I have a thing for giant monster movies, especially those that feature insectoid creatures of enormous size. So it should come as no surprise that I enjoyed the recent arachnid-athon “Eight Legged Freaks”.
Anyone who has ever seen one of the giant irradiated monster flicks of the 1950’s will be right at home with the plot here. Eight Legged Freaks takes no chances with the formula established with 1954’s “Them”. We get a remote desert location, Prosperity, Arizona, we get a tough Sheriff Sam Parker (Kari Wuhrer putting in the best performance of her career), the recently returned to town important guy Chris (David Arquette also putting in the best performance of his career), a super-smart kid who has not all but enough of the answers to take a leadership role Chris Parker (Scott Terra), his sister the rebel without a cause but with a conscience Ashley Parker (Scarlett Johannsen), the goofy deputy Deputy Pete (Rick Overton), conspiracy theorist and radio show host of his own station Harlen (Doug E. Doug), and finally, evil developer and mayor whose son even calls him by his first name Wade (Leon Rippy).
Oh, and Prosperity is in dire need of economic assistance. The Mayor’s plans for an ostrich farm and mega-mall haven’t paid off, the local mine (now owned by returning hero Chris) is about to go bankrupt, and a toxic waste company wants to buy the whole town and use it as a waste dump.
Okay, the movie gets underway with a toxic waste truck dropping a 55 gallon drum into the local water supply. This in turn affect the local cricket population, which impacts the exotic spider museum run by local crazy man (and first victim, naturally) Randy who has has been feeding the super crickets to his tanks full of exotic spiders.
Before you can say arachnophobia, the spiders have killed Randy and escaped into the network of mines that crisscross the town like the Paris catacombs. I am not even sure the credits had finished by the time this happens.
Now THAT’s the hallmark of a good monster movie!
Okay, before long we get to see all the things that brought us to a flick named Eight Legged Freaks in the first place, and regardless of the other characters, the spiders are the stars here. The primary focus is on four species; trap-door spiders, jumping spiders, orb weaver spiders, and one bad-ass tarantula. Each one uses its special characteristics to play havoc with the residents of Prosperity. Trapdoor spiders leap out of manhole covers and yank panicked residents to their doom, jumpers attack Moto-cross bikers and eat them on the fly (which is a super sequence), the orb weaver males collect locals and wrap them up for presentation to the humungous female hiding in the mines, and the tarantula acts like the bruiser of the gang and knocks down walls, barricades, and other structures used to keep the spiders at bay.
The spiders squeak, click, laugh, scream, burble, snarl, and do a whole host of other non-spidery things. But, that gives them the same kind of weird character that the Gremlins had back in the 1980’s. It also give the spiders a little more humor than they might otherwise have had.
It works. It all works gloriously well. The spiders look fantastic, and there was not a moment that I didn’t think the spiders were realistic. And, that includes scenes where they act more campy than real, scream “ouchouchouch” when being dragged behind a car, react to smashing into a window, or being sprayed with Binaca.
The denoument comes at the almost abandoned mega-mall as the remaining residents make their last stand amongst the empty storefronts and deserted food court. Yeah, it’s an homage to Dawn of the Dead, and it works.
The humor is less than subtle, but still brings laughs because Wuhrer, Arquette, and Overton carry their roles off so well.
Is it suitable for kids. Yeah, there is mention of sex (which leads to the longest laugh I have had in a really long time), there didn’t seem to be much swearing, no nudity (unless you count unclothed spiders), and scads of collateral damage as unnamed people are killed by the spiders.
Is it worth your money? Sure, but you have to understand just what it is you are paying for. This ain’t Shakespeare, and it ain’t Kubrick, but it is a hell of a lot of fun.