Eight Legged Freaks
By Brian Jacks
The latest project from the boys who brought you Independence Day and Godzilla was Eight Legged Freaks. Principally sliding under the box office’s radar, the film, about a town overrun by giant mutated spiders, was an obvious take on 1950s B-movie camp. Initially advertised as a seemingly over-the-top parody, the film confused audiences who couldn’t decide to what extent the film wished to be taken seriously, and that sentiment is again reawakened with the new DVD release.
Eight Legged Freaks stars former AT&T funnyman David Arquette as Chris McCormack, the rebellious son of rural Prospect, Arizona’s largest employer. When daddy passes on, Chris returns from Los Angeles to renew his relationship with spunky local sheriff Sam Parker (Kari Wuhrer) and to vow never to sell the mine to the corporate moneymen who wish to buy up the entire town. Meanwhile, radioactive waste contaminates a local water source where it is unwittingly fed to dozens of fearsome looking spiders, turning them into increasingly growing mutants who turn first on their owner, and eventually on the town. The first one to realize the unfolding disaster is Parker’s completely nerdy son (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Harry Potter), and, of course, nobody believes him because he’s a kid. The result is an attempt at the last thirty minutes of Gremlins.
Eight Legged Freaks is one giant barrelful of clichés, and therein lies its problem. Since it initially attempts to portray itself as simply a new take on the 1950s monster movies, to what extent should the audience excuse unoriginal storylines and occasionally hackneyed dialogue? The film suffers from an identity crises, wherein it shifts repeatedly between the “we’re just a parody” and “hey, we’re a real movie” trains of thought. ELF is nowhere as elegant as Starship Troopers in its dark humor-linked references of Cold War-era films, and can’t come close to the smart acting and writing of Gremlins. Arquette leaks laziness from every orifice and Wuhrer is as believable as a sheriff as Al Sharpton is as a presidential candidate. The film turns rather boring whenever either one is expected to hold a scene, and even more so when the two are speaking directly to each other. Respectable performances do come from Doug E. Doug as the local “Art Bell” conspiracist radio host and Scarlett Johansson as Parker’s defiant daughter. In the end, the enjoyability factor of Eight Legged Freaks depends exclusively on how much a viewer is willing to extend the “don’t take us serious” leash, and to what extent one is willing to excuse its flaws.
Eight Legged Freaks is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. While a low-budget film, the transfer is clean without noticeable edge enhancement or compression artifacts, although minor print blemishes such as specks are occasionally visible. Obviously, given the nature of the film, significant computer effect shots are used throughout the movie to give life to the spider invasion. For the most part, the creatures look downright realistic and are frequently imposing, and later scenes featuring waves of dozens of the arachnids are quite enjoyable to behold. A climactic indoor battle sequence between the townspeople and the “invaders” is undoubtedly the best part of the film. Unfortunately however, as the director mentions in the commentary, budget restraints kept the use of special effects out of certain scenes which may have benefited from them.
Delivered in a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, the film is rather fun to listen to. Dialogue is anchored to the center channel while the film’s musical soundtrack and ambient sounds utilize the rears. Positional sounds are also used to good effect, with shouting, car noises, and fight sounds filling the room.
Eight Legged Freaks comes with a variety of supplements, headlined by a full-length commentary by director/co-writer Ellory Elkayem, producer Dean Devlin, and actors David Arquette and Rick Overton (who plays a deputy sheriff). Commentaries with this many individuals are usually quite fun to listen to, and such is the case here. While Elkayem attempts, and usually succeeds, to speak on a technical level about the film, jokes are thrown around often, particularly whenever Arquette feels the need to speak up. While not the most talkative individual on the commentary, the actor isn’t as annoying as many paint him to be and most of his jokes are rather funny. As for Elkayem, a native New Zealander new to Hollywood, hearing how he approached the film and the processes behind the making of it are interesting, regardless of whether his final product is imperfect.
Next up are eight deleted and alternate scenes from the film, stitched together as a single vignette. None of the scenes taken out significantly alter any part of the movie, although a couple of them should have arguably been left in. Also included is Elkayem’s short film, “Larger Than Life,” which won him awards from the New Zealand Film Commission and brought him to the attention of Warner studio executives. Shot in black and white, the short features a woman being terrorized in her new home by increasingly growing spiders. At ten or so minutes, it’s rather entertaining and easy to see why people took notice at its release.
Rounding out the extras package are very selected cast and crew bios (only David Arquette is profiled among the cast), spider trivia, and the film’s original theatrical trailer.
The Movie: C+. Eight Legged Freaks is a new take on an old genre, but isn’t clever enough to decide what exactly it wants to be.
The Look: B+. With some memorable special effect sequences and a fine transfer, there’s nothing to complain about.
The Sound: B. While not packing the punch of a Hollywood blockbuster, there are enough action scenes to provide for a nice sound experience.
The Extras: B. The commentary is entertaining and the short film is worth watching, although the lack of a “making of” featurette is surprising.
Overall: B-. Eight Legged Freaks is a mindless romp that may be enjoyable to some audiences.