Eight Legged Freaks is a throwback to the radiation-infused monster movies of 1950s, in which fallout from a nuclear weapon causes fauna to grow to unusual size and then go on a murderous rampage. In Eight Legged Freaks, it’s toxic waste that causes the runaway growth of arachnids at a local spider farm.
Unlike the dismal The Relic, that’s about as much science as Eight Legged Freaks cares to insert into the movie. Oh sure, we’ve got a know-it-all kid who loves to tell us about how spiders like to kill their prey, but this is a movie with no pretentions to scientific authenticity.
The movie takes place in the town of Prosperity, Arizona. The town’s gold mines have played out, and hair-brained schemes like building a mall and raising ostriches haven’t paid out. Chris McCormick (David Arquette) has returned home to Prosperity seeking the mother lode that his father swore existed in the mines, but which he never found. Meanwhile his former flame, Sheriff Sam Parker (Kari Wuhrer), is dealing with a rebellious daughter and teenaged townies who don’t respect her authority. The mayor, Wade (Leon Rippy) has stumbled upon his next great get-rich-quick-scheme: storing toxic waste in the abandoned mines.
It’s your standard small-town politics with a dance of frustrated romance, at least until the spiders show up.
“No one’s going to believe me, cause I’m a kid, and they never listen to kid.” — Mike
It’s a movie that shoots for funny and lands on amusing. It’s not nearly as good as Tremors or Slither, but it does a decent job of paying homage to Them! and other movies of its ilk.
The movie’s at its best early on, when the spiders are first invading the town. Eight Legged Freaks goes for a quick first kill, offing the town’s resident spider rancher in a scene that also unleashes a few hundred still-diminutive spiders from their cages.
The spiders quickly spread around town — there’s a memorable (if cartoony) battle between a giant spider and a cat, an ostrich massacre, and — perhaps my favorite part — an epic spider vs. dirt bike chase that ends with tanker truck exploding in flames.
Unlike the crew of the Prometheus, the heroes of Eight Legged Freaks pause and come up with a plan, and yes, they actually do listen to the kid.
Mike, the sheriff’s son, gives her and McCormick a few lessons in spider ecology, explaining that some spiders like capture prey and deliver it to their queen, while others consume it outright. This gives McCormick hope that disappearing townspeople like his aunt might still be alive.
They find their way to a mall — handy for surviving zombie AND spider apocalypses — to make a final stand while McCormick uses the town’s only cellular phone (this is, after all, 2002). This is when, with spiders swarming over the mall’s root, that McCormick gets to scream his signature line.
“Get back, you eight-legged freaks!” — Chris McCormick
Eight Legged Freaks is a good-natured movie, but it never quite hits its stride. There are a few good lines and some amusing moments involving predatory spiders, and it’s probably better than the even more uneven Arachnophobia (1990) (a movie that seemed to be conflicted about whether it was a horror flick or a comedy, and did neither particularly well).
The spiders look good — better back in 2002, but they hold up reasonably well these days. I didn’t like when they tried to inject the arachnids with personality by giving them voices; I may be ignorant of my spider physiology, but I’ve never heard one of the critters make a noise (then again, maybe I just haven’t encountered a big enough spider yet…)
It’s a B movie about B movies and never rises higher than that. It makes it a decent Saturday afternoon film if you stumble across it while channel surfing or stumble across it in Netflix streaming, but I wouldn’t add it to my creature feature collection.