‘Eight-Legged Freaks’

Graham Flanagan
(Crimson White Online)

Take one pint of “Tremors,” one of “Arachnophobia,” and three of “Fellini Satyricon,” and you will still be nowhere near the majesty possessed by “Eight Legged Freaks,” the new mutant-spider film brought to you by the creators of “Stargate.”

To be honest, I didn’t really like “Stargate” all that much. Why all of a sudden these strange thoughts about “The Crying Game?” I did, however like “Tremors” with Kevin Bacon and Reba McEntire; and I really liked “Arachnophobia” with Jeff Daniels, of “Purple Rose of Cairo” fame.

Both “Tremors” and Arachnophobia,” like “Freaks,” involve the attack of some sort of deadly parasite, e.g. space worms, deadly arachnids, etc., on a usually peaceful, fictional American town. In this film the town is called Prosperity, Ariz., but contrary to its name, the town is not in the midst of an economic boom.

Before the inevitable spider-attack, we are given a tour of the town. Some of the highlights include the future site of a toxic waste dump, a shack inhabited by the local exotic spider expert, the sheriff (Kari Wuhrer), who is a sexy, single mom. And don’t let me forget about the group of dirt bike punks.

All of the spider business is put into play when the spiders belonging to the aforementioned spider expert begin to feast upon some crickets that have been exposed to radiation. It turns out that the radiation causes the spiders to grow to enormous sizes, allowing them to break out of their cages, destroy their master, and wreak havoc on Prosperity. Ben Hecht could not have dreamed of conjuring such an ingenious scenario as the one in this picture.

David Arquette plays the hero of the story; he is an out-of-work drifter who returns to town to profess his love to the sheriff, an ex-flame. His romantic intentions are soon put on hold, however, when a giant spider puts his elderly surrogate mother-type, Gladys, in a death cocoon, causing him to shave and take up arms against the monsters.

Now of course I was only joking with the whole “Fellini” thing at the beginning of this review. Or was I?

Although it by no means surpasses “classic” creature-attack predecessors, “Eight Legged Freaks” is, nonetheless, a humorous exercise in schlock that can be considered a somewhat welcome addition to the genre (by classics I do not mean “Tarantula” and “Them!”).

Scarlett Johansson from “The Man Who Wasn’t There” makes her presence known in “Freaks” as the rebellious daughter of the sheriff. Johannson, one of the most promising young actresses working in pictures today, does her best work in the soon-to-be infamous “towel scene,” in which she is spun into one of the monster’s death cocoons.

However, with her superb performances in last year’s Coen brothers picture, as well as in Terry Zwigoff’s “Ghost World,” I think it is safe to say that this young actress is far too talented for material like this. Come on, Miss Johannson, for crying out loud! Don’t you know who you are? You played Peggy in “The Horse Whisperer!” You’re a real whiz!

Maybe the chances of “Eight Legged Freaks” cleaning up at this year’s Berlin Film Festival aren’t very high, but don’t let that allow you to think that it doesn’t guarantee a fantastic time. That is, if you like dirt bikes.

Grade; **1/2 (out of four)

The Lowdown; Creepy set pieces and campy special effects make “Eight Legged Freaks” an emotionally shattering journey into the nether-regions of man’s eternal soul.