Eight Legged Freaks

“Eight Legged Freaks” is a film without ideas. It is a modern-day B movie, but it does nothing with the genre other than re-create it, and if we needed re-creations of formulaic, predictable movies, that need was not widely publicized.

For there have certainly been other movies about giant things invading towns, and several about giant spiders specifically. Radiation is usually the cause, and it is up to One Man to take the lead and save the town. All of that is present here.

So what is “Eight Legged Freaks”? It’s not a parody; not much from the genre is given any particular spin or held up to scrutiny. An homage, maybe? Not quite, for there is little in the film to suggest its makers have a great love for B-grade monster movies. It seems, rather cynically, like they just sort of remember the genre and decided to create a new entry in it — not out of affection or mockery, but out of simple pragmatism.

Fine, if your movie turns out good, but this one didn’t. Director Ellory Elkayem (who co-wrote the screenplay with first-timer Jesse Alexander) unleashes huge mutant spiders on an economically depressed Arizona desert town and then just waits to see what happens. The plot does not twist; it’s a straight line from beginning to end, with no surprises in between. Eventually, there is a conclusion, and you know it will be one of three: Either the resourceful townsfolk destroy all the spiders, or else the spiders take over the world, or else the townsfolk THINK they’ve destroyed all the spiders but we’re shown a sac of eggs about to hatch just before the final credits roll.

Our hero, allegedly, is played by David Arquette. I hope you will join me in protesting the idea that David Arquette can carry a film, for surely he cannot, and he does not do it in this case. He is outwitted and outclassed by Kari Wuhrer, who plays sexy sheriff Sam Parker. Her feebly rebellious daughter Ashley (Scarlett Johansson) and spider-knowledgeable nerd son Mike (Scott Terra) are on hand, too, as are various other average townspeople.

The spiders themselves make cute animal noises, which makes them not scary but not quite funny, either. They gush obscene amounts of goo when they are shot, which is funny. In one scene, one of them voraciously attacks its prey only to discover it’s a stuffed moose head. That, too, is amusing.

“Amusing” is what this film needs more of. It is not serious, by any means, but humor — e.g., one-liners, character quirks, situational comedy — is not a priority, either. What we get are Doug E. Doug as a deeply unfunny conspiracy-theory radio host, and Rick Overton as the fat, incompetent sheriff’s deputy. And I think merely the idea of giant spiders killing people at random is meant to be darkly funny, but it didn’t do it for me.

“Eight Legged Freaks” is not a bad movie, per se. One can sit through it and find bits of joy here and there, and even a smidgen of satisfaction upon leaving. But it is nowhere near what it could have been, had it lived up to the ideas implied within its boisterous title.

C+ (1 hr., 39 min.; PG-13, a little profanity, a lot of death and mayhem, some mild sexuality.)