Published Dec 01, 2002Hollywood just doesn't make movies like this anymore (and remember, straight-to-video doesn't count). Or, more to the point, Hollywood hasn't made a movie such as this since "Tremors" took the giant-mutant-whatever formula, cast the epicentre of the "six degrees of" phenomenon, Kevin Bacon, and made one of the best "real" movies to ever aspire no higher than B-movie schlock. David Arquette is no Kevin Bacon (who is?), but Arquette does possess a goofy charm that even all his bad movies, and there have been many, haven't been able to fully extinguish, yet. And depending on how giant mutant spiders running around a small town happily killing and eating, well, drinking actually, everyone in sight sounds to you, "Eight Legged Freaks" may be a godsend or an abomination, but it is entertaining either way.
The reason "Eight Legged Freaks" works, and it does work rather well, is that it possesses no illusions and makes no pretence to being anything other than what it is: a glorious homage to the lost black and white B-movie error of giant things, mainly bugs, terrorising humanity. While not as good as "Tremors," or "Gremlins," two movies "Eight Legged Freaks" draws heavily from, it is humorous and self-aware of what has proceeded and inspired it (for instance, the kid who discovers the spiders knows no one will believe him and says as much, but people still don't know not to go into the basement if they hear a strange noise), and if it's not sardonic with its wit, it is definitely sarcastic.
In a small desert mining town, toxic waste (yup, some plot devices are so good that they deserve to be resurrected conceptually from the '80s) accidentally contaminates a river where a crazy old spider expert just happens to catch his crickets from and feed to his pets. Inexplicitly, and much like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the spiders start to grow at an alarming rate and it doesn't take long for the spiders to grow to monstrous proportions and start making the unsuspecting town their bitch.
Arquette essentially plays Kevin Bacon's role from "Tremors," but he's good enough as the returning prodigal son bent on saving the mining business, turned spider killer. Although when he starts yelling, "get back, you eight legged freaks!," you can't help but know deep down that Bruce Campbell ("Evil Dead") was his muse for this role. Kari Wuhrer (as the town's sexy sheriff, and love interest) is also good, along with Doug E. Doug as the raving conspiracy theory nut, although all are one-dimensional characters. Still, it's a movie about giant spiders, and for the most part, they look pretty good either leaping, killing or getting squished, which are their main functions, and especially engaging (and kind of cute) is a tarantula the size of a tank. It's funnier than it should be, what with its numerous one-liners and riffs on Spider-man, and the score is great, especially playing "Itsy Bitsy Spider" in a lower, more ominous register whenever the huge tarantula is about. And while its ending (and plot, actually) is anything but shocking, its insane body count, humour and ceaseless referencing makes it a good summer movie for those pining for simpler and schlockier times.