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At the Movies
with Mark Moorehead

'Eight Legged Freaks' has crawled into local theaters for a campy summer run

Film: Eight Legged Freaks

Cast: David Arquette, Kari WuhrerScott Terra

Rating: PG-13

Director: Ellory Elkayem

Now Playing: Harkins Chandler Fashion 20, Harkins Arizona Mills, Centerpoint 11

Viewability Quotient: *** (worth a look)

 

You remember Them, those six-legged creatures the size of semi-trucks terrorizing a small town in the late 1950s. It remains a classic B-movie sci-fi flick that defined the genre in the 1950s and Ď60s.

Them was the type of film perfectly suited for the drive-in theater and a date: Big bugs, boy-meets-girl sub-plot, predictable but comfortable no brain-cell-loss story-line and just enough random fright to provide the perfect excuse for you and a date to snuggle up. And, if watching the movie somehow became secondary to necking, you could still describe enough of the plot to your parents to convince them you had gone to a movie rather than someplace where you could really get into trouble.

Warner Bros. Pictures decided it was time to pay homage to the old B-movie sci-fi genre with Eight Legged Freaks.

Them were enormous, six-legged ants. Eight Legged Freaks are giant spiders.

How do these critters get so big? Radiation from underground nuclear testing caused the ants in Them to grow to the size of houses. Just a barrel of toxic waste dumped into the water produces jumping spiders the size of patio umbrellas in Eight Legged Freaks.  However, for some inexplicable reason, gargantuan spiders seem more menacing than ants 50 feet long. It must be the number of legs that freak us out.

Drive-in theatres may be relics of the past, but big-bug films apparently are timeless. Psychologists claim we enjoy these films because of our innate fear and dislike of bugs in general,  particularly those that refuse to die with a blast of Raid or a smack with a newspaper.

Six-foot jumping spiders fill the bill as our worst nightmare, unless of course the film they star in is a comedy. And hereís where the two productions go separate ways.

Them took itself serious, albeit in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way. Eight Legged Freaks, on the other hand, is a campy comedy where spiders have personality and exhibit human reactions to eating dust, chomping on something that taste bad and getting hurt.  Unfortunately, this added comic element is overkill, reducing a potential sci-fi cult film into a serviceable but silly oversized-bug film.

A younger audience, it seems, finds spiders with personality the funniest part of the movie.

Arachnophobia fun begins when a container of toxic garbage falls from a truck into a pond of water located next to spider farm run by an eccentric loner.

You guessed it: The spiders drink the stuff, get real big and escape to prey on anyone or anything that moves.

A young Harry Potter look-alike (played by Scott Terra) discovers the terrible event and warns unsuspecting citizens of a small Arizona town. 

His mother is local sheriff Sam Parker (played by Kari Wuher) and she doesnít believe her sonís story until she sees a spider as big as a bedroom cocooning her daughter against a wall.

Sheriff Parker mobilizes the entire town to defeat these jumping creepy-crawlies. Key players in the fight include a whacked-out conspiracy theorist/radio DJ, the lovesick son of a local mine owner and a corrupt major who plans to turn an abandoned mine into a nuclear waste site.

Mayhem ensues and the surviving members of the town take refuge in the local mall. One scene exploits this prop-rich locale for comic effect, but the film misses out on a wealth of opportunities the setting offers.

Other missed opportunities in the film include some chemistry between the allegedly love-struck lovers and a fitting penance for the unconscionable, greedy major at the end. What am I thinking? Iím treating this movie as if it were an Oscar contender instead of the B-movie that it is.   

Campiness is the operative word for Eight Legged Freaks. Director Ellory Elkayem never intended this film to be taken serious as a cinematic art fare.

Consider it a cross between Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and Tarantula. There are plenty of sight gags, lots of laughs and just enough scares to catch you off guard.

Best of all, the spiders do their dirty work without spilling a drop of blood from their victims.

And if thatís not enough to generate some interest, consider the location for this shoot. Eight Legged Freaks was filmed just 60 miles east of Phoenix in Superior. 

The location scout for Warner Brothers needed a spacious, defunct shopping mall and an abandoned mine. Magma Copper Companyís Silver Queen Mine provided the perfect nocturnal hangout for the giant spiders, while Superiorís empty mall accommodated the townís panicked refugees. 

As the film comes to more and more theater screens, Superior is discovering the real goldmine in town is not in the surrounding hills but on the silver screen.

-- Pecan Grove resident Mark Moorehead writes regularly for Wrangler News.

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