In 2002 there came a film in the tail end of that year’s summer blockbuster film season which took me by surprise. The film I’m talking about was Eight Legged Freaks. It was from Kiwi-born director Ellory Elkayem and he did a wonderful job of bringing back just a small peek at those fun 1950’s giant monster and insect movies like Them! and a host of others.
The film pretty much follows the same conventions as those old-time monster movies. It has the smart and bookish teenage boy whose love for all things spiders will come in handy as the film moves along. Then there’s the eccentric and creepy loner who collects spiders and learns that the water he has been giving them has now been tainted by toxic chemicals from a drum container that has fallen into a nearby river during transport. This river and the creek it feeds is right next to a down-and-out mining Arizona town, ironically named Prosperity. The film wouldn’t be complete without the arrival of its prodigal son, Chris McCormick (played with quite a bit of understatement by the usual over-the-top David Arquette) whose father used to own the gold mines which the town relied on for its economy.
With a reluctant hero comes the woman he left behind and pined for years ago, but now much older and with kids of her own from a previous marriage. Kari Wuhrer — of MTV and B-movie fame — plays Samantha Parker. McCormick’s love interest who also happens to be Prosperity’s current town sheriff and single mother to the aforementioned teenage boy with the thing for spiders and nubile teen daughter Ashley (played by pre-superstardom Scarlett Johansson). Then there’s Wade, the town mayor whose failing ostrich farm and unused mega-mall is leading him to sell the town wholesale to some nameless giant corporation.
With the basic plot set and characters introduced all hell breaks loose as toxic-mutated spiders grow to giant proportions and begin to terrorize and devour the townspeople. At first, it’s isolated attacks until their numbers grown in size and they attack the town itself en masse. This may be a B-movie but it sure had great CGI-effects when it came to the giant arachnids and how they behaved on the screen. The many different types of giant spiders ended up having distinct personalities to distinguish themselves from each other. From the tank-like tarantula to the agile jumping spiders and the cunning trapdoor spiders. In fact, these spiders were also given some sort of voice which sounded like chipmunks on helium as they screeched, yipped and screamed their way around the screen.
Eight Legged Freaks was not something great to write mom home about, but it was a fun film to sit through, especially one full of teenagers who seem to scream and shout the loudest. This was a type of film that actually needs a rowdy audience to really entertain. There’s really no need to follow the dialogue since most of it is quite forgettable. The action on the screen from the giant spiders chasing motocross-riding teens and their attack on the townspeople at the mega-mall does well without the need of extraneous dialogue.
Ellory Elkayem did a great job in making Eight Legged Freaks not just a fun movie but also a throwback to the 50’s monster movies that we see now on syndication. This movie showed Elkayem had great potential as a genre filmmaker. It’s a shame he had to follow up Eight Legged Freaks with two very awful and forgettable sequels to the Return of the Living Dead franchise. I’m still hoping that he’ll rebound from that double-debacle and make more fun monster movies. Until that happens we’ll always have his little flick about giant, mutant spiders who sounded like chipmunks on helium.