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Ellory Elkayem
David Arquette, Kari Wuhrer, Scott Terra, Scarlett Johansson, Doug E. Doug, Rick Overton, Leon Rippy
Jesse Alexander & Ellory Elkayem

Do you hate spiders? Do you really hate spiders? Well they don't like you either.
Box Office:
Budget $30 million.
Opening weekend $6.485 million on 2530 screens.
Domestic gross $17.266 million.
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence, brief sexuality and language.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
English, French, Spanish

Runtime: 99 min.
Price: $26.98
Release Date: 10/29/2002

• Audio Commentary With Director/Co-Writer Ellory Elkayem, Producer Dean Devlin, and Actors David Arquette and Rick Overton
• Additional Scenes
• Short Film Larger Than Life
• “Creepy Crawly Giants” Essay
• Cast/Director Film Highlights
• Theatrical Trailer
• DVD-ROM Features


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Eight Legged Freaks (2002)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

While I generally adopt a “live and let live” attitude toward bugs, I admit that I can’t stand spiders. I can handle the crawling aspect, but any critter that can lower itself on a little string and land on my head while I sleep really gives me the creeps. Yes, I realize that spiders help balance the ecosystem, and I appreciate that, but just keep them away from me.

Surprisingly, Eight Legged Freaks didn’t inspire the usual ick factor within me. Normally I get the heebie-jeebies when I watch flicks with lots of spiders in them, but since Freaks mutated the arachnids so heavily, those issues didn’t occur. Arachnophobia really nailed me in that sense, but its spiders stayed fairly normal-sized, which accentuated the potential realism of the story.

Make no mistake: Freaks never attempts to live within the real world. Sure, it takes place in the present day and offers ordinary characters, but it adopts the spirit of Fifties B-movies and creates a funky sci-fi setting. It takes place in Prosperity, Arizona, an ironically named desert town. Most of its inhabitants need work because the local mines closed. Their owner recently died, and his son Chris (David Arquette) returns home after a 10-year absence. There he tries to pick up the pieces of some issues he left behind, particularly in regard to the town’s sexy sheriff Sam (Kari Wuhrer).

In the meantime, a truck swerves to avoid a bunny, and a barrel of toxic chemicals rolls into a river. There it affects crickets that local spider farmer Joshua (Tom Noonan) scoops up to feed to his critters. With these chemically enhanced crickets inside them, the arachnids start to grow well beyond normal parameters, and they become aggressive as well.

Eventually Joshua disappears, and his nerdy young friend Mike (Scott Terra) starts to worry that the spiders pose a real threat. No one believes him, of course, but soon enough they’ll learn the truth about the enormous arachnids, as the critters continue to grow and gradually attack the town’s inhabitants. Other characters include Sam’s hot and rebellious teen daughter Ashley (Scarlett Johansson), the town’s scummy mayor Wade (Leon Rippy), crackpot conspiracy theorist radio host Harlan (Doug E. Doug), and Sam’s dippy deputy Pete (Rick Overton).

But I wouldn’t worry too much about the cast, for they largely exist as spider fodder. They get their own generic personalities, but none of these go much of anywhere. The actors gamely do their best to bring the characters to life, with varying results. Arquette seems surprisingly stolid as the male lead. He avoids his tendencies toward bug-eyed comedy and plays it fairly straight, and the results seem pretty good. On the other hand, Wuhrer looks hot but comes across as stiff and wooden. She doesn’t display any natural tones and lacks much conviction in the part.

But nobody goes to see films like Freaks to revel in the great acting, so the question becomes one of whether or not the flick delivers the necessary creepy thrills. While a moderately enjoyable film, I don’t think Freaks seems like anything special. It feels like a mélange of Arachnophobia’s killer spiders with the desolate but comic setting of Tremors and the intense action of Aliens.

That sounds like a good mix, but unfortunately it leaves Freaks open to comparisons with all those movies. Since each one of them seems decidedly superior to Freaks, the contrasts become problematic. The flick doesn’t really achieve its own sense of personality. It feels like an homage to so many sources – including the Fifties “B”-movies that act as its real roots – that it never grabs a life of its own.

It doesn’t help that the spider effects seem really unconvincing. Yes, it’s time for another anti-CGI tirade from me. In other reviews, I’ve made no secret of my general dislike for those techniques, and Freaks does nothing to alter my opinions. The computer-drawn spiders tend to blend poorly with the action, and they become an active distraction at times. One might argue that this makes sense within the homage framework of Freaks - its inspirations from the Fifties offered much crummier effects – but I don’t think that excuses the badly executed computer arachnids seen here.

Surprisingly, Freaks failed to elicit many cases of the heebie-jeebies in me. Like I mentioned earlier, I hate spiders and they regularly give me the creeps, even on film. When I watch Arachnophobia, I basically shudder the whole time. That didn’t happen here, perhaps because the movie so firmly avoids the real world. I can’t really take two-ton spiders all that seriously, so while they still gross me out to some degree, the film lacks the “it could happen to me” aspect observed in Arachnophobia.

A few scenes work pretty well, however, including one that strongly involves webbing. Nonetheless, Eight Legged Freaks seems like nothing more than a fairly average flick. It does enough well to keep me interested and generally entertained, but it never threatens to become more vivid and compelling. Unlike better “B”-movie homages such as Tremors, the cartoony presentation offers a light diversion and nothing more than that.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+ / Audio A / Bonus B

Eight-Legged Freaks appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. All in all, the picture seemed pretty solid, with only a few small concerns on display.

Sharpness appeared excellent. The movie came across as distinct and well defined. I noticed virtually no examples of softness or fuzziness during this crisp and detailed presentation. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no issues, but I did notice a smidgen of edge enhancement on a couple of occasions. Most print flaws remained absent, though I saw a little light grain at times. Actually, the film’s third act included a lot of fog effects, which made the image seem hazier (duh!), but that became inevitable; while the picture looked less clear during those times, I couldn’t take away points since it accurately reflected the material.

For the most part, the colors of Freaks seemed positive. Red lighting displayed some heavy tendencies, but otherwise the colors looked nicely natural and distinct. The tones came across as vibrant and lively and showed no concerns in scenes that didn’t involve colored lighting. Black levels appeared deep and tight, while shadow detail was appropriately dense but not overly thick. Ultimately, Eight Legged Freaks provided a satisfying visual presentation.

I felt even more impressed with the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Eight Legged Freaks. The soundfield provided an impressively active environment. I expected to hear a lot of activity from the spiders, and the mix didn’t disappointment me. In the front channels, elements spread nicely across the speakers, and they blended together quite well. Bugs and other bits of audio moved cleanly from channel to channel and meshed together neatly. Music also showed good stereo presence and delineation. As for the surrounds, they kicked in a lot of unique audio. The spiders amassed all around the spectrum, especially when they hopped from one area to the other. The soundfield contributed a nice sense of atmosphere and added a lot to the presentation.

In addition, the audio quality appeared solid. Dialogue came across as warm and natural, and I noticed no issues related to edginess or intelligibility. Music sounded bright and lively and presented a nice sense of dynamic range; highs appeared clear and distinct, while lows were tight and deep. Effects also packed a fine punch. They seemed clean and tight and demonstrated excellent bass response, especially with the stomp of the big spider. Those bits and others were loud and vibrant but not inappropriately overwhelming. In the end, I felt very impressed with the terrific audio attached to Eight Legged Freaks.

On this special edition release of Eight Legged Freaks, we get a mix of extras. These start with an audio commentary from co-writer/director Ellory Elkayem, producer Dean Devlin, and actors David Arquette and Rick Overton, all of whom were recorded together for this running, screen-specific piece. Overall, the track seemed entertaining but lackluster. Devlin dominated the commentary, at least until around the start of the third act; he apparently split at that point and left the other three alone. They managed to pick up the slack to a decent degree, which surprised me since none of them said a whole lot during the first two-thirds of the flick. While Devlin provided a lot of good production notes and information about the movie, until he left, the others mostly tossed in occasional remarks but not anything particularly memorable. I felt most surprised at the relative silence of Elkayem; he was the director, after all.

But Elkayem, Arquette and Overton proved more animated toward the end of the film, though they still didn’t give us a great deal of useful information. At times, I heard some compelling material about Freaks during this piece, but even when Devlin was around, the content remained fairly light and unengaging. Too many empty spots appeared, and too many statements simply praised the movie’s various elements. Happily, the men kept the tone nicely light and amusing, so even though I didn’t discover a lot of useful information, it remained reasonably entertaining. Chalk up this commentary as a decent but erratic offering.

One nice addition comes from Larger Than Life, the short film directed By Elkayem that helped lead to his stint on Freaks. Presented non-anamorphic 1.85:1 with Dolby Surround 2.0 audio, this 13-minute and 35-second piece opens with a 49-second text introduction from Elkayem. We then watch the black and white short film starring sexy Rebecca Hobbs sda as a woman who just purchased a somewhat run-down home. She finds an infestation of spiders that grows bigger – literally – by the minute. Though not a stellar film, Life offers some interesting moments and makes for a fun extra.

When we move to the Additional Scenes area, we find 11 deleted segments. Presented non-anamorphic 2.35:1, these last a total of 13 minutes and 10 seconds. Mostly these offer some additional character moments, though we also find an extended opening and an alternate ending. Amusing, they didn’t complete the effects shots, so we occasionally see the actors interact with non-existent spiders. None of the scenes seem terribly interesting, but they’re good to see nonetheless.

In addition to the film’s theatrical trailer, we get a couple of text extras. Creepy Crawling Giants provides a short but reasonably informative text essay about scary bug movies. Cast and Crew gives us filmographies for actor David Arquette, co-story creator Randy Kornfield, co-writer Jesse Alexander, and co-writer/director Ellory Elkayem. As usual with WB DVDs, we see many other participants listed, but you can only access filmographies for the folks I just listed.

For those with DVD-ROM drives, you’ll find a few additional pieces. The key attraction here is the “High Voltage Challenge”. This offers a lame first-person shooter with genuinely hideous graphics and some terrible voice acting. I endured it for about five minutes before I happily quit the game. These go to the Freaks website, a “Latest Movies” area that details new DVD releases, WB Online, and the usual WB “Special Features” site. After I griped about the latter area for months – it sat dormant since May or so – they finally updated that page. Hooray! You can also sign up for WB’s “Movie Mail” feature here.

Fans of goofy Fifties horror flicks might get a charge out of Eight Legged Freaks, but I felt the movie seemed sporadically fun at best. It provided decent general entertainment but it failed to really catch fire at any point. The DVD offered very good picture along with sensational sound and a reasonably positive package of supplements. If you dig this kind of campy sci-fi offering, you may want to give Eight Legged Freaks a peek, but I can’t recommend it for a more general audience.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.0588 Stars Number of Votes: 17
3 3:
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