Thursday, October 11, 2018

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Eight-Legged Freaks (2002)

Back when I was in high school, I watched a lot of monster movies. I don't recall ever seeing Eight-Legged Freaks, at least in its entirety, but when the film podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood hosted a whole month dedicated to monster movies, I eagerly volunteered to participate in all of them.

So here's the podcast featuring Yours Truly. And now for the review...

The Plot

A toxic waste barrel falls off the back of a truck into a river and soon the spiders in the dying town of Prosperity, Arizona start growing "as big as SUVs." Yes, that's the specific ad copy. It's up to mining engineer Chris McCormick (David Arquette) and Sheriff Samantha Parker (Kari Wuhrer) to lead the townspeople in the fight to save their community. Along for the ride are Parker's daughter Ashley (a very young Scarlett Johanson) and nerdy son Michael (Scott Terra) as well as a bunch of quirky small-town characters.

The Good

*Some of the Parker family banter was amusing--Ashley vs. Michael, Ashley vs. her mother, etc. It seemed like how actual families would argue, either good-naturedly or, in some of the dialogue between Ashley and Samantha, not-so-good-naturedly.

*I liked some of the small-town goofy characters like Harlan (Doug E. Doug), who's basically a black Art Bell, the corrupt get-rich-quick-scheming mayor Wade (Leon Rippy), the overly-eager barber, and the female sheriff who uses her position to keep her teen daughter out of trouble. The acting is generally decent too--you can tell that Scarlett Johansson is destined for bigger and better things, Arquette is endearingly awkward and Adorkable rather than cringe-worthy when the lady sheriff is concerned, and although Wuhrer is generally known for TV and much more lowbrow fare, I didn't think she did a bad job either.

*There are also some amusing comedic bits here and there.

*Although one rarely watches B-grade monster movies for the science, I liked how they worked in how pollution travels up the food chain. It's not direct exposure to the toxic waste that causes the spiders to become giant monsters, but their eating bugs exposed to the toxic waste. Think how DDT got into animals birds ate and poisoned their eggs. That's a lot more likely to cause mutations and issues that exposing the animals in question to the toxic substance directly.

(Note to self: Pitch a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot where the turtles aren't directly mutated by the ooze, but hatch from eggs laid by a mother turtle that had been eating ooze-affected bugs and what-not.)

*There's a fight involving a cat and a mutant spider that's mildly amusing.

*At one point the soundtrack includes "The Itsy-Bitsy Spider" done in the style of "The Imperial March." That was pretty amusing.

 The Bad

*The movie gets off to a slow start. Things don't start getting interesting until the first mutant spiders show up. It's generally not that exciting of a film, despite a few good bits.

*The CGI has not aged well, and there was better CGI in much older movies. Seriously, the original Men in Black was in 1997, as was Independence Day. Yes, I know this is supposed to be goofy rather than a serious scary movie (and they probably weren't exactly swimming in cash), but the script and acting fulfill that function nicely--there was no need to go cheap on the effects. Gremlins, which this film resembles in some ways, had better effects back in the 1980s with all puppets. Seriously, given how quality puppets (think the original Pumpkinhead) are probably expensive, just have one or two types of spiders instead of so many different kinds and make only a few puppets rather than polluting what could have been a campy send-off of Them! with lots and lots of annoyingly crappy CGI.

*There's a joke I'm not going to go into detail for reasons of spoilers involving Sheriff Parker's efforts to keep Ashley out of trouble that, the more you think about it, makes her back-story a hell of a lot darker and less funny. Even if the joke itself and its successor jokes are pretty funny at first.

*Too many fade outs.

The Verdict

Better than a Sci-Fi Channel (or SyFy as they like to call it these days) original movie, but that's not saying much. A higher budget and better acting doesn't make it that much of a better movie. The thing that came to mind was Gremlins with worse special effects and a more mediocre cast, despite being made a full generation later. 6.0 out of 10.

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