Eight Legged Freaks Review

Just outside the small town of Prosperity, Arizona, a large canister of toxic waste falls off the back of a truck and lands in the river. Little does anyone know that the waste has contaminated the water supply of an arachnid farm run by Joshua Taft (an uncredited Tom Noonan). Soon spiders the size of cars are attacking the town and Sheriff Sam Parker (Kari Wuhrer) and her old flame Chris McCormick (David Arquette) are all that stand in the way…

There are horror films which invite you to dig under the surface and uncover subtexts. And then there are those which are exactly what you see on the surface. Eight Legged Freaks is one such, a good old fashioned monster B movie with A-budget special effects. Director and co-writer Ellory Elkayem made a short film in 1997, Larger Than Life (included on this DVD), a black-and-white homage to 1950s giant-bug B movies such as Them! and Tarantula. This was shown at the Telluride Film Festival, and brought Elkayem to the attention of co-producer Dean Devlin (who has Independence Day and Godzilla amongst his credits). The result is Eight Legged Freaks. The film was called Arac Attack in production. Say that out loud and you’ll realise why the original title may have been found politically insensitive.

Elkayem paces the film well. After the normal-sized spiders break out from Taft’s farm early on he keeps them in the background for a while. That’s not to say that he develops character to any extent: for all its affection, the screenplay is really nothing more than a sequence of standard genre tropes. Scientist, not so much mad as certainly eccentric? Brainy kid who just so happens to know a lot about spiders? They’re all here. It’s a bit of a shock to see Scarlett Johansson in this film, before she became the credible actress of nowadays, but she won’t be ashamed of her work here. One little twist is to make the sheriff a woman: in fact Arquette plays what would often be the female lead in a picture like this. But what Elkayem does best is to build up tension by revealing his giant spiders bit by bit. One blackly funny sequence involves a cat, a spider and a cavity wall. And then, halfway through the film, the giant spiders begin to attack. But Elkayem leaves the largest one of all for the finale.

The CGI effects, which to be honest are the whole reason for this film’s existence, are excellent. While it’s obvious that the giant arachnids aren’t real, they do interact well with everything else on screen. However, almost all the normal-sized spiders seen near the beginning are CGIs as well, and they look pretty realistic.

Taken in the right spirit, Eight Legged Freaks is a lot of fun for the hour and a half it’s on screen. Needless to say arachnophobes will give this one a very wide berth.

Shot in Super 35, Eight Legged Freaks is presented on DVD in its correct ratio of 2.35:1. As you’d espect from a new film, this is a first-rate transfer, bright and colourful and generally sharp, with solid blacks. The transfer also copes well with a fair number of darkly-lit night scenes. There’s some minor artefacting but it’s not distracting unless you’re actually looking for it.

The DVD has three Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks, either with the original English dialogue or French or Italian dubs. For much of the first half of the film, the sound is concentrated on the centre speaker, apart from John Ottman’s music score. But when the spiders attack, the soundtrack opens up. There’s much use of directional effects and plenty of bass.

There are twenty-nine chapter stops and subtitles in a variety of languages. The DVD is encoded for Regions 2 and 5.

The main extra is an audio commentary featuring Ellory Elkayem, actors David Arquette and Rick Overton and producer Dean Devlin. All four of them are clearly recorded together and seem to be having a good time joking with each other. Elkayem tends to get overshadowed by the other three, but it’s an entertaining listen that also manages to be informative.

The theatrical trailer is short (1:05) and very effective. You know exactly what kind of film this is, and whether you’d be interested in seeing it or not. It’s anamorphic 1.78:1 with a Dolby Digital 2.0, digitally surround-encoded track.

Also included is Larger Than Life, Elkayem’s original short film. And pretty good it is too: you can see what caught the producers’ attention. This is non-namorphic 1.85:1 with a Dolby Surround track, running 13:37. The black-and-white picture is a little soft. The film is preceded by a text introduction from Elkayem.

The deleted scenes include an alternate beginning (with temporary credits) and ending. You can see why these were deleted – pacing reasons – though some of them do add a little character detail that is missing from the final version. These scenes total 13:10, subdivided into twelve chapters, non-anamorphic 2.35:1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

The filmographies are simple listings of the cast and crew. No biographies are included, which makes this extra rather pointless – you can simply look up this data from the film itself or your favourite reference source.

If you have a DVD-ROM drive (PC only), you can access a first-person shooter game, weblinks and the film’s original website.

The Region 1 and Region 4 versions are more or less identical to this one, except that they have a text feature, "Creepy Crawly Giants", and some Easter Eggs which don't appear here.

Eight Legged Freaks is a film that promises giant spider action and delivers, with the help of a dry sense of humour and a fast pace. I’d be interested to see what Elkayem can do with a script that’s not entirely derived from other movies, but in the meantime this won’t be a waste of ninety minutes of your time. This DVD is certainly worth buying if you can do so cheaply. Just check what’s in your shoes before you put them on.

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