The itsy-bitsy spider crawled up the water spout…

Actually, despite that recurring musical motif throughout Eight-Legged Freaks, the spiders here are anything but tiny, to say the least. The end result of an accidental radioactive waste dump in a lake near a spider farm (who knew that was a thing before this movie?), the titular creepy crawlies are pretty much the polar opposite of small in this fun B-movie throwback from 2002.

Though the ginormous spiders were obviously the real draw, the film’s big-names at the time were David Arquette, then still-hot off of the Scream franchise, and former MTV-vixen Kari Wuhrer, perhaps best-known for AnacondaThinner and the TV show Sliders. Rounding out the cast were some solid character actors, including Scarlett Johansson, who, just a year after this film, would land her breakthrough leading lady role in the superlative Sofia Coppola flick Lost in Translation. Also featured was Leon Rippy (who would go on to play Earl, the loveable is-he-or-isn’t-he God of TV’s Saving Grace); Tom Noonan (Manhunter– aka the original Red Dragon– plus cult classics The Monster Squad and The House of the Devil); Riley Smith (True Blood); Rick Overton (Devil in the FleshA Haunted House 2); Matt Czuchry (Gilmore Girls, The Good Wife); and the amusing Doug E. Doug, of Cool Runnings and Dr. Giggles fame.

Sadly, the other leading actor, Scott Tera, who plays the second teen kid of Wuhrer’s Sheriff character and the resident spider expert, Mike, dropped out of the business after a few more roles, including one as the young Matt Murdock in the Daredevil movie. According to IMDb, he hasn’t appeared in a film since 2006, which is too bad, as he’s quite likable here.

Another presence who has seemingly dropped out of the business after a few more movies is director Ellory Elkayem. Elkayem shot the back-to-back, much-maligned straight-to-video Return of the Living Dead sequels, Necropolis and Rave to the Graveand the decidedly unneeded Without a Paddle sequel, before disappearing from the movie scene altogether in 2006 as well. Given how poorly most of those films were received, I suppose that may be for the best, but at least he has Eight Legged Freaks going for him.

Faring considerably better was Jesse Alexander, who co-wrote the screenplay with Elkayem, and has gone onto to much success on the small screen, writing for much-beloved shows like AliasHeroes and Hannibal, all of which he also co-executive produced, along with the cult classic series Lost. Fun fact: the script was based on a story by Elkayem (who was inspired by his short, Larger Than Life, which also revolves around giant spiders) and Randy Kornfield, who also wrote the pseudo-enjoyable Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle Jingle All the Way.

More fun facts:
  • Eight Legged Freaks was originally entitled Arac Attack, as in “arachnids,” but was changed because it sounded too much like “Iraq Attack,” which the producers thought might seem in poor taste, given that the war there was going on at the time- and still is, really. Nonetheless, it was released as such in other parts of the world, including Europe. The new title comes from an ad-lib by star Arquette in the movie: “Get back, you eight-legged freaks!”- though the original title can also be heard within the film’s dialogue as well.
  • The film takes place in Arizona and was indeed shot there, in part in an actual mall, which was abandoned and demolished soon after. There is not a town called Prosperity in Arizona, however. Part of Eight Legged Freaks was also shot in an old coal-mining town as well, though the scenes within the mine were not actually shot inside the real mines, for somewhat obvious reasons, given what happens in the movie.
  • Eight Legged Freaks grossed $45 million on a $35 million-dollar budget, not a bad little investment at all. It also did quite well on home video, though, sadly, a Blu-ray has yet to see the light of day. Maybe someday that will change. The DVD features a commentary with the writer/director, Arquette and co-star Rick Overton- who Arquette went on to direct in the fun slasher movie, The Tripper– and a variety of bonuses, including the aforementioned short film Larger Than Life and some deleted scenes.  

Eight Legged Freaks doesn’t exactly re-invent the wheel, but it is a fun B-movie homage that plays like a mix of the tongue-in-cheek, small-town-vs.-big-critters vibes of Tremors meets the WB cartoon-comes-to-life antics of the underrated Gremlins 2: The New Batch. The goofy spider sound effects are silly, but endearing, and wait until you see the nutty scene with the cat attack, which is like something straight out of a Looney Tunes short. (Think Sylvester and Tweety Bird.)

Though hardly scary, unless you’re a total arachnophobe- in which case, you probably wouldn’t be watching it in the first place- it is nonetheless well-worth your time if you like creature features, especially in the mold of the classic 50’s flicks Tarantula, The Spider and Them!, all of which are referenced. It would also make for a great binge-watch with like-minded 70’s scarers such as Kingdom of the Spiders and The Giant Spider Invasion.

While I’m guessing Scar Jo probably doesn’t mention Eight Legged Freaks much- if ever- in interviews, it’s nonetheless nothing to be embarrassed by, which is more than one can say about some B-movies. Indeed, we could use a little more of this sort of thing in theaters, though I suppose Syfy does a crappier version of it with their Saturday Night Creature Features, a la Sharknado and the like, so there’s that.

It’s hard to believe it’s been 15 years since this came out- I was in the back-end of my teens then, gearing up for college and adulthood. Little did I know this sort of thing was on its way out, about to make way for the (Rob) Zombification of horror, in which everything would be taken a little too seriously for its own good. Don’t get me wrong, I love a lot of what was to come, but this certainly was one of the siren songs of “fun” horror movies in theaters, that’s for sure, and I kind of miss that sort of thing.

Who knows? Maybe creature features will have a resurgence before too long. 2013’s Big-Ass Spider was a lot of fun, and say what you will about those Syfy crap-fests, at least they don’t take themselves too seriously, so there’s that. I’d love to see something hit the big screen, though, what with how far special effects have come since this flick came out. Something like The Food of the Gods, but with more critters-gone-amuck, maybe even in 3D. That sounds like it could be a good time, right?

Until then, there’s always Eight Legged Freaks to fall back on, and if that’s wrong, I don’t want to be right. ?

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