Let the squashing begin!
Ah, the summer of 2002…it was the best of times, and it was the worst of times for creepy crawly spiders. On one hand, you had the mega smash Spider-Man. Sam Raimi's critical box office hit re-introduced the world to everyone's favorite neighborhood wall-crawler with explosive action, stunning effects, and a fairly tight story. Flash forward a month or so and moviegoers were poised for yet another heaping helping of arachnid fever—this time it was the David Arquette monster movie Eight Legged Freaks. Alas, Eight Legged Freaks made about the same amount of money in its entire theatrical run as it cost to run Spider-Man's craft service truck during its production. Sheesh. Some spiders get all the luck. And so it's with great fanfare that I introduce the could-a been a contender big bug flick Eight Legged Freaks now on DVD care of Warner Home Entertainment!
Facts of the Case
Peanut butter and halibut. Madonna and Mother Teresa. A bag of scorpions and your grandmother. Yes, some things just should be put together. Unfortunately for the citizens of Prosperity, Arizona, they are about to find out that two more things should never, ever be mixed—exotic spiders and hazardous toxic waste. When a truck traveling through Prosperity accidentally spills a barrel of contaminated waste into the local river, things go from bad to worse a after huge batch of strange spiders escape the confines of an exotic spider farm (run by the even stranger Tom "Manhunter" Noonan). Taking a cue off their buddies from the film Them!, the spiders rapidly grow to over five times their normal size, and with a new change in size they've also got a new change in appetite…and the menu includes the good folks of Prosperity! As the spiders begin their invasion, it's up to a rag tag group of townies—including the town's sheriff (Kari Wuhrer, Anaconda), the town's prodigal son (David Arquette, Scream), and a paranoid local radio host (Doug E. Doug, Cool Runnings)—to get everyone out and kill the bombastic bugs before the world becomes one big smorgasbord…err, smorgasweb!
Like a warm bowl of soup on a snowy day, nothing warms the cockles of my heart more than a giant killer bug movie. And spiders! This one's about giant mutated spiders! As anyone who reads my reviews knows, I'm a sucker for any movie that includes A.) toxic byproducts, B.) a small town in the middle of nowhere, and C.) mean old bugs the size of minivans with glowing green insides. It's like a slice of heaven dropped down into my DVD player for two hours.
A little story: when I went to see Eight Legged Freaks it was with my brother and a few of his friends. After the film ended, we were walking through the lobby and I asked my brother what he thought. His response was (and I'm paraphrasing), "it was only so-so."
Okay, I can understand being disappointed if you hadn't seen the trailer or didn't know anything about the movie. But for the love of all that's holy he knew what he was getting into! We weren't seeing the next cryptically coded, hush-hush Star Wars extravaganza where you don't have a clue what's going to happen! We were seeing a movie about killer spiders that take over a town! The previews were very clear about this—in fact, the preview even shows the money shot of the spiders rampaging through the town! My theory being that Eight Legged Freaks has a specific audience, and they know what they're going to get—the movie is about killer spiders eating people, and by God that's just what happens in this flick. If that interests you at all, I promise that you won't be disappointed in Eight Legged Freaks.
The story for Eight Legged Freaks is inconsequential—you've all heard the details before: small town, toxic waste, disposable characters. Yes, it's everything you've come to know and love about giant monster movies. The cast is made up of stock characters and a few eccentrics. This time around we get the perpetually goofy David Arquette as the hero, Kari "I-got-the-sexiest-lips-on-the-planet" Wuhrer as his love interest, and a batch of other folks who might as well have the words "Grade-A Prime Beef" stamped on their foreheads. I'd love to sit here and dive into some deep analysis about the lead players, but wouldn't you agree that would be pointless? You're not reading this review with a burning desire to find out what made Doug E. Doug's character tick—you wanna see giant arachnids eatin' people!
I admire a movie that doesn't attempt to dole out tons of exposition before getting to the good stuff. Eight Legged Freaks pretty much bypasses any scientifically plausible explanation for the spiders and just runs headlong into the town's invasion. The spiders (all created using computer animation) are usually always convincing and scary. While there are a few shots where the beasties are obviously CGI, overall the special effects folks did a great job of bringing the eight legged—err, freaks—to the screen.
In the end, it won't much matter what my review is of this film. This was designed for a specific audience in mind, and in this reviewer's opinion, it ably hits its target. There is no intricate storyline or deeply probing characters. What there is are a bunch of really mean realistic looking mutant spiders running around a small town shooting webs at people, leaping over cars and eating everyone in sight. Don't listen to my brother—see Eight Legged Freaks.
Flyswatter not included.
Eight Legged Freaks is presented in a lovely 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Seeing as this film isn't even a year old, it's not surprising to find this print almost void of any imperfections or defects that might otherwise mar the image. The colors and black levels are all bright and dead solid without any noticeable dirt or grain hindering the picture. This excellent looking image should please bug lovers everywhere.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 in English, and if you are going by the package, it's also presented in Dolby Digital 5.10 in French. However, I am pretty sure you Frenchmen aren't getting some highly evolved 5.10 soundtrack—I think it's just a marketing flub on the part of Warner. Anyhow, this is a very aggressive sound mix that features oodles of squishing and splattering noises through both the front and rear speakers. Surround sound is very bombastic with directional effects utilized often and throughout. With all aspects of the mix free and clear of any excessive hiss or distortion, this 5.1 (and 5.10) mix should compliment any home theater system. Also included on this disc are subtitles in French, English, and Spanish.
For a film that didn't do great box office business upon its initial release, Warner has certainly slapped on a few nice extra features. Starting off the supplements is a commentary track by stars Rick Overton and David Arquette, director/co-Writer Ellory Elkayem, and producer Dean Devlin. While there are some noticeable gaps in the track (especially considering that four of them are in the room together), there are some fun tidbits about the production and a fun spirit running throughout (especially whenever Arquette starts talking). Learning what was real and what wasn't real was fun, making this track worth the listen if you have the extra time.
Next up are around 13 minutes worth of deleted scenes. I have to say that I felt kind of cheated by the packaging—on the back of the DVD case it reads "eight spine tingling additional scenes of spiders in action," and yet there are no spiders to be found in any of these scenes. Blah. Each of these are presented in a very rough looking non-anamorphic widescreen transfer and offer little in the way of exposition or characterization. While it's nice to have these on the disc, I would have preferred to have seen some more scenes with the actual spiders.
New Zealander Ellory Elkayem got the job directing Eight Legged Freaks because of his short film "Larger Than Life," which was seen by producers Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin. The film is presented in black and white non-anamorphic widescreen. Basically "Larger Than Life" (not to be confused with the Bill Murray elephant flop) is just the short version of Eight Legged Freaks that takes place in the house of a New Zealand woman. The effects are good for a short, low-budget flick, though otherwise it's somewhat boring when compared to the feature film at hand. Worth a look if you want to see the origins of Eight Legged Freaks.
Finally, there is a short essay titled "Creepy Crawly Giants" about mutant bugs in the movies, plus some star/director/writers film highlights and a theatrical trailer for the film.
I really enjoyed Eight Legged Freaks. For unabashed fun, you can't beat a movie that features a spider trying to eat a stuffed wall-mounted moose head. If you missed this one in the theaters now is the time to catch it on DVD!
How about for the sequel, they pit the humongous spiders from Eight Legged Freaks against Spider-man himself? Sounds like fun to me…
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary Track by Stars Rick Overton and David Arquette, Director/Co-Writer Ellory Elkayem, and Producer Dean Devlin
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