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'Eight-Legged Freaks'

Spider flick lacks bite

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Film Critic

Talk about a Web site you don't want to visit: Just when you thought it was safe to go on the Net comes "Eight-Legged Freaks," the summer's second larger-than-life spider yarn, spun from hole cloth.

"Eight-Legged Freaks"

Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi violence, brief sexuality and language

Starring: David Arquette, Kari Wuhrer, Scott Terra, Doug E. Doug

Director: Ellory Elkayem

Critic's call:


You can log in but not out of this rural mining town, where chemical spills -- covered up by evil corporate execs (the only certifiably believable things in the film) -- have caused local arachnids to mutate from normal size into critters on eye level with the Statue of Liberty. These guys have chips on their shoulders -- all eight of them. That's a lot of chips, and they fall where they may.

How big are these things? They knock DOWN, not ON, your door. And they have a lot of people skills. Having supped first on toxic waste, they dine thereafter on a steady diet of hysterical humans running.

For the benefit of the woefully ignorant: Arachnids are two legs up on insects and six up on humans. Their abdomens come with two pairs of spinnerets -- not pianos, but mechanisms that spin the threads with which they make cocoons and webs.

The particular town in which they're operating has -- like "Fargo" -- a savvy female sheriff named Samantha (Kari Wuhrer), but only marginally savvier than her obligatory Barney Fife-type deputy (Rick Overton). Instead of listening to the warnings of her precocious kid (Scott Terra), she grounds him for lying.

She is likewise heedless of old flame Chris, recently returned after 10 years, who is trying to save this worthless backwater from conspicuous spider-consumption. Chris is played by David Arquette, who the producers tell us "campaigned for the role" and -- unfortunately for his career -- won.

The most interesting thing about these mega-spiders is their assortment of vocal qualities. Some of them chatter like chipmunks; some oink, moo or whinny; others growl like tigers. You listen in terror: Are they coming ... or just breathing hard?

If they don't get you on your tuffet, the males come after you with great leaps and bounds like long-jump Olympians, wrap you up in cocoons and carry you back to the nest for their females ("You know how all women like breakfast in bed").

Less fascinating is the romantic situation periodically discussed by Sheriff Samantha and Chris in between spider-pack attacks. The single funny moment occurs when one giant spider attacks -- and then spits out -- a moose head mounted on the wall.

Director Ellory Elkayem aims for classic B-movie monster mashes like "Them" of the '50s. As for its "state-of-the-art" visual effects? I don't think so. Little spiders -- en masse -- are scarier than huge ones. The tangled web woven here is strictly low, not high, camp.

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