There are just some things in the summer that, if possible, should be great fun: A water park with no lines, a late evening barbecue with friends, and a giant evil spider movie. Unfortunately, the makers of "Eight Legged Freaks" (IMDb listing) don't follow through on their promise of a rousing, arac-squashing good time. Unless you crave, and I mean crave, tedious, campy, exceedingly unfunny monster pictures, then stay far away from this film, which just might be the biggest letdown of the filmgoing summer.
Times are tough in a tiny mining town in Arizona. The commerce is suffering, morale is low, and a local land developer (Leon Rippy, "Stargate") is using the town as a toxic waste dump to fuel his greed. When an arachnid farmer uses crickets from the contaminated site to feed his legions of spiders, little does he know that the mutagen will cause the spiders to grow to hundreds of times their original size. Bent on feeding, the spiders take over the town, leaving the local sheriff (Kari Wuhrer), her kids (Scott Terra and Scarlett Johansson, "Ghost World"), a local man returning to town after a ten-year absence (David Arquette), and a paranoid radio announcer (Doug E. Doug, "Cool Runnings") to fight off the massive arac attack.
All the ingredients are there to mix up a wildly entertaining picture. They have a cast full of B-listers, a good-sized budget for the special effects, and the willingness to forge ahead with this wild premise. So how could it go wrong? Easily, folks, as this film is overseen by Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich, the team behind "Independence Day" and "Godzilla." While "Independence Day" is as good as a summer film can get, the duo has a penchant for overindulging themselves, and they often arrogantly assume they know what makes a hit movie. Take at look at the disastrous "Godzilla" if you don't believe me. Working (or ripping) off such monster bug classics as "Them!" and "Arachnophobia," Devlin and Emmerich have decided to take what was so efficient and delightful from those films and squash it under a layer of camp, noise, and unbearable comedy. In the process they lose the essential horror elements that could've helped "Freaks" work accurately.
Think I'm being too harsh on a film about mutant spiders? Here's what passes for "comedy" in this film: One character get his genitals tazered and squeals into the camera about how "he pissed his pants!"; the Doug E. Doug character has a monologue about alien anal probing (always a guaranteed laugh, right?); there's a quick shot where two department store mannequins are shown posing in an oral sex position; and one character constantly gets sprayed with slimy "spider goo" for easy gross-out gags.
I wasn't. The aforementioned "Arachnophobia" was a much better example of how to blend horror and comedy in such a way that the two genres complement each other. "Eight Legged Freaks" isn't that subtle, picking mayhem over scares, and gags instead of humor.
The cast doesn't inspire much enthusiasm either. Looking lost amongst the hundreds of CG spiders (the looks on their faces suggest an expectation of maybe 10 spiders, not the 10,000 as the film hysterically depicts), what could they do? Well, hiring Doug E. Doug and David Arquette wasn't a great start. These two notoriously unfunny actors are in charge of the film's laughs, and they fail expectedly at their job. Helping them out is comedian Rick Overton ("Jackpot"), and the fact that most people have never heard of him might indicate the level of his laugh quotient.
The only survivor of this forgettable cast is video mainstay Kari Wuhrer, who, after a solid decade of sexbomb roles in B-movies, is bizarrely cast as a mother of two teenagers. Wuhrer gives the toughest, brightest performance out of the little anyone has been given, putting all those years of straight-to-video action films to use in this film, which asks even less of her than such blockbusters as "The Hitcher 2" or "Red Blooded American Girl 2."
Eventually, "Eight Legged Freaks" dissolves into a full-on cartoon, and by that time my interest in the intolerable pandemonium had completely shut down. To Devlin and Emmerich: Being cute and ironic will get you nowhere, and dropping the ball on what should be an easy lay-up of a film is nearly unforgivable.
Filmfodder Grade: D