It's been a while since we had a really good spider movie. Eleven years have gone by since Arachnophobia, the last great example of the sub-genre and that was a good twelve years after one of the greatest B-Movies ever made, Kingdom Of The Spiders, and one of the worst, The Giant Spider Invasion. Jack Sholder's Arachnid is not a bad little straight-to-DVD monster movie but it's not particularly good either and isn't fit to even live in the same category as the aforementioned Kingdom... or the father of them all, the awesome Tarantula.
Few surprises are offered by the plot. A frightfully butch navy pilot called Joli crash-lands on a remote South Pacific Island and is promptly witness to a terrifying manifestation of bad CGI effects which lead to him being got by a giant spider or, in the scientifically finicky spirit of the film, genetically modified arachnid. Some time later, we assume, a medical team is assigned to investigate a strange viral outbreak on the island. This is led by extremely shifty Hispanic scientist Dr Leon (Jose Sancho) and his vaguely feminist assistant Susana (Neus Asensi), with military support from an array of ex-Marines - who are nearly as butch as the Village People but not so well dressed - led by Valentine (Potter) and "Bear" (Rocqueford Allen). The mission gets off on a bad foot when the plane - a wreck which not even Richard Branson would be seen dead in - piloted by ex-Navy pilot Lauren Mercer (Alex Reid) is forced to make an emergency landing on the beach front of what we might as well call Spider Island. Spider Island is part of that geographical landmass - part jungle, part South Sea Idyll - known so well to moviegoers from its appearance in virtually every low budget monster movie to be released straight to DVD in the past three years. This useful location sometimes gets to play a major part in big Hollywood movies such as Predator and Jurassic Park 3 but is usually restricted to films in which all the limited budget has been spent on special effects "from the team behind Species". The team investigate the viral outbreak in an offhand sort of way, in between bickering incessantly, finding that the village they were visiting is now deserted following some kind of attack from a large predator. Meanwhile, they are being picked off one by one after attacks from a variety of flora and fauna. Who will survive ? What will be left of them ? What time does "Club Reps" come on ? And when will we see the big special effect set-piece that is clearly being set up during the second half of the film ?
As you might expect, it's this effects showcase that provides most of the entertainment for a viewer jaded enough to have watched, during the past year, Crocodile, Bats, They Nest, Primal Species, Komodo and several others, the names of which have mercifully vanished from the memory. The giant spider is actually rather good and suitably menacing, although rather less so when we get to see it in close-up during the denouement. When it's dripping acid and wrapping people up in steel-strength cocoons it is genuinely creepy and at least one viewer had to put his feet up on the settee when it appeared in case something similar was lurking underneath. Also, while we're being positive, there are some nice gory set-pieces which keep the attention engaged. I particularly enjoyed a surprisingly nasty attack by some meddlesome ticks which burrow under some poor sod's skin and then bloodily erupt following some obviously unhealthy white vomiting. There's an especially good eye gouging here which will warm the hearts of Fulci fans and which seems a little extreme for a '15' certificate even under the new warm and cuddly BBFC regulations.
Otherwise the film plods along, stealing from lots of better films as it goes, notably Aliens and a rather good little 1993 monster flick called Ticks. The problem with all these jungle monster movies is that they begin to resemble each other so closely, with identical cinematography and deeply unimaginative direction, that they are like episodes of the same series with identikit characters and situations. The characters are all cut from the thinnest cardboard imaginable and they are given motivations so familiar to the audience as to suggest that this is some new form of movie karaoke. The acting is servicable from the rather attractive Alex Reid, wasted in this part, but otherwise pretty dismal. When the actors in a film make you remember Jessie "The Body" Ventura's performance in Predator affectionately, there is clearly something going wrong. The dialogue should be passed over in silence since to laugh at it would be showing a lack of respect for the dead. As for the direction, I can only shake my head in sorrow. Jack Sholder made the wonderful The Hidden back in 1987, one of the finest SF horror movies of the eighties, and also the unconventional slasher flick Alone In The Dark, but, on this evidence, he is well on the way to the Z list along with Tobe Hooper. It's not incompetent but it is mediocre. Every shock is telegraphed way ahead of time, nearly every camera set-up shrieks Channel 5 (and bad Channel 5 at that) and the actors are clearly given no hint as to what they should be doing so they often just stand around as if grouped for a photo. I didn't find Arachnid boring but I did find myself humming as yet another derivative situation wore its way towards the predictable outcome. If you like monster movies and are either very tolerant or very pissed, this might be worth a look. Otherwise, go for Arachnophobia instead.
A very average film gets an equally average DVD release from Mosaic Entertainment. It's not at all bad, to be fair, and does the job in hand but nor is there anything here to make a purchase of the film more tempting.
The picture quality is variable. The film is presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 and generally looks pretty good. Colours are very strong and the variance of the tones of the jungle colours is nicely captured. The level of detail could be better and there's an unnecessary softness to the image in places. The sharpness needed to add to the tension in this sort of film, where much of the time is spent amidst foliage, is often lacking. This may partially be a fault of the occasionally over-lush cinematography. There is some artifacting in places but an absence of grain.
The soundtrack is 2 channel Dolby Stereo. This is presumably the best track available for such a low budget film but it's not really adequate. The main problem is the dialogue which is sometimes muffled and inaudible - the heavy accents of some of the actors don't help at all in this respect. I had to strain to hear some of the lines and there are no subtitles to help with this. The music is the best part of the track but over-stressed at the expense of other elements. There is some use of the right and left channels for split dialogue effects but not very much.
The extras are limited to the "original" trailer, which is rather amusing actually, some production notes which tell you more about the production company behind the film ("Fantastic Factory" run by Julio Fernandez and the redoubtable Brian Yuzna) and a small photo gallery. There are 12 chapter stops and the main menu features a music cue from the film.
We're getting this movie before the USA, which has to wait until the 26th of March, but that's not necessarily something to be excited about. It's hard to imagine anyone bothering to see this at the cinema but as a cheap monster flick its not really all that bad, especially in comparison with some truly abominable straight to DVD efforts which plug up the shelves. Watch it with a sense of humour and a few drinks and you might even quite enjoy it. But there's really nothing here, on the DVD or in the film, which makes it particularly recommended.
Arachnid is released on the 4th February and has a recommended retail price of £15.99.