BY JEFF DICKERSON
Daily Arts Editor
Published July 21, 2002

In the 1950’s, monster movies were as prevalent as teen comedies are today, from the Hammer Horror films with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee to the Universal Studios creature series. With the recent “Reign of Fire” and now the Roland Emmerich/Dean Devlin produced “Eight Legged Freaks,” the once mighty genre has experienced a long overdue resurgence.
With the title “Eight Legged Freaks,” you know exactly what kind of movie you’re stepping into. The creative team behind the movie is unashamed to exploit its B-movie persona, from the corny poster to the monster-truck-rally style television ad campaign. Originally titled “Arac Attack,” after the events of Sept. 11 the name was deemed inappropriate and changed.
Chris McCormack (David Arquette, “Muppets From Space”) returns to his hometown of Prosperity, Ariz to find his small villa on the verge of bankruptcy. His lost love Sheriff Sam Parker (Kari Wuher, “Beastmaster 2”) is the mother of two kids, one a spider loving Harry Potter look-a-like (Scott Terra, “7th Heaven”), the other an unappreciative daughter (Scarlett Johansson, “Home Alone 3”). The mayor is despised by the few citizens left in the town, who are tired of his money making schemes, which include a failed ostrich farm. His latest entrepreneurial enterprise is storing barrels of toxic waste in the mineshafts near town. And we all know with toxic waste comes trouble.
Local grasshopers stumble into a vat of the spilled waste, becoming tainted food for the pets of an eeire spider collector (Tom Noonan, “Manhunter”). Within hours, the spiders begin their transformation into classic movie monsters, making their former owner their first victim.
The movie gets off to a sluggish start and really doesn’t find its niche until the mutant spiders start to lay waste to the Arizona landscape. From there, director Ellory Elkayem comfortably navigates the creature feature into its more-than-entertaining second half. The computer generated spiders denote the small effects budget of the film, but then again that’s another key element of the genre.
The premise of “Eight Legged Freaks,” is remarkably similar to 1993’s straight-to-video mosquito thriller “Skeeter.” In both films, the protagonist returns to their desert hometown after a long hiatus, falls in love again with the sheriff, discovers barrels of toxic waste in an abandon mineshaft and fends off an armada of mutated beasts. “Skeeter” took itself seriously which resulted in nothing more than a bad movie, while “Eight Legged Freaks” embraces its low budget roots and has fun with it.
“Eight Legged Freaks” succeeds because it is so self aware. It constantly plays off the rules and conventions of the monster movie genre, but never to the point of parody. Casting Arquette in the lead role was a masterstroke, as he proves to be the modern day John Agar (“Tarantula”). As far as attacking giant spider movies go, “Eight Legged Freaks” is as good as it gets. The film will certainly not stand the test of cinematic time, but it does fill its shoes nicely as a fun summer monster matinee.

Paul Wong
Arac attacks man in chair. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

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