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EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS is, for all basic purposes, a modern drive-in movie. So it’s fitting that I caught the movie on opening night at the famous Starlight Drive-In in Atlanta. There wasn’t any other way I was going to see this film. Not in a normal theater, no way. This had to be seen under the stars.
Done in the spirit of such classic horror camp as THE MOLE PEOPLE, ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS, and THEM, and keeping the fun of the Kevin Bacon vehicle TREMORS, EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS pretty much does what it was intended to do: give the audience a creepy feeling while not taking itself seriously in the slightest. No, it’s not going to compete against ROAD TO PERDITION for best picture come Oscar time, and it ain’t gonna compete with STAR WARS for the box office champ this year. But much like its fellow arachnid-themed summer blockbuster SPIDER-MAN, it’s a helluva lotta fun.
The plot here is largely unnecessary, but it involves former WCW World Heavyweight Champion David Arquette returning to town to reclaim his father’s goldmines and mend ties with the woman he loves. As the first fifteen minutes crept along, trying to establish story, I found myself yelling “Get to the killin’” at the screen. But once it starts, it really gets going. Frankly, I was a little shocked at just how high the body count actually gets, especially considering the PG-13 rating on this one. Anyway, here’s a brief look at the main characters, and how they fit in:
- Chris McCormack: This is the role played by former WCW World Heavyweight Champion David Arquette. Arquette is far less annoying than usual in this movie than in most of the roles he’s in. Much lower-key and laid back. For some reason the writers decided to write in some unnecessary subplot involving Chris having a Ben-Affleck-in-Chasing-Amy goatee that he has some strange attachment to, but winds up losing the goatee in the first part of the movie. Don’t ask me why. So he’s the guy whose father has died and left him these mines who the evil landowner wants to get a hold of.. He returns to town and immediately gets himself in trouble by punching someone out, and is one of the first to get involved when giant spiders come a-runnin’ amok.
- Sheriff Sam Parker: The town’s local law enforcement official, portrayed by star of MTV’s “Remote Control” and the girl who took David Silver’s virginity on “Beverly Hills 90210”, Kari Wuhrer. She keeps things running smoothly in the small desert town she works in, which pretty much amounts to handing out tickets to dirt bikers who comment about her ass. Not a whole lot of crime going on, if you get my drift. Anyway, she has two kids, one of which is a daughter who looks like her sister (I’m all for suspension of disbelief, but come on…Kari Wuhrer with a teenage daughter?) and has had a pretty rough life thus far. So when the spiders start attacking, she’s all gung-ho and ready to kick some arachnid ass.
- Mike Parker: Sam’s younger child, Mike is a Harry Potter looking nerd who seems to be devoid of all emotion and common sense. Really. He hangs out with this weird science guy who is experimenting with genetically enhanced spiders, much to mom’s chagrin. When he goes to visit the guy one day, he discovers that there are spiderwebs everywhere and the crazy old guy is missing. So what does Mike, who obviously is aware that there are hundreds of giant venomous spiders running around, do? He WALKS RIGHT INSIDE THE HOUSE AND STARTS MAKING VIDEOS. So then, obviously not satisfied by this, he goes in to the caves filled with methane gas and finds a giant spider arm. When he’s picked up by Chris on the road, he VERY CALMLY explains that he thinks there are giant deadly spiders everywhere and that his friend is dead. THE KID IS LIKE TEN YEARS OLD. Doesn’t he have any emotion? I was so hoping for him to be one of the first to be offed, because he fucking deserves it. On top of this, he seems to have shitloads of high-tech equipment that there’s no way mom can afford on her cop salary unless she’s selling her body on the side, and seems smart enough to operate it all, but fails to realize that YOU SHOULD STAY OUT OF THE HOUSE FILLED WITH GIANT SPIDERWEBS.
- Ashley Parker: Sam’s older child, a teenage daughter with pretty much no purpose in the story except to provide a couple generic plot devices later. Played by Scarlett Johannson, who was really good in GHOST WORLD and THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE but seems almost as devoid of emotion as her little brother. I don’t know what Sam did to her kids, but there’s something not right about them. I mean, a TEN FOOT LONG SPIDER busts her window out and crawls in to her bedroom while she watches intently, wearing only a towel. And Ashley? She just stands there until the thing backs her in to a corner, where she FINALLY screams. The girl has gotta be whacked in the head. She has a boyfriend who Mom thinks might be a little grabby, so Mom arms her with a tazer. And the first time said boyfriend starts making out with her she ZAPS HIM with it, leaving him with urine-stained pants for the rest of the movie (and man, did they miss out on some good piss-smell humor when they finally find the boyfriend ina cave at the end of the movie). Man, not the girl you wanna piss off apparently. And she has some odd ideas about what constitutes virginity, because she’s telling him she doesn’t want to lose hers while both participants in the necking session are fully clothed, in public, and in broad daylight.
- Harlan: The town’s token black guy / paranoid nutcase. Yeah, for some reason, the creators of this film felt they needed to combine the two stereotypes, further perpetuating the idea of a racist Hollywood. Oh, there’s ONE other black guy in town, but in typical horror movie fashion, he’s the first character to buy the farm (other than the crazy mutating spider guy, of course). Harlan is played by Doug E. Doug of COOL RUNNINGS and “Cosby” fame, and is actually one of the bright points of this movie. He runs a pirate radio show out of a dingy trailer, but it seems like this is the only station the town actually picks up, because everyone seems to listen to the show. A poor man’s Art Bell, he warns the town of alien invaders and government conspiracies, but thinks Sam is crazy when she overruns his trailer to tell the town they’re being attacked by giant spiders. You see the irony in all of this? Anyway, Harlan is convinced that the spiders are actually aliens and spends a lot of time talking about how he’s avoiding the anal probe.
- Wade: He’s the old greedy landowner who wants to control the gold mines willed to Chris. He’s really smarmy and fucked up looking with rotten teeth and a slicked-back ponytail, just to emphasize the fact that he’s eeevil. He raises ostriches on his ranch and is responsible for the giant commerce center outside of town, the Prosperity Mall. For some reason, they guy manages to make it through the movie intact, even though we see several places where he SHOULD have died. I guess they needed to keep him around at the end just so that he can suffer the lamentation of everything he created going up in smoke, but then again I wouldn’t want to spoil TOO much of the plot for you all.
There are several other supporting characters who have varying amounts of importance to the story, and then there’s some who are just there for the killin’. Deputy Pete does a great job of filling in Arquette’s (did I mention that he’s a former WCW World Heavyweight Champion?) shoes as the goofy police guy, Aunt Gladys is the relative-in-distress that Chris must save, and grabby boyfriend Bret has some good action scenes trying to evade the gigantic jumping spiders on the tail of his cycle. But nobody really cares about characters; they just want to see the giant spiders. And there’s plenty of them. Unfortunately, pretty much everything was done with CGI, and I’m pretty sure they intended to make it look campy in a lot of places, but I think the same effect could have been achieved in several spots using miniatures instead.
FREAKS was co-written and directed by first-timer Ellory Elkayem, and it’s not a bad first effort. Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich had a hand in the production, which definitely was a plus here. Their magic touch with the insidiously campy shows through in their previous works GODZILLA and the masterwork of drive-in cinema INDEPENDENCE DAY. Yes, this movie might have come off a little more polished had someone with a little more experience in this fare been at the helm (Barry Sonnenfeld, Joe Dante, and Sam Raimi come to mind) but it still works fine here. Yeah, there’s a lot of silly incongruencies and scientific gaffes (Sure, keep Aunt Gladys from lighting up that cigarette so not to set off the methane gas, but ignore the fact that the handgun you’re firing and motorcycle you’re revving up are also creating sparks), but that’s all part of the charm here.
So yeah, if you’re looking for high art, go see MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING or LATE MARRIAGE or THE COUNTRY BEARS (wait, never mind that last one). I guarantee you won’t have as much fun seeing those movies as I did at the drive-in last night. EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS is fun, and anyone who goes through picking out its flaws just needs to get out more.
At least they did change the title of this movie, because I just wouldn’t have felt the same going to see ARAC ATTACK!
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