" I guess you used up all the ugly in the family "

MRQE Top Critic

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It would have been easy to skip the latest spider movie, Eight Legged Freaks, altogether, but a small seed of curiosity and hope convinced me to give it a try. If it had the same tongue-in-cheek humor of Tremors, it might prove to be entertaining.

Tremors (1990) is a cheesy horror movie, but it comes out ahead because of its charm, wit, and smarts. Eight Legged Freaks tries for only one of these, wit, and doesn’t even succeed at that.

Spinning the Tale

Eight Legged Freaks enjoy couch potato saladThe story is plausible enough. Toxic waste spills into a reservoir, contaminating the grasshoppers that Joshua (Tom Noonan) collects for his exotic spider farm. The toxic (what does that word mean again?) waste mutates the spiders who eat the grasshoppers to about 25 times their normal length.

Now human-sized, the giant spiders go on a rampage, a feeding frenzy. The townspeople run amok, and our heroes — a loser (David Arquette), the beautiful sheriff (Kari Wuhrer), her gifted son (Scott Tera), and her troubled daughter (Scarlett Johansson) — do their best to stay alive.

The humans are unable to gain the upper hand because the spiders don’t have an achilles heel. There’s no way to outsmart them, outflank them, or outmaneuver them. That makes for a pretty boring movie because there’s no strategy or cunning, just reel after reel of shooting giant mutant spiders. When the end of the movie finally snuck up on the writers (Jesse Alexander and director Ellory Elkayem), they had to resort to coincidence and selectively ignoring the laws of physics to reach a conclusion.

Whether to Laugh or Cry

The big question is: Is Eight Legged Freaks a comedy or a horror movie? It’s hard to say for sure what the intent is. It doesn’t really work well as either one.

It’s not particularly scary. My friend commented that the spiders should have been much meaner. All they do is eat people, and a few large caliber bullets will take one out. The tradeoff is that there are swarms and hordes of them, which is visually interesting, and maybe a little creepy if you hate spiders, but not particularly frightening.

It’s not particularly funny, either. The movie tells you early on that you’re not supposed to take it too seriously; a cat gets into a fistfight with a spider early in the movie. Also, the spiders make cute little Gremlin-like squeaky noises, and when they die, they make little silly squishy noises. The spiders get these sound effects, but they don’t really have any personality, like the aliens in the Alien series, or the sharks in Deep Blue Sea.

Alas, the only entertainment value is in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 sort of way — which is to say not at all except for what you yourself can bring to it. Eight Legged Freaks is not repulsively bad, it’s just a boring disappointment. Even the appreciative audience I was in didn’t enhance the experience.

One good thing may have come from it, though. At the screening, I got a free t-shirt and two fake spider toys.