Eight Legged Freaks
review by Dan Lybarger, 2 August 2002

Eight Legged Freaks is a rare creature feature that actually suffers when the filmmakers try to make the human characters more like the genuine articles. Normally, movies like this one are a lot more fun if we actually care whether the people become monster fodder. Just as you really don't miss the hyphen that should be placed in the first two words of the title, you really won't miss the people who occupy the fictional town of Prosperity, Arizona.

As the movie opens, the town's name is a sick ironic joke. Prosperity's once bustling mine is now dead, and locals are struggling to find work. The only person who seems to be doing particularly well is a slightly batty scientist (Tom Noonan in an all-to-brief performance) who's illegally breading spiders to be a little feistier than nature intended.

This perverse nurturing and a toxic waste spill combine to make the arachnids grow to the size of Subarus. Soon hundreds of enormous spiders tear through the little burg, crushing or webbing anyone in their way. Folks who'd normally not be speaking, like Chris McCormick (David Arquette), the son of the town's late patriarch , and Sam Parker (Kari Wuher), his former flame who's now the sheriff, must now collect enough rifles and ammo to subdue the beasts.

Compared to the writing that's often standard for this genre (The Giant Spider Invasion is a delightfully cheesy example), the script credited to Randy Kornfield, Jesse Alexander and New Zealand-based director Ellory Elkayem is positively Shakespearean. The previous movie featured such witty and original lines as, "You're so dumb you wouldn't know rabbit turds from Rice Krispies."

That still doesn't make the characters and the dialogue for Eight Legged Freaks terribly inspired. Doug E. Doug is somewhat irritating as an alien-obsessed radio announcer, and his repeated references to anal probing are stale and witless.

Much of the charm of the '70s giant animal movies is the fact that they weren't intended to be funny. The entertainment value of flicks like The Giant Spider Invasion and the bizarre overgrown rabbit epic The Night of the Lepus was accidental, so going for laughs might not have been such a smart move.

Arquette's unrequited crush on Wuhrer and some parental anxiety issues involving Wuhrer's kids (Scott Terra and Scarlett Johansson) succeed only in making the wait for the big spiders seem longer. Still, once the computer-generated bugs take over the screen, the fun starts. Thanks to the new technology, we get to see many spiders instead of one big unconvincing puppet. The web spinners are also remarkably diverse. Alert viewers can make out several distinct species and marvel how each has its own plan of attack. It probably doesn't hurt that Dean Devlin, who was behind such CGI extravaganzas as Independence Day and Stargate, was the producer on this one.

The eight-legged freaks also attack people more creatively than expected. One of the most delightfully odd sequences features them hunting down motorcyclists and outrunning them merely by leaping quickly. There's also a funny bit where a spider tries to corner an old man by hiding in a small tent.

Eight Legged Freaks could have been potentially more fun if the human beings had been either better imagined or left out entirely. The latter sounds tempting because no one shells out money for a movie with that title to see dull people when big arthropods are a lot more engaging.

Directed by:
Ellory Elkayem

Starring:
David Arquette
Kari Wuhrer
Scott Terra
Scarlett Johansson
Doug E. Doug

Written by:
Jesse Alexander
Ellory Elkayem

Rating:
PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may be
inappropriate for
children under 13.

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