A truck carrying radioactive waste, a sleepy driver, a rabbit in the middle of the road and a subsequent crash near a dilapidated roadside attraction called Taft's Exotic Spider Farm are all it takes to make the opening scene of "Eight Legged Freaks" feel packed with comedy-horror promise.
For the most part, this tongue-in-cheek homage to 1950s monster-bug movies lives up to that promise, bringing hordes of giant mutant spiders to the screen to prey on B-list stars like David Arquette ("Scream," etc.) Kari Wuhrer ("Anaconda"), Scarlett Johansson ("Ghost World") and Doug E. Doug ("Operation Dumbo Drop") -- all of whom happily exhibit their best B-movie bombast.
Long on cheese, refreshingly short on gore (spiders don't bleed, they ooze green goop), "Freaks" maintains a balance between creepy scares that startle, silly scares that get a laugh and moments that make you go, "Ewww!" The movie never aspires to anything more than eventually getting the entire (surviving) population of a Southwestern small town into their run-down shopping mall, where they try to beat down enormous arachnids with sporting goods and mannequins.
But director Ellory Elkakyem has a good time getting them there. The first person to see the giant spiders is, of course, a kid nobody believes -- a fact the kid (Scott Terra) realizes all too well before he even tells anyone. The next victims of an "arac attack" are teenagers racing their dirt bikes in the desert, leading to a the movie's funniest scene in which motorcycles come flying over the tops of hills, followed immediately by giant jumping spiders who land on the bikers' back -- chomp chomp!
A maze of abandoned mines that runs underneath the town come into play (they're teeming with methane gas it seems) as Arquette (back in town after 10 years) and Wuhrer (the county's foxy, feisty sheriff) lead the townsfolk to victory while rekindling a high school romance at the most inopportune moments.
"So what happened with you and Brian anyway?" Arquette asks while they're trying to outrun a two-story female orb-weaver, the kind of spider that cocoons its prey to eat it alive.
Elkakyem knows good sight gags (an old man being stalked through a sporting goods store by a spider hiding under a tent) and sound gags too (the spiders make little "Woo-hoo!" and "Yeee!" noises when they attack and when they die). But he also knows enough to temper the flow of camp value with good special effects that make the spiders look real enough to make your skin crawl, which shows he also respects those old movies like 1954's "Them!" (the giant ant flick that spawned a genre) which managed to be so creepy even though they were so corny.
"Eight Legged Freaks" isn't memorable, or well-acted. It's not a great monster movie. But if you've paid a matinee price and bought a big tub of popcorn, there's guilty fun to be had here. Chomp chomp!
Run time: 99 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 17th July 2002
Box Office USA: $17.2M
Distributed by: Warner Bros.
Production compaines: Warner Brothers, Village Roadshow Pictures, NPV Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 48%
Fresh: 69 Rotten: 74
IMDB: 5.4 / 10
Director: Ellory Elkayem
Starring: David Arquette as Chris McCormick, Kari Wührer as Sheriff Samantha Parker, Scott Terra as Mike Parker, Scarlett Johansson as Ashley Parker, Doug E. Doug as Harlan Griffith, Rick Overton as Deputy Pete Willis, Leon Rippy as Wade, Matt Czuchry as Bret, Eileen Ryan as Gladys, Riley Smith as Randy, Jane Edith Wilson as Emma, Jack Moore as Amos, Roy Gaintner as Floyd
One of the strongest action thrillers in recent years, this gripping movie cleverly casts actors...
Meryl Streep is having so much fun playing an ageing rocker that the audience only...
Like James Bond, wilfully anonymous driver Frank Martin is reborn as a new actor without...
Like an antidote to vacuous blockbusters, this intelligent, thoughtful drama packs more intensity into a...
This biopic gallops through the career of groundbreaking gangsta rappers N.W.A, working its way through...
Basically the perfect summer movie, this lightweight drama has a great-looking cast and plenty of...
As the ghoul from the 2012 horror hit stalks a new family, this sequel's sharply...
After setting the scene with vivid characters and some insightful interaction, the plot of this...