“Eight Legged Freaks” is essentially a cheesy 1950’s sci-fi drive-in movie with un-cheesy special effects. There’s no sense of irony and not much of a sense of humor. Instead, it has a rather sweet sense of pleasure in its own conventions, a sure sense of pacing, and some very impressive huge spiders. And I guess we found out where that surprising hyphen came from in “Spider-Man.” It’s missing from the title of this movie, which makes it appear to be about eight creatures with legs.
These are not Peter Parker’s spiders. They don’t give you super powers – they eat you. Remember in “Annie Hall” when Woody Allen told Diane Keaton that the spider in her bathtub was the size of a Buick? These are even bigger, more like the size of an SUV.
It’s all the fault of that old movie standby, “chemicals.” A small Arizona town is on the verge of going under, about to vote to sell the entire place for what the mayor says is a highway. But he has bad teeth and icky hair and is mean to his stepson, so don’t believe him. Chris (David Arquette), the son of the man who owned the now-abandoned mine, has come back after 10 years, hoping to realize his father’s dream of tapping into a gold vein and his own dream of finally telling the girl he loves (Kari Wuhrer as Sam), now the town sheriff, how he feels.
The plot is very simple, more computer game than story, but really a classic re-creation of movies like “The Blob” and “World Without End.” A chemical spill and some undisclosed toxic waste transform an entire zoo of 200 exotic spiders into huge, hungry monsters. Then the spiders chase the people, catching many of them. At first, no one believes it, then they run away, try to hide, and then fight back.
Parents should know that, despite the smart-alecky title, this movie is not a comedy like “Evolution” (okay, that was more of an attempted comedy) and does not temper the scariness with attitude, like “Men in Black.” It is a straight-out scarefest, and right up to the farthest edges of the PG-13 rating, with very explicit and gross violence and a lot of jump-out-at-you surprises. Characters are killed and eaten. In addition, a character chain-smokes, there is some alcohol, and some strong language. There is a reference to a teen pregnancy and to adultery. A teen-age girl is extremely clear about not being ready to have sex, despite pressure from a boy she likes very much, but parents may be concerned about her use of a stun gun to make her point. The female characters are tough and brave. One of the main characters is black, and although he is portrayed as a little paranoid and crazy, he is also brave and loyal.
Families who watch this movie should talk about the different kinds of spiders, which are actually fascinating creatures who benefit humans by eating mosquitoes. They might want to do some research here.