Sometimes horror films can be a downer. In preparing for this month of reviews, I watch a lot of horror. For every film that makes it to the Horrorshow, I probably watch two others that didn’t interest me enough to write about. That means I spend a lot of evenings listening to young women scream in terror, watching grievous bodily injury, and living in a state of general anxiety brought about by all that scary stuff on the screen. Sleep is no respite, as we tend to dream about things that are on our minds. It’s not uncommon for me to watch yet another gory horror film followed up by a night of dreaming about the zombie apocalypse or a demonic presence in my home. Good grief.
So it’s nice to be able to take a step back from the serious stuff and watch a silly monster flick. There isn’t a whole lot that’s frightening about Eight Legged Freaks, the 2002 giant spider movie from writer/director Ellory Elkayem. But there are a whole lot of giant spiders! At first glance, I suppose a reader might be left to wonder how a film crawling with hundreds of giant spiders could be relaxing in comparison to films with slashers and vampires, but trust me. The big baddies in this one are as cartoonish as the human characters, and despite the subject matter, it’s all in fun.
The town of Prosperity, Arizona, has hit a rough patch. The local gold mine, the largest employer in the town, is going bust, and every scheme the erstwhile mayor, Wade (Leon Rippy), comes up with to boost the local economy hasn’t worked. Except one. Unbeknownst to the residents of Prosperity, Wade has contracted with a company to dispose of toxic waste in the abandoned parts of the mine. This leads to trouble when a barrel of the bad stuff ends up in a pond next to a spider farm, and the arachnids get a taste of bugs from the contaminated pond.
Meanwhile, Chris McCormick (David Arquette), the town’s prodigal son, returns home after ten years, just in time to play the hero. This trope, that of the shunned rebel coming back home just as things turn to shit, has been used so many times that I’m almost as sick of it as I am of found footage, but in this flick, it hardly matters. We’ve seen characters like Chris a million times. He always left because he’s in love with a girl who married the wrong guy. She ends up making a life for herself in town, more than likely raising kids on her own, and the rugged drifter’s reappearance does wonders at turning her life upside down. In this movie, Chris’s unrequited love was directed at the town sheriff, Sam Parker (Kari Wührer). That’s just about all anyone needs to know about the movie’s character development.
Chris and Sam get thrust together in the face of danger as the spiders (remember them?) have grown to colossal size and attack the town. The spiders are rendered in vintage turn of the century CGI, and it shows. But I am impressed with how many of them the effects team put on the screen. They must have had quite a challenge rendering that many separate objects onscreen, so their unrealistic aspects can probably be forgiven. That and the filmmakers wanted to keep things light.
What follows in Eight Legged Freaks is pretty standard fare for a PG-13 monster flick. There are victims of the spider invasion, but there isn’t a whole lot of blood. There are characters whose purpose is fodder, and a couple whose purpose is comic relief. There’s green goo and screechy sound effects, shotgun splatter and spider webs, and a happy ending. I can’t tell you how much I needed to see a horror flick that was lighthearted and fun. Eight Legged Freaks is a nice distraction for horror fans who have seen a little too much blood of late.