Eight Legged Freaks (review)

Itsy-Bitsy Ginormous Spiders

There’s an old Bert I. Gordon flick of dubious artistic and considerable entertainment value called Earth vs. The Spider. Its entertainment value comes mainly in its awfulness, though now there’s a new reason it must be seen: It was clearly the inspiration for Eight Legged Freaks. Someone’s been staying up late watching Mystery Science Theater 3000.

The dusty Western town. The mysterious deaths. The creepy caves filled with unbreatheable air. The horny teenagers. The know-it-all science geek. The goofball sheriff’s deputy. The phone lines that go down. And the giant spider responsible for it all. Well, except for the teenagers, who are horny on their own. Oh, and, um, the geek and the goofball. They’ve got no one to blame, either.
Anyway, they’re all here in Freaks, just as they were in Spider, all the cornball small-town characters, all the enormous hairy spider legs, all the screaming and running in circles before suffering a horrible death. Things are a lot more realistically, well, spidery in Freaks, of course — whereas Gordon, with his $3 budget, merely plopped a tarantula on a postcard of cave stalactites, those Independence Day guys behind Freaks had a bit more money to work with. There are lots and lots of spiders this time out, and CGI is a tad more effective than process FX. I itched for hours afterward. I’m itchy now.

Since Gordon was working in the irony-free 1950s, Joel and the bots had to supply that necessary ingredient on MST3K. Intentional cheese is built right into Freaks, as required by GenX moviemaking code, which kinda takes some of the fun out of things. Freaks is popcorny-good, but with a lot of unpopped kernels and unfortunate gobs of Golden Topping(TM) lurking at the bottom. It’s not nearly as clever as it thinks it is. Like with the dorky little kid who invariably Knows What’s Going On and will be ignored. Sure, he gets to complain that no one will listen to him because no one ever listens to the dorky kid who Knows What’s Going On, but we already expected him to say it, so it’s not a particular revelation.

Also, David Arquette (3000 Miles to Graceland) is in this, which is always unfortunate. The spiders have more charisma than he does, and are better actors, too.

Then again, the sheriff this time out is a girl (Kari Wuhrer) who can handle a shotgun and is a lot tougher than Arquette’s woosy doofus. Because of this, she has a boy’s name: Sam.

But then there’s Doug E. Doug, who plays a pirate-radio conspiracy nut who thinks the spiders are from Mars or another dimension or something. Insert anal-probing joke here.

Then again again, a shopping mall blows up here, which may be a sneaky message, like “Shopping malls need to be blown up.” It’s not quite as Important as “Communism causes giant insects to run amuck,” as was probably the point of at least one of those giant-insect movies of the 50s, but we have to take our messages where we find them.

So on the whole, Eight Legged Freaks is better than last year’s Evolution. The two are practically the same movie, down to the abandoned Arizona mines, the cute pets serving as snacks for the monsters, the anal probing, and the star named David. If only it was Duchovny in this one, I’d have liked it even more.

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