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EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  David Arquette, Kari Wuhrer, Scott Terra, Doug E. Doug, Scarlett Johansson
Director:  Ellory Elkayem
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  See Review
Length:  99 Minutes
Release Date:  October 29, 2002

“It’s an arach-attack!”

Film ***

There’s just something appealing about a B movie with an A movie budget when it’s done right and in the true spirit of cult films.  Eight Legged Freaks is a creepy, crawly testament to how good such a film can be, with as many shrieks coming from fright as coming from laughter.

I don’t like spiders.  I know every reason there is to appreciate them, but I don’t.  They creep me out.  Which is why, I guess, I like movies about them.  Some people ride roller coasters to indulge their fears for fun, I watch movies about giant mutated arachnids.

Co-writer and director Ellory Elkayem knows his cheesy sci-fi inside and out.  He uses the clichés, but not to repeat them…to kid them.  I was already chuckling when the barrel of toxic waste falls out of the truck and into the lake.  What a tried and true stand-by!

When crickets from the newly toxic lake are fed to spiders by the town of Prosperity’s resident bug man (okay, spiders aren’t bugs, but I don’t want to call him Spider-Man; there’d probably be a lawsuit), they get real big, real fast.  Soon they’re on the loose, and the small town is about to get a whole new concept of a World Wide Web.

The town’s first hope is the young boy who figures it all out, but as he deduces, “I’m the kid.  No one ever believes the kid.”  The next hope is his mother, who happens to be the town sheriff (Wuhrer) and her one time boyfriend just recently returned to town, Chris (Arquette).  With the help of a local conspiracy theorist disc jockey (Doug), they rally the townfolk together against their new menace.  It’s gonna be a squish-fest.

This is a fun movie filled with just the right mix of squirm factor and humor.  The special effects are out of this world, too, which adds great dimension to both.  The cast is mostly there to be spider prey, but they mix joyfully into the mayhem.  But I think the real star is Elkayem…I can’t wait to see what he has up his sleeve next.  If anyone could revive the William Castle stylings for the new millennium, he has the best chance!

Eight Legged Freaks aims low but shoots high.  It’s bad 50s sci-fi with a double-naught mentality.  It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and neither will the audience, but that won’t stop them from being creeped out by it.  Pleasant dreams.

Video ***1/2

This is a solid anamorphic offering from Warner (and as effective as the scope photography is with these mutant spiders, avoid the pan & scan version at all costs).  Images are sharp and clear throughout, with only a few dark scenes looking a little pastier than the others.  Coloring is good and the blend between real photography and CGI is quite seamless.  High marks.

Audio ****

Yeek!  You’ll hear those damned arachnids in every corner of your house with this 5.1 mix.  Dynamic, powerful, and effectively creepy, you’ll be in the action a little too much for comfort!

Features ***

My favorite extra on this DVD has to be the inclusion of Ellory Elkayem’s short film Larger Than Life, a 13 minute low budget black and white offering that proved his talent for creepiness and giant spiders, and actually helped land him the job to direct this major feature! 

There is also a commentary track with Elkayem, producer Dean Devlin and co-stars David Arquette and Rick Overton, plus a pictorial essay on the history of big bugs in B films, a very funny trailer, talent files, PC ROM extras, and some Easter eggs (hint:  kill the spiders!).  The menu screens are also quite cool.

Summary:

Eight Legged Freaks is a fun throwback to the era of classic and cheesy science fiction, with great special effects and an appealing self-depreciating humor.  Just don’t be surprised if your eyes are darting around the room afterwards, looking for any sign of the little buggers…