Director: Ellory Elkayem
USA - 2002
Nothing much happens in the sleepy town of Prosperity. Having blown the entire town budget on a shopping mall that nobody patronizes, the lowlife mayor is looking only to cut his losses by selling the land to developers. The restless denizens of Prosperity waste hours of their lives away listening to the ranting and raving of local radio disc jockey, Harlan (Doug E. Doug), and his endless slew of conspiracy theories involving The Man trying keeping him down and space aliens trying to probe his anus. Law enforcement consists only of Sheriff Sam Parker (Kari Wuhrer!) and the inept Deputy Pete. For the most part, Sheriff Parkers job consists solely of keeping drunks off the streets and young hooligans off their dirtbikes (as well as off her daughter, Ashley). The Sheriff also has a son, Mike, who spends most of his time visiting his buddy Joshua, proprietor of the exotic spider farm located on the edge of town.
Life in Prosperity hasnt always been so bleak. The town once thrived on the prospect of discovering gold in Old Man McCormacks mines; but years of frustration from coming up empty handed have left the tunnels abandoned for many years. When McCormacks prodigal son, Chris (David Arquette), returns in an attempt to save his hometown from being sold, everyone pretty much ignores his assertions that there is, in fact, gold to be found. (Needless to say, after Ready to Rumble, Chris credibility was basically nil.) Prosperity, it appears, is one step away from becoming a ghost town.
So, how does one go about livening up a settlement teetering on the brink of extinction? Why, simply dump a barrel of toxic waste near the riverbed where Joshua collects crickets to feed his exotic spiders, of course! And what happens to the spiders when they gobble-up said radioactive insects? Well, youd probably think theyd die. I mean, that is the logical conclusion. But these are the movies, baby! The spiders grow into super-spiders! And not only do they grow, but they also acquire a taste for that less-popular alternative to the other white meat people! I know what youre thinking: How could a large group of monstrous super-spiders possibly sneak into town to prey upon the hapless country folk? Whats that? Through the abandoned mine shafts?! Whoda thunk?
I realize this sounds like some crap youd find in the back aisle of Ballbuster Video, but you must take into consideration that this is a giant spider movie. Like ninja movies, youre not in it for compelling drama, exotic locales and characters you can relate to (besides, who in their right mind would want to relate to David Arquette?). Youre in it for giant spiders. And if theres one thing Eight-Legged Freaks has (besides Kari Wuhrer), its giant spiders. It also has jumping spiders, big, hairy spiders - and lastly, big, hairy, jumping spiders. Whatever production values were spared by avoiding a star-studded cast, were obviously spent on crazy computer-generated spiders. I am, by no means, a huge fan of excessive CGI; but the spiders are done well. Are they realistic looking (ridiculous size aside)? Im sure some arachnid egghead could whine about something inconsequential like the egg sac of the female tarantula being too far to the left, but I wouldnt know the difference. Personally, I just noticed that theyre ooky. Thats realistic enough for me.
And though the story, admittedly, is nothing to get overly excited about, it serves its purpose sufficiently:
1. Supply a reason why the spiders get so big.
Misplaced barrel of radioactive toxins inadvertently mixed with the spiders food supply. Check.
2. Provide a way for huge spiders to sneak up on (and eat) dumb, small-town folk.
Through abandoned mine shafts. Check.
3. Finally, provide a (lame) love story to add a (slim) sense of humanity so audiences will (should) care whether the people live or die.
Kari Wuhrer and David Arquette. Check.
Wait a minute! David Arquette?! I think we need to take a moment to mull over the cast.
If I were to make a film, and could cast any thespian my cold, black heart desired, I think David Arquette would land approximately two slots below Yahoo Serious. In short, hes never been a personal favorite. Be it bad luck or amazing coincidence, Arquette has been stuck in an apparently never-ending string of roles playing the moronic, yet loveable, doof. In fairness, Ill admit that he has perfected the part. Or perhaps he really is a doof (only Courtney Cox knows for sure). In Freaks, however, Arquette only lets the doof loose occasionally (still too much, but at least tolerable). It occurs mostly toward the end of the film, during scenes of increasing drama which force Arquette to act. The beginning only requires Arquette to be the strong, silent type (with the emphasis on silent).
If you were to look even further down my list of people who are less likely to appear in my film, youd fine the name Doug E. Doug. I believe he would be wedged somewhere between Hell Freezing Over and When Pigs Fly. I realize that Ill probably catch a lot of flack for not being able to appreciate the subtle genius of Doug Dougs acting prowess (especially after his tour-de-force in That Darn Cat!), but thats OK. At OTF, were all about controversy. Anyway, through some act of Divine Intervention, Doug Dougs comic lunacy hardly ever exceeded my pain threshold. The real Art Bell is even more annoying.
Rounding out our principal characters, we have Kari Wuhrer. Ever since her days on Remote Control, I have had the biggest crush on Ms. Wuhrer. To be honest, I think most Hollywood starlets look rather generic; oddly enough, Kari Wuhrer doesnt stray too far from the flock. There is really nothing unique about her aesthetically, and shes not the greatest actress either. She just has some intangible quality I have yet figure out
Where was I? Oh yeah! Wuhrer is fine here. The role of single-mom sheriff of a small town couldve been played by anyone. No need to call in Judy Dench to spout off lines like: Run! and Look out behind you! and Ack! Its a spider!
Come to think of it, if I were in charge of casting (with a limited budget in mind), I probably would have cast Eric Roberts in the role of Chris McCormack. Strong, silent, tough-guy love interest for Kari Wuhrer? Thats what Eric Roberts is all about! I would then move David Arquette into Doug Dougs role of loveable doof radio disc jockey. Doug could, I guess, help out in the catering van.
But the real problem with Freaks isnt in the casting. Its the cookie-cutter ending. The film starts off strong. The introduction of the characters and the spiders was quick and relatively painless. The spider mayhem starts in the first ten minutes (dont keep a genre audience waiting, I say). But toward the end it seems like the creative juice is just about tapped out. Aw nuts, we ran out of cool spider hijinks! Oh, I know! We can crib the chase scene from the original Jurassic Park, then we can
blow something up! Yeah! Well blow something up!
Thats all well and good. Ive been watching cinematic crap for several years and have come to expect creative output to thin at random intervals throughout a film. What I absolutely hated about Eight-Legged Freaks, however, was the final three minutes. These were three minutes of film that shouldve never been spared the editors scalpel. I dont like giving the end away, so Im not going to talk any concrete details. All Ill say is this: Follow your instincts. There is a scene before the aforementioned one that feels like the proper ending to Eight-Legged Freaks. The scene even fades out like the credits are about to roll. Do yourself a favor and stop the movie there. If you suddenly fade-in to a mobile home, youve gone too far. Several lame movies save themselves from complete ridicule by ending strong. A weak (or in this case, stupid) ending leaves the audience with a bad taste in their mouths.
Overall, Eight-Legged Freaks is a fine example of someone doing the best with what they have. Considering simply the plot and cast, one might assume (in relative safety) that Freaks was direct-to-video garbage that will be banished into the bargain basket of your local video store after its fifteen minutes of fame are over. Given my love for films of this ilk, Im happy to report that this isnt just your run-of-the-mill trash. Surprisingly enough, Eight-Legged Freaks is a pretty good little flick. Is it a Big Bug classic? Probably not. But it makes a good rental.
-- Copyright © 2002 by J. Bannerman
This review is a part of the B-Masters Big Bugs Roundtable!