Eight Legged Freaks
November 17, 2003
Small Arizona town invaded by monsters, with a bunch of unwitting heroes sent in to save the day. Cue outrageous deaths of cute animals and dimwitted humans. No, this isn’t Tremors, but a similarly themed tongue-in-cheek B movie this time concerning giant spiders created by toxic waste (what else?). It’s not high art, but as that famous ad says: ‘It does what it says on the tin’.
Originally titled Arac Attack, but changed due to political tension and possible misinterpretation, Eight Legged Freaks never tries to be anything but fun, with prodigal son David Arquette returning to his home town to find the mayor about to sell off the land for development. Absurdly sexy sheriff Kari Wuhrer is having a hard time being a single mum looking after a rebellious daughter (Johansson, watch out for her in future) and a science-obsessed son who likes to visit his friend who keeps spiders. The opening credits have hardly finished before said spiders begin to grow and escape.
Whereas previous spidey horror Arachnophobia went for balls out scares, Eight Legged Freaks is basically a love letter to those old black and white B movies we all stayed up late to watch as a kid. They seemed scary then, but now feel absurd and funny with rubber monsters grabbing slow moving damsels in distress. Freaks doesn’t use rubber, but almost entirely computer generated spiders, again allowing ‘the monster looks fake’ comments to be positively encouraged. Sometimes the film’s tongue is so far in its cheek, you worry it might break the skin.
As for the cast, resident Jerry Lewis clone David Arquette plays it straight for once, and nobody was as surprised as me that Kari Wuhrer kept her clothes on (what up with dat?) but Johansson is someone to look out for in the future, having already made cult slacker hit Ghostworld and the Coen brother’s The Man Who Wasn’t There. Hell, even the little boy who discovers the threat to the town is quite good (Macaulay who?). But the script is the big let down, missing either genuine comedy or horror.
Some early character development is put on the back-burner when the CGI spiders arrive. A scene involving dirt bikes and jumping spiders is a stand out though, with a bunch of teens trying to outrun a swarm of nasties and getting picked off one by one. Then the film loses its focus and descends into ‘let’s run away’ and ‘let’s shoot some more spiders’ repetitiveness that, for all the technical marvels, renders the overall experience rather disappointing. I was surprised we even got to see an epilogue with the human characters, having thought the FX guys had taken top billing. If the early character interaction had been beefed up in the final third, Freaks could easily have had the same cult following as Tremors.
Sadly, it’s neither as funny or as scary as that film. CGI just ain’t scary.
The comedy would admittedly play better in a packed cinema rather than watching it on your TV at home. There’s enough gunplay and amusing moments to keep the average viewer satisfied (spider attacks girl fresh from genre-required shower, jumping spiders get squished by tanker truck, little boy is actually taken seriously for once) but once you’ve seen it, you don’t look back. Watching this film is like sitting through an hour and a half of some wizkid’s FX workshop and it doesn’t stand up to repeat viewings. That said, you could do worse for a friday night rental and it is harmless fun.
Not a bad selection, with an early trailer including unfinished spider FX, the director’s short film that inspired Eight Legged Freaks, Larger Than Life, and some deleted scenes that veer from boring to nicely played character moments that were cut purely for time. (The kid calling Arquette a Backstreet Boy is the best line in the film, and it got cut out? Doh!). Best of all is the amusing commentary track with stars Arquette and Rick Overton, and producer Dean Devlin and director Ellory Elkayem who gladly take the piss out of their flick and each other (a huge tarantula stomps past a car. Arquette’s quip, ‘Are you saying that wasn’t real?’ is met with a deadpan, ‘No, David.’)