts a new identity as a crimefighter (or a troublemaker). Like in “The Fly,” the protagonist notices positive side effects first, before a striking deterioration – or metamorphosis – occurs.

Two things work quite well for this made-for-TV (Cinemax) picture, which, as a part of the Creature Features series, borrows the name of an AIP film for its title (but little else). The lead detective, Jack Grillo, is played by Dan Akyroyd – the first of the project’s major blessings. He takes his role incredibly seriously, which doesn’t seem necessary, yet his inclusion is a wise choice (and he’s even given a somber backstory, coupled with an unfaithful wife). Secondly, the blend of typical horror-movie notes – such as jump scares, ominous music, jarring screams, flashes of upsetting imagery (here, mainly flashback shots), mysterious shadows, and sudden attacks – works nicely with the comedy and action. There’s a self-aware vibe to the sci-fi silliness, along with a sense of desperation and anxiety, which makes the hero and his plight more appealing. He’s a tragically doomed sort of character and presents a sensible, somewhat realistic twist on superheroism. “It’s not too late!”

What’s not so impressive is the use of computer graphics, though they’re thankfully limited. With Stan Winston involved in the production, the use of practical effects – prosthetics and makeup – fare much better, particularly when it comes to the gooey stuff. Cobwebs, burgeoning mandibles, extra appendages, and desiccated corpses look great – or appropriately cheesy. Curiously, as the film progresses, there’s almost too much character development, even if it creates sympathetic roles. For a schlocky sci-fi/horror hybrid, the thrills and violence are spaced rather far apart. Nevertheless, the end result is a competent little chiller, oftentimes using a less-is-more approach that works remarkably well with its limited resources.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10