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Eight Legged Freaks
cast: David Arquette, Kari Wuhrur, Scott Terra, Doug E. Doug, and Scarlett Johansson

director: Ellory Elkayem

95 minutes (12) 2002
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Warner DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Steven Hampton
With a plot as flimsy as last year's cobwebs, Eight Legged Freaks apparently expects its audience to happily forgive any number of colourless stereotypes, giant spider menace clichés and unadventurous comicstrip situations with unashamedly predictable outcomes, just as long as enough generic jokes (scripted or visual) crawl out of the woodwork, and there are 200 digital effects shots in 90 minutes, providing 'adequate' recompense for extortionate rental or retail prices.
   Illegal toxic waste dumping in the disused gold mine of ironically named dying town, Prosperity, Arizona causes the exotic spiders collection of a (doomed) local arachnid expert (an uncredited cameo by Tom Noonan) to attack their owner and escape captivity. Growing to various gigantic sizes, comparable to kitchen tables and dumper trucks, the assorted jumping, trapdoor, orb weaver, and (of course!) big hairy tarantula spiders emerge from their desert hideaway to attack young bikers and highway traffic, before descending on the small town's streets shortly after nightfall...
   Prodigal son Chris (David Arquette, of Wes Craven's Scream trilogy) returns to his home town to sort out his late father's business affairs and hopefully court divorced sheriff Sam Parker (Kari Wuhrur, the action girl co-star in later seasons of TV's Sliders). There's a precocious schoolboy (Scott Terra), an entrepreneurial mayor (Leon Rippy) whose failed shopping mall scheme allows for references in later scenes to Dawn Of The Dead (1979), and miscellaneous supposedly quirky locals, making unmemorable victims. Rick Overton is on hand as the dim-witted deputy, though he plays a less showy comic relief character than Doug E. Doug's hyperbolic and paranoid Harlan, the crazy but harmless pirate-radio DJ.
   For the most part, the big bugs are impressively rendered, though rarely scary (there's no blood split here, only gooey spider innards), and they are insufficient to ensure the film's success as soft horror, or slapstick comedy despite the use of silly cartoon sound effects designed to impart personality to the movie monsters. The singular non-Disneyesque affect is the predatory spiders' attacks on animals. Not only are the meaty birds of the Mayor's ostrich farm obvious targets, but also there are cruel fates awaiting a curious cat and one old lady's 'cute' little pet dog!
   Trying to emulate the subgenre appeal and formulaic traits of spirited homage pictures such as Ron Underwood's engaging Tremors (1990) or Frank Marshall's enjoyably creepy Arachnophobia (1990) with even greater wit, is an agreeable, if not exactly desirable, aim for any fledgling director. But this manipulative, wholly cynical, high concept, lowbrow exercise only steals from the thematic inventories of its infinitely smarter, cooler and subtler predecessors without adding any new ideas to the catalogue of genre tropes. Compared to the genuinely eerie desert backdrop and compelling narrative subtext of Jack Arnold's acknowledged classic, Tarantula (1955), this is really nothing more than an unsophisticated, if computer-generated, remake of campy schlock like Giant Spider Invasion (1975).
   In short, Eight Legged Freaks is fun as a timewaster, but hardly a significant contribution to fantasy cinema. The DVD has Dolby digital 5.1 sound (in English, French, Italian), with seven language subtitle options, plus commentary track from the director Elkayem, producer Dean Devlin (Independence Day, Godzilla), David Arquette, and Rick Overton. A bunch of deleted scenes (13 minutes) comprise mostly characterisation, suspense, and a different ending, without any comedy or visual effects - despite packaging claim: "spine-tingling additional scenes of spiders in action." Easily the best extra on this disc is the director's short b&w film, Larger Than Life (1997). Produced in New Zealand, this 13-minute quickie about oversized black widows is actually a more sincere tribute to 1950s' B-movies than the feature-length work it inspired.

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