Eight Legged Freaks (yes, the filmmakers left out the hyphen) is sometimes enjoyable, sometimes clever, sometimes effective, but ultimately not really successful. It either tries too hard, or it doesn’t try hard enough. The major problem is that it’s a movie that tries to be an affectionate parody of a type of film from half a century ago, but it not only lacks any apparent real affection for those films, it seems to be woefully lacking in much knowledge of them. It’s a rehash of a 1950s giant-insect-fear film, but rather than parody those films, it substitutes a series of references to far more modern fright flicks. For instance, in a real 1950s film, the big bugs would have undoubtedly been the result of nuclear testing — and even that would more than likely be nothing more than the explanation offered by the movie’s requisite egghead scientist. Here, they casually omit the scientist altogether and trendy the idea up with a stray barrel of toxic waste. Suddenly, it’s not so much a ’50s homage as an ’80s one. In other words, it’s more evocative of Return of the Living Dead, C.H.U.D. or even, God forbid, Ticks than the giant ants of Them, the oversized spider of Tarantula, or such delirious cheese as the big rear-screen grasshoppers of The Beginning of the End. Maybe someone is anxious to recapture the glory that was the ’80s and ’90s exploitation film. I am not that someone. Instead of riffing on these ’50s sub-classics, we get a macaw that spouts The Sixth Sense’s, “I see dead people”; folks holing up in a shopping mall, a la Day of the Dead; a reference to Field of Dreams; and Doug E. Doug as a clone of a couple comic hero Garrett Morris characters from The Stuff and Children of the Night, but all we get from the movies it supposedly draws on are giant spiders. Why? My own suspicion is that Eight Legged Freaks doesn’t trust its audience to “get” it. That’s actually pretty insulting if you stop to think about it — even more so when a supposedly mainstream movie like Lilo and Stitch boasts a gag based on Earth Vs. the Spider that does trust its audience, and in less than a minute nails the quaint charm of the genre better than Eight Legged Freaks does in 90 minutes. Since it ultimately fails as a pastiche of 1950s sci-fi, what’s left? Well, it could have gone the route of Tremors — a film it has been compared to — and created its own little enjoyably clever approach, but it lacks something (clever characterizations and the wit to limit its budget-conscious beasties). Instead, Eight Legged Freaks floods the screen with CGI spiders, spiders and more spiders. Some of them are effective. Most of them are hokey and are played for laughs, but most of the laughs just aren’t there. There’s a tendency to make the gags too jokey to work very well. The laughs that a bad movie like The Beginning of the End effortlessly and accidentally generates with its silly images of grasshoppers climbing on photos of Chicago skyscrapers are far more plentiful than the ones this film desperately courts. It doesn’t help matters that none of the characters are very appealing. It really works better if you care whether or not your hero becomes a midnight snack for the monsters, and that’s something Eight Legged Freaks just can’t manage. The best things in the film are the last few minutes, where it springs to life and director Elkayem finally evidences a genuine feel for action. But unless you’re just thrilled by the prospect of a bunch of overgrown arachnids scuttling about the screen for an hour or so, it’s hardly worth the effort.
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