Monday, 27 December 2010

Movie Review: Eight Legged Freaks (2002)


The premise of Eight Legged Freaks is way behind the starting line: escaped spiders get mixed-up with toxic waste and grow to a gigantic size, attacking and devouring the inhabitants of a small town.  The challenge for director Ellory Elkayem, working with co-scriptwriter Jesse Alexander, is to take this tired horror film concept and deliver something fresh, and they almost pull it off.

With a streak of sometimes vicious humour, Eight Legged Freaks never takes itself seriously.  The battle between the massive spiders and the humans plays out almost as a comedy; this helps the entertainment quotient, but also undermines, almost totally, the supposed horror aspects of the film.

Eight Legged Freaks also benefits from some surprisingly good computer-generated images as the gigantic spiders wage war on the town, and a cast that includes video-game favourite Kari Wuhrer and a young Scarlett Johansson, just before her breakthrough.

The strange old man who lives at the edge of the mining town of Prosperity, Arizona, keeps hundreds of dangerous spiders as pets.  Nearby, the river is contaminated with toxic waste, as the town's corrupt Mayor is running a scheme of storing toxic barrels deep in the under-performing mine.  Soon enough, the spiders escape and thanks to the cocktail of toxins, grow to a massive size.  The spiders are of course very hungry, and soon the pets, then the livestock, and finally the humans of Prosperity become their meals of choice.

Leading the battle for Prosperity's survival is Sheriff Sam Parker (Wuhrer), her rebellious daughter Ashley (Johansson) and younger son Mike (Scott Terra), who, of course, is an expert on all things spider-related.  Also in the fight are Chris McCormick (David Arquette), who is the long-lost son of the mine's owner.  Chris is interested in keeping the mine operational, and even more interested in romancing Sam.  An assortment of townfolk, including the hapless deputy sheriff, Ashley's boyfriend Brett, and the local radio DJ and conspiracy theorist, add colour and depth, and provide opportunities for endless horror movie cliches to be trotted out, always with a knowing wink.

The horror-in-a-doomed-mine premise of Eight Legged Freaks is almost identical to My Bloody Valentine.  Small towns built around mines now have to guard against both maniac killers swinging large pick-axes and hordes of toxin-charged Buick-sized man-eating spiders, in addition to mining accidents and the economic viability of their mines.  It's almost enough of an argument to ditch all that small-town charm for the safety of those nasty, big cities.





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