Eight Legged Freaks

1. Never allow a character in the film to watch a scene or speak a line from another, much better film. It reminds the audience that they’re watching something less superior.

2. There’s a big difference between spoofing something and just being stupid. The best spoofs take their source material very seriously.

3. Unless the film is retro, rehashing dumb dialogue from drive-in monster movies is lame.

4. Winking at the audience is one thing. Fluttering your eyes like crack-addicted butterfly is annoying.

5. Casting David Arquette as the leading man immediately lowers the acting bar.

It’s not that I don’t like Arquette, but only if used sparingly. There’s way too much of him on display in “Eight Legged Freaks,” a high tech throwback to the big bug movies of the 1950s. When the hero becomes more of nuisance than the Volkswagen-sized spiders attacking him, you the know the film is in trouble.

I wanted to like “Eight Legged Freaks.” Okay, I wanted to love this film. I’m a big fan of those great nuclear age science-fiction films like “Them” and “Tarantula.” I’m not a big fan of “Eight Legged Freaks,” a film with a split personality that wants to have it both ways. One personality is a horror film about mutant spiders who terrorize the small Arizona town of Prosperity.

The other is a spoof of the same film, a goof on the genre that only gets worse as the film goes on. “Eight Legged Freaks” features impressive computer generated arachnids, but it’s the human characters and plot that bite.

A lot of people have a fear of spiders, so the mere thought of “Eight Legged Freaks” should raise the hair on the back of their neck. Creepy crawlers the size of cattle, raised on toxic waste, all serving the mother of all spiders, sounds like a good movie. “Eight Legged Freaks” isn’t. It never reaches the giddy level of Frank Marshall’s “Arachnophobia.” Director Ellory Elkayem and co- writer Jesse Alexander settle for the painful lows of “Giant Spider Invasion.”

In “Giant Spider Invasion,” the trick was trying to tell which looked more fake: the giant spider propelled by a small compact car, or William Shatner’s hairpiece. In “Eight Legged Freaks,” the trick is trying to figure out which came first: the spider or the story. Maybe the filmmakers channeled legendary B filmmaker Charles Band, who would make movies based on poster art.

“Eight Legged Freaks” is a great poster, but as a feature-length film, it doesn’t have legs. The writers pay homage to the genre with a simple and straightforward story, introducing us to stock characters and cliff-hangers that exist only through bad or no judgment at all.

As the small towns’ long-lost prodigal son, Arquette is more annoying than anointed. It doesn’t take long before you pray the spiders engulf and devour him. Kari Wuhrer plays the local law, a single white female trying to keep her pre-slut teenage daughter and arachnid expert young son from driving her up the wall.

When Chris McCormick (Arquette) slips back into town after ten years, he has two goals: help save the failing town by locating his late father’s gold vein, and proclaim his love for Sam Parker (Wuhrer).

The writers make each and every characters a stereotype. The reluctant hero, the tough female cop, the wacky conspiracy theorist, the smart kid, the promiscuous daughter, the greedy land developer. The writers think they’re being clever, but turning characters into a bunch of self- referential smart-asses isn’t the same as being clever.

Bad plotting, bad acting, bad dialogue, bad direction. All that leaves are the spiders, and they’re truly scary for about fifteen minutes. Like the rest of the film, they overstay their welcome. Elkayem never learned when it comes to monster movies, less is more.

It’s at this point you realize Elkayem is stretching a short film out into a feature. When everything else fails, throw more spiders at the screen. Which would be great if the plot and logic were strong enough to support them. A spider web has more of a foundation.

Behind the camera, Elkayem, making his feature debut, has made a sharp looking film, creating the perfect mood with cinematographer John Bartley. Like all the great classic mutant monster movies (and one of the current best “Tremors”), the film is set in the middle of a desolate desert, allowing the production team to create a mini-community that serves as the film’s breeding ground.

“EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS” BITESpider spoof spins web of confusion


David Arquette, Kari Wuhrer, Scott Terra, Doug E. Doug, Scarlett Johansson, Rick Overton. Directed by Ellory Elkayem. Rated PG-13. 96 Minutes.


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