EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS
Director: Ellory Elkayem
Cast: David Arquette, Kari Wuhrer, Scott Terra, Scarlett Johansson, Doug E. Doug, Rick Overton, Leon Rippy, Matt Czuchry, Eileen Ryan
MPAA Rating: (for sci-fi violence, brief sexuality and language)
Running Time: 1:39
Release Date: 7/17/02
Review by Mark Dujsik
The difficult part of making a movie like Eight Legged Freaks, which wants to be a cheesy, creature feature B-movie but without the mockability factor, is to find the right tone. If you veer too close to the concept of the material, you run the risk of simply making a bad B-movie (a self-consciously bad one, but a bad movie nonetheless) because you missed the joke; if you make the humor too obvious, youíve made a parody and missed the spirit of a B-movie. Eight Legged Freaks never has either problem, but it could have ventured a little closer to the execution of the second possibility without sacrificing the campiness of its material. Itís an out-and-out comedy, to be sureóitís smart enough to admit thatóbut itís just teetering on the line between what would normally be considered "just right" and "too much." In this situation, "too much" is just right. Itís silly, but not quite silly enough. The result is a genuinely amusing but never flat-out funny piece of homage.
The setup of all monster movies is essentially the same. Here, a small town that used to be well-to-do thanks to a system of mines has hit hard times after the death of the mine owner. The local money-hungry entrepreneur Wade (Leon Rippy) has made some interesting business choices over the past few years, including opening a large mall, starting an ostrich farm, and allowing the town to be a burying ground for toxic waste. Well, ironically enough, the last one is about to start a huge fiasco because the local spider rancher (an uncredited Tom Noonan) has been feeding the spiders bugs that have been exposed to the contents of a barrel that fell into a lake during a mishap. The rancher has noticed that they are growing larger, and because of the rule of proximity, he becomes their first victim. The spiders retreat into the mines, which are the topic of hot debate among townsfolk because Chris McCormack (an uncharacteristically sedate David Arquette), son of the dead mining magnate, has come to town to protect his familyís property from another of Wadeís financial schemes.
Some of the other important characters include the buxom Sheriff Sam Parker (Kari Wuhrer), the object of Chrisí affection, her two children Mike (Scott Terra), friend of the rancher and unheeded expert of the giant spiders, and Ashley (Scarlett Johansson), continuing the tradition of conveniently being attacked immediately after a shower, Pete (Rick Overton), the incompetent deputy, and Harlan (Doug E. Doug), the paranoid radio conspiracy-theorist convinced the spiders are aliens. The backdrop is a backwater town. You know, the kind that during an emergency town meeting seems to have a population of a little more than a hundred but when the spiders attack has an unlimited number of victims. The jokes involving the humans are quite obvious, but they work. Pete bumbles his way around. Harlan is confused by and scared to death of anal probing. Mike bemoans the fact that he knows as much as he does and that no one will listen to him because "No one listens to the kid." None of the characters are annoying, and we find ourselves wanting a few of them to escape the spidersí grasp. Thereís not much else you can ask for in the way of characterization in a B-movie.
The real stars of the movie are the spiders. A few species are presents: one that jumps, one that hides underground and pops up when prey approaches, and one that wraps its prey in webbing to bring to the female as a gift. And of course thereís a tarantula. Are they scary? The problem when loading a horror movie with irony is that scares are essentially eliminated. The other problem is that spiders themselves are more creepy than scary. What makes them creepy is the fact that the dangerous (usually larger) ones are still small enough to sneak up on you. Giant arachnids are about as scary as a giant form of any animal. Also lessening the effect are the obvious special effects used to create, but it does add to the campy feeling of a í50s monster movie. What they lack in scariness they make up for in comic value. These are misanthropic giant spiders, and they (and the filmmakers) seem to enjoy every minute of it. The spiders have a distinct personality to them. They let out screeching sounds that sound like diabolic laughter. One gets caught on the back of car and lets out sounds as itís dragged along. Perhaps the best visual gag involves the attack of a cat in a ventilation shaft, leading me to believe that director Ellory Elkayem is not a cat person.
Eight Legged Freaks has many very funny moments, and the style and tone are perfectly suited to the kind of material being lovingly nudged. Itís smart to avoid the mistakes other similar movies have made in the past. But thereís something missing that I canít necessarily explain. I liked the movie, but I know I would have liked it more if it had just gone that one step further. Iím left slightly disappointed that it didnít.
Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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