'Eight Legged' But Brainless

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 19, 2002

NOTES ON "Eight Legged Freaks": Decaying town in the Arizona desert. Deserted mine full of methane gas. (Wondering if that will be significant later? You are so Sherlock Holmes.) Small population of uni-dimensional archetypes, including whacked-out conspiracy theorist/DJ Harlan (Doug E. Doug); attractive, hard-edged Sheriff Sam Parker (Kari Wuhrer), burned in love; goofy Deputy Pete (Rick Overton); hapless mining engineer and prodigal son Chris McCormack (David Arquette), who wants to tell Sheriff Parker he always loved her; various partying and/or surly teens; and sweet-natured kid (Scott Terra) with glasses who studies spiders.

And a world-wide-web fulla spiders. Make that a town-wide-web. Big spiders. Huge, hairy, scuttley. Why so big? Been sucking on chemicals contaminating the local river, inducing them to get hairy and medieval on everyone, scare the locals.

Cue the special effects – but not too special. Cue the actors – not too special, either. (Arquette and Doug probably shared the only Winnebago on the set.) Don't make it too scary. Make sure the spiders kill and devour off-frame. No severed heads, no body parts. Just spiders jumping people and wrapping them in industrial webbing. Script writers? Less than cut-rate. This is a poster movie, a mediocre tribute to films like "Them!" It's the idea of EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS! that will attract audiences. The actual movie is the cinematic equivalent of cheap Chinese egg rolls: all flour and cabbage shreds, maybe half a nibble of pork.

Gags? So-so. Although this one's good: Old-timer and town barber Floyd (Roy Gaintner) is searching a camping goods store for a lurking spider. He's holding a pitchfork, American Gothic style. The spider, hiding in a small tent, follows him quietly wherever he walks. Stops whenever he stops. The PA system is playing a Muzak version of "Strangers in the Night."

Scary, said my son, 10 years old. Gotta believe him. But real scary? Don't think so. Those spiders look like special effects. That's good news for family audiences, looking for innocuous fun on some uneventful Friday night in front of the VCR. (Too bad about the obscenity here. This should have been softened into a PG film.) But here's other good news for family audiences: Last time I checked, books were still available in libraries and bookstores! There's always another option.

EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS (PG-13, 99 minutes)Contains cartoonish violence and some obscene language. Area theaters.

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