After enduring Enemy’s symbolic spiders that represent infidelity and fear, all I craved were literal big ass spiders that represent absolutely nothing so I watched 2002’s Eight Legged Freaks. I’ve always enjoyed this movie. Considering that I love Jurassic Park and Godzilla, I’m more than happy to lump in my love of giant lizards with oversized arachnids. I don’t want to imply this movie is as amazing as JP or Godzilla ’98 but it is an underrated good time. It’s an homage to 50’s B-movies but was made at a time before everything had to be meta. While there’s a fair amount of winks to the camera, this sleepy Arizona town being terrorized by mutants spiders is quite sincere.
There’s little time wasted as Eight Legged Freaks knows exactly what you’re here to see. It opens with a conspiracy theory rant by resident Dj and comic relief Harlan (Doug E Doug) that sets the tone of crazy this movie will continue, we see the toxic barrel spill into the water supply that will lead to the spiders unbelievable growth then we arrive the next morning with nerdy tween Mike (Scott Terra) and his exotic pet mentor (a severely underused Tom Noonan). In this brief scene they set up all you need to know about the different species that soon would descend on an unsuspecting population. All plot and character development is very minimal which is fine for creature feature. The highlights are the lovable, bumbling Dewey…I mean Chris (David Arquette) as the town’s gold boy returning after splitting for a decade and then Scarlett Johansson because yeah, there’s a teenage ScarJo in this movie. I don’t think it’s worth going into detail about the plot by the money hungry yet Podunk mayor (played by Leon Ripp) who’s trying to sell off the town’s useless land while Chris holds on to his dead father’s dream that there’s gold in the underground mines. Plot points like this randomly pop up but so little effort is dedicated to them, they’re easily forgotten because EVERYONE IS UNDER ATTACK BY SPIDERS.
There is no shying away from head on Aracna-vasion as from moment one were are shown how ferocious, even when small these creatures can be. They can jump, they can web, they can suck juices right out of you and when big they display Looney Tunes type qualities. There seems to be little intention for Freaks to be a terrifying because so many scene are undercut with a light, melodic score and the noises these spiders utter make me think they’re part dog. One of the first encounters is a house cat and spider duke it out in dry wall as their bodies get imprinted on the house with each swipe. Hilarious to me though very frightening to my friend Emma who I showed this to when we were 10. The film escalates with wackiness and an unending number of creatures as townspeople have to shotgun them all to hell like an arcade game. While tarantulas and Mama Orb Weaver are menacing, watching the others fall splat into air vents like Wiley Coyote is incredibly entertaining.
The effects add a whole other level of cheesiness maybe less expected in 2002. The spider graphics aren’t PlayStation Resident Evil bad but far from seamless. It works for this genre though. The guys in bug suits or low budget stop motion in the 50’s movies were pretty lame but endearing so it’s only natural to emulate outdated technology (and not just talking about Mike’ Casio Cassiopeia). Possibly more wonderfully early 2000’s Freaks can be attributed to its multiple scene of motocross. Teens doing tricks on bikes thwarts many a spider. And the frosted tips make sure they look good doing it.
I’ve always found Eight Legged Freaks to be a severely underrated horror comedy. It’s silliness paired with a bug that strikes fear and fascination in me. I don’t want to ask for better writing because the throw away plot twists and cliche dialogue is what I’d want for what it’s mirroring. Any bad or over the top acting is what they should be going for and it never feels forced. It’s an organic B movie that we don’t get that often. It’s a good/bad creature feature that reminds us why tiny bugs should always be feared. One bit of toxic waste and they’ll knock us off the food chain.