Film Reviews:

Eight Legged Freaks

(Ellory Elkayem, US, 2002)

It would be foolish to expect an action-comedy about an invasion of giant spiders to be subtle. But is it too much to expect the spider attacks to be exciting, well handled, and with good special effects? Well, in the case of Eight Legged Freaks, yes it is. CGI has now reached a high level, as shown by films like Starship Troopers. Sadly, cheap CGI still looks terrible, and thats the kind on display here. Ellory Elkayem's poor direction doesnt help, as he often shows the monsters at their worst: in bright sunlight, or flying straight at the camera in a fake looking way.

The plot is a creaky, obvious bore. A truck full of toxic chemicals spills close to a spider farm, creating huge spiders. The spider farm is located close to an abandoned mine, which is full of explosive gas. Can you guess the ending? This is thin to the point of non-existence, and the films insistence on pointing out the very poorness of its own plot in jokey, supposedly ironic asides doesn't help.

The creepiest thing about real spiders is the horrible way their legs move. That was probably too difficult, or just too expensive to replicate in CGI, so instead, the first set-piece features spiders that jump up and down like they're on pogo sticks. They are also all identical, and jump in just the same way, presumably another cost-cutting decision. Later, more varieties of spider are included, but only the trap-door spiders have any clout. The others are given silly comedy voices, and behave in an annoyingly slapstick fashion.

When the spiders grab humans, the effect looks completely unconvincing, far worse than the cheesiest Fifties movie. Similarly, when humans blast holes in the spiders with guns, it has none of the excitement of Aliens, because the CGI spiders plainly do not exist in the same universe as the actors. With the exception of the boring female sheriff, and her feisty teen daughter, every character is a complete buffoon. The actors cope with this with variable results. As Chris, David Arquette hits the right tone, going dementedly over the top, screaming madly with going cross-eyes. Doug E Doug fares less well, being merely irritating as Harlan, an alien fearing DJ, who is obsessed with the possibility that the spiders might give him an anal probe. Add to those two a dumb cop, and a short-sighted man who repeatedly takes his thick glasses off, just so he can be scared by the suddenly visible spiders when he puts them back on, and the result is a film where one unfunny comedy relief scene follows another.

Usually, Hollywood films are ruined by one silly sidekick character, but this film has a stack of them. Harlan even manages to fall off a roof, and then just get up and dust himself off, as if nothing happened. The early appearance of an annoying spider-obsessed kid provides the first warning of how poor Eight Legged Freaks will be. If only he had been killed immediately, the film might have amounted to something. But then the sub-Spielberg direction gives a big hint that this is a film without fangs. There are no scares here, no thrills. What a tragically sad world it is, when a sharp masterpiece like Starship Troopers bombs, while a doltishly stupid piece of nothing like this scores a hit. At one point a character arrives with a motorcycle. "Why are you bringing that?" his girlfriend asks. "It will only slow us down." If that logic makes sense to you, watch Eight Legged Freaks. Otherwise, avoid.

Adrian Horrocks

See also:


Larger Than Life

(Ellory Elkayem, New Zealand, 1997)

The Region 2 UK DVD of Eight Legged Freaks also includes a black and white, mainly silent short, Larger Than Life, written and directed by Freaks director and co-writer, Ellory Elkayem. This is nothing short of a revelation, a genuinely creepy and funny ten minutes, in which Rebecca Hobbs plays a woman menaced in her home by a succession of larger and larger spiders. Everything the main feature mishandles is just right here: the spiders creep slowly along, rather than bouncing, the editing is sharp, the comedy is genuinely funny rather than idiotic, and the photography evokes Fifties monster films, rather than kid flicks.

Most importantly, theres no CGI, as the spiders are either real, or models. While the final monster looks fake, it still carries a spooky charge missing from its animated counterparts, simply because it can touch things. An opening introduction from the director explains that Larger Than Life was made with the backing of the New Zealand film commission, and was then spotted by Hollywood, who invited him over. He probably shouldn't have gone, and instead should have made Larger Than Life as a New Zealand feature, Peter Jackson style. As it stands, whilst Larger Than Life is easily the most entertaining thing about this disc, it is represents a real missed opportunity, and another example of how Hollywood can destroy everything worthwhile about the talents it draws in.

Adrian Horrocks

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