Eight Legged Freaks

2002, Movie, PG-13, 88 mins


Silly, good-natured and thoroughly unpretentious, this giant-spider movie has nothing more on its mind than providing the kind of brainless thrills once delivered by pictures like TARANTULA (1955), EARTH VS. THE SPIDER (1958) and THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION (1975). That's aiming low, to be sure, but the movie hits the mark neatly. While it occasionally drags a bit, the film captures the same tone — knowing without being overtly jokey — that made TREMORS (1990) so entertaining. Small town Prosperity, Ariz., is in a downward spiral: The once booming McCormick mines are played out, the Prosperity Mall has failed to prosper and ostrich farming just didn't take off the way sleazy mayor Wade (Leon Rippy) swore it would. Naturally, Wade has been secretly cutting his own losses, letting corporate creeps dump toxic waste on town land, and that's where the trouble begins. A Prosperity-bound barrel of hazardous chemicals accidentally winds up in the water near a desolate roadside attraction called Taft's Exotic Spider Farm, and the chemicals supersize Joshua Taft's (Tom Noonan) imported arachnids. Next thing you know they're devouring annoying teenagers on dirt bikes, coccooning unwary citizens and generally wreaking havoc. Adolescent science-geek Mike Parker (Scott Terra) is the first to figure out what's going on, but no one believes him because no one ever believes the kid. Soon enough, though, the spiders are scuttling (or leaping, in the case of the very alarming Jumping Spiders) down Main Street, devouring everyone in sight. It's up to Mike's mom, Sheriff Sam Parker (Kari Wuhrer), and recently returned goofball Chris McCormick (David Arquette) to stop the scuttling slayers before they eat everyone then move on to Tucson and then, who knows, maybe the world. New Zealand-born filmmaker Ellory Elkayem cut his teeth on the much-praised giant-spider short "Larger Than Life" (1997), which caught the attention of partners Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich when they started looking for someone to helm a slick hommage to big bug movies of the '50s. One of this film's smartest notions is to have the spiders make a jaunty sort of chattering sound as they pounce on their wriggling victims — you can't help but think of the gleeful anarchy of GREMLINS (1984) as the eight-legged creepy-crawlies overrun the picture-perfect small-town streets. Bad science? No doubt. Good fun? Absolutely. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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