Eight Legged Freaks

| July 20, 2001

As I stumbled out of Eight Legged Freaks last night, eight dollars poorer and 99 minutes older, I prayed that the brain death that such a film must undoubtedly engender in its viewers would spare me long enough to write this review and e-mail it in. If I could save one person from going to see this movie–just one–then my sacrifice would not have been in vain.
Lets see…toxic waste inflates spiders to the size of Volkswagen Beetles in a small desert town, many townspeople get munched and chomped and slurped, and David Arquette saves the day with methane. That’s right–this film’s deus ex machina is the same stuff that comes from a hind end of a cow. Given the caliber of this movie, its hard to know if that’s a wink to the more discerning members of the audience or pure cosmic justice.
Somebody explain to me why David Arquette keeps getting work. This is a gross oversimplification, but if you’re going to cast a certain performer as a lead in your movie, it seems like you’re going to do it for one of three reasons: A) they’re hot, B) they’re talented, or C) they’ve got positive name recognition. Hmmm…in this case, none of the three choices can adequately explain it (much like his marriage–consensual on the part of the bride, one would suppose–to Courtney Cox). He’s not hot, his twitchy brand of humor is nothing we cant find in frat boys and epileptics, and his name sets most sane peoples cinematic Geiger counters a-clickin’.
The one thing David Arquette can do is be insane, and Eight Legged Freaks, for all its B-movie posturing, secretly hopes too much for mainstream acceptance to go that extra mile and let Arquette make his eyes all googly and run free. The brief part in the trailer where he’s screaming at the spiders and blasting them with a shotgun was the exception, sadly enough, to a mediocre rule.
That timidity was reflected time and time again in the bland plot choices. For example, the spiders reach their gargantuan size because a trucker swerves to avoid a rabbit, thus unknowingly pitching a barrel of toxic waste from his truck and into an adjacent pond. This is not to slander truck drivers, but how many truckers–their rig packed to the gills with barrels of toxic waste–would swerve wildly out of the way to avoid hitting a rabbit in the middle of the highway? A deer or cow, okay…but a rabbit? If that was meant to be a spoof of the unlikely origins of the beasties in legit giant (fill-in-the-blank) movies, it fell flat: too odd to be played straight, and not outlandish enough to seem credible satire.
Here’s another example. Early on in the film, the female protagonist sheriff (whose character’s name I’m not going to bother looking up, having already burned 99 minutes of my life on this clunker, but who was played by hot mama Kari Wuhrer) scoops her son off the highway on his way to the exotic spider farm, and nabs her daughter from sullen bad-boy bikers about a minute later. At that point, I was hoping shed gather together another ten or twelve children, of diverse ethnicities and ages, and take them all home. Again, a moment when this self-professed parody could have lived up to its yearnings, had it the chutzpah to do so. Instead, were shackled with an improbable moment and two more characters we don’t really care about. Would it shock anybody to hear that the sheriff’s young son is a science nerd and her teenage daughter is sullen and heedless? Stock stereotypical characters? You betcha.
The simplicity of the plot reminded me of watching older cartoons, where the viewer could guess the items with which the characters would interact solely by the vivaciousness of their color, while everything else was four shades drabber.
Eight Legged Freaks: Here is a stun-gun, children. Everybody look at the stun-gun. It Will Be Important.
Unfortunate Audience Members: Okay.
Eight Legged Freaks: Here is a character purchasing enough cigarettes to finance fifty prison rec-yard shankings. Listen to her smokers cough. It Will Be Important.
Unfortunate Audience Members: Okay.
Audience Member Who Only Came Because The Road to Perdition Was Sold Out When They Got To The Theater: Will there be any items or character idiosyncrasies that wont be of life-or-death importance?
Eight Legged Freaks: Um…no.
People die by the score, but since you don’t know who they are, you dont much care. There’s no emotional investment, and the methods by which the spiders attack are few enough that the mere shock factor of the killings looses its appeal quickly. Watching giant spiders wipe out a bunch of teens on dirt bikes is cool, but not that cool.
Eight Legged Freaks had some funny moments, but far too few of them to hope for redemption. Most of the laughs came from the antics of Doug E. Doug, who played a conspiracy theorist-cum-radio DJ who harbors an all-pervading fear of alien anal probes. He is also, from the looks of it, the only African-American in the town. Under the circumstances, Id be a bit paranoid, too. Im thankful, though, that his character was spared from having to deliver the seemingly obligatory, Oh, man, the monsters always get the black folks first! speech. Ever since it came up in one of the Scream films, its been popping up like toadstools.
The one time Eight Legged Freaks tries to go out on a spoof limb, it doesn’t pan out. For whatever reason, while I was able to set aside the exoskeleton limitations that would crush any spider that size under its own weight, I drew the line at the cutesy sounds the spiders would make apropos to their situation (a la Gremlins). I can handle a spider grabbing onto the back fender of a car and getting itself dragged along the street at moderate speeds, but having that spider go Ow ow ow ow ow ow! is more than I can take (and having seen Reign of Fire recently, it can be said that I can take–or subject myself to, rather–a lot). That sort of foley hi-jinks worked in Gremlins because they were humanoid enough to anthropomorphize. I didn’t buy it coming from a thorax.
The only people who will derive any satisfaction out of Eight Legged Freaks are Renfield and Courtney Cox–and one of them’s not even real.

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