Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on The New Portable.
I don’t like spiders. I mean, I understand that spiders are useful and eat a lot of annoying insects. I get that they’re far more helpful than harmful, but they genuinely freak me out. I try my best not to kill them, but move them outside when I find them. Still, I find them…unpleasant. It’s made some parts of some movies difficult. The Aragog portions of the Harry Potter films, Shelob in The Lord of the Rings. Arachnophobia was difficult despite it being a comedy. And now I can say the same thing about Eight Legged Freaks.
Before I launch into my typical look at the narrative, there are a couple of things I need to bring up regarding this film. The first is that I’m not a huge fan of David Arquette, who is going to be the closest thing we have to a heroic main character. I’m not sure what it is; there’s something about his face that makes me want to punch it. Second is that his romantic interest/the female lead is played by Kari Wuhrer, a name that I knew I recognized when I saw it. It turns out that Kari Wuhrer, among other things, played Tanya, the bad-ass secret agent in Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2. As it happens, I wrote the official hint book for that game, and it’s one of the best games I ever got the chance to work on. In that sense, her presence balances out Arquette’s.
So, in a podunk town in the middle of the desert, a local (an uncredited Tom Noonan) runs an exotic spider sanctuary/farm. One of his frequent visitors is Mike Parker (Scott Terra), young son of the local sheriff, Samantha Parker (Wuhrer). What they don’t know is that the mayor (Leon Rippy), determined to get rich any way possible, has started leasing out space in the local abandoned mine for the storing of toxic waste. Naturally, some of that waste is now seeping into the ground water, and the insects our spider wrangler is feeding to his arachnids are imbued with the stuff. Now the spiders are growing larger and more deadly, and due to the sort of freak accident that always starts a movie like this, the spiders get out, kill their owner, and start breeding and growing.
Meanwhile, our mayor, Wade, is considering proposals to sell off the mine and give enough to everyone to essentially relocate the town. Of course, the son of the mine’s deceased owner (Arquette) has shown up to protest the sale. Our hero, Chris McCormick, immediately starts to romance the sheriff and starts up an acquaintance with Mike. As it happens, the sheriff’s daughter (Scarlett Johansson!) isn’t much of a fan. Rounding out the cast is the traditional goofy deputy (Rick Overton) and the local radio operator/UFO crank Harlan (Doug E. Doug).
Of course what happens is that the spiders, linked to the entire town by the mine tunnels, start invading the town and snatching up pets and people. No one believes Mike, who manages to convince Chris, who then manages to convince Sheriff Sam and her daughter. Of course, it helps when the family home is attacked by giant spiders. Eventually, as many people as possible congregate at the local mall to see if they can get a signal out to the rest of the world and defend themselves against the onrushing horde of gigantic spiders.
So, Eight Legged Freaks is never going to win a lot of awards, but it’s not trying to. What it is trying to do offer up a sort of cinematic funhouse experience with squishy critters that have an ick factor. It wants to be Arachnophobia or Tremors, and for the most part, it succeeds. This isn’t highbrow entertainment. We’re supposed to laugh when ostriches (one of Wade’s get-rich-quick schemes) are yoinked underground by trapdoor spiders. We’re supposed to be entertained when people run screaming from spiders that leap and engulf them. And, again, for the most part, we do.
I enjoyed Eight Legged Freaks for exactly the reason I was meant to. It’s funny, and while it’s not scary, it’s nasty and disgusting in an entertaining way. I won’t seek out watching it again any time soon, but I enjoyed myself immensely watching it.
Why to watch Eight Legged Freaks: It’s fun in that squeamish, squishy way.
Why not to watch: David Arquette as the hero? Really?