Learning that Eight Legged Freaks was released in 2002 has me feeling more than a little dated. I remember watching this film with one of my close friends when it was released on DVD, actually come to think of it. I think the first time I saw this film was on VHS… Anyway after not seeing it since, I figured after a decade, it would be like seeing it again for the first time. Well, yes and no. Yes in the fact that I had forgotten enough of this film that it was enjoyable. But I retained enough that I wasn’t surprised that much, since I only forgot a handful of things. First how awesome the character Gladys is, and that Scarlett Johansson is in this film.
The film opens in classic giant monster film fashion, with a barrel of chemicals falling off a truck and contaminating a local water source. A week later, Joshua (Tom Noonan), the local weirdo who collects rare and exotic spiders for his spider farm gathers crickets from around the contaminated water source, where the barrel of chemicals has come to rest. Joshua’s visited at his spider farm by Mike (Scott Terra), the son of the town sheriff Samantha Parker (Kari Wuhrer). Joshua gives Mike a short tour of his extensive collection of spiders. Which includes Jumping Spiders, Tarantulas, Trapdoor Spiders, and Orb-Weavers. Both male and female and the prize of his collection. Mike notices that all of Joshua’s spiders are unusually large, to which Joshua explains that he’s been feeding them the chemically tainted crickets that he’s caught and plans on selling due to their ability to make the spiders grow. After Mike leaves he’s attacked by one of his spiders and since there wouldn’t much of a film without them, Joshua freaks out flailing around and breaking open all of the spiders containers in the process. Mike gets caught by his mother on his way home from Joshua’s as she and her deputy Pete Willis (Rick Overton), fish the barrel of chemicals out of the water. Since Samantha disapproves of her son visiting Joshua. She also rounds up her daughter Ashley (Scarlett Johannson) on the way home catching her on riding on the back of her boyfriend Brett’s (Matt Czuchry) motorcycle. A week later… again, Chris McCormick (David Arquette) returns to town after the death of his father and inheriting the mines. Even though the town is dying and has a chance to sell, Chris is unwilling to do so. As his father claimed to have found gold in the mines and Chris aims to find it. This causes tension within the town as a sizable portion, lead by the town mayor Wade (Leon Rippy) want to sell. With the encouragement of his Aunt Gladys (Eileen Ryan). Chris also tries to restart his past romance with Samantha. But finds it hard to so when the town is beset by Joshua’s spiders which have grown massive and come out of the mines to feed…
Fist off, I was surprised with just how well this movie aged. Which is surprising since it’s got a couple of pop culture references. Though since I am of that era, maybe it just seems less dated than it actually is. What really helps is how cheesy Eight Legged Freaks is. The actors all amp up the silly without going so overboard that it loses sight that this is supposed to be a horror movie.
Not to say that this film’s age doesn’t show. Because it does, it really does. But mainly only in regards to the CGI effects for the spiders, which is actually OK. Since it matches the feel of the movie, which is cheesy. Fine, highbrow cinema Eight Legged Freaks is not. There are only a handful of scenes where the CGI is truly painful to watch and this is during action scenes with the jumping spiders.
What really sells this movie for me is the characters, mainly Gladys because I just found her super endearing. But also the Sheriff Samantha who’s attractive, but the film never touts her sexuality and she’s shown as being strong and capable. It’s nice to see a female character where sex isn’t her main selling point. In fact her looks are brought up once rarely and the only time it stands out it’s by a group of teenage boys were meant to dislike. Current filmmakers could learn some things from 2002 it looks like. Another character that’s simply great is Harlan played by Doug E. Doug, who makes the crazy, conspiracy theorist Radio DJ work. All while being simply hilarious.
Final thoughts, Eight Legged Freaks is a good blend of horror and comedy, that manages to stay kid friendly. I loved the strong female characters as well as the callbacks to the giant insect films of the 1950’s. Eight Legged Freaks is a film that’s fun, but not one that I would necessarily call scary and is best viewed with friends who like to poke fun at this kind of film. 8/10