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Jurassic Park flaunted it with fearsome reptiles, Starship Troopers did it with a circus of over-sized pests, and Eight Legged Freaks just manages to pull it off with a few hundred angry arachnids! In 1997, close-to-home New Zealand filmmaker, Ellory Elkayem, manifested his creepy-crawly fetish with an experimental short film, Larger Than Life, which portrayed the horrid domestic disturbances of unwelcome creepy crawlies. Reeking of Ed Wood-style sketches, this thirteen minute amateurish short film later became the inspiration for Elkayem’s Eight Legged Freaks, a stylized Hollywood creep-fest that, although achingly embarrassing, is fairly humorous in its own right.

Before we start on the plot, it’s probably a wise idea to get one thing straight for all you arachnophobics out there; if you’re expecting this movie to scare the living crap out of you, you’re in for a rude awakening. Thankfully, Eight Legged Freaks doesn’t lend itself to the countless list of 90s horror movie cliches, but is alternatively furnished with the nostalgic knacks of the forgotten 1950s science fiction genres. Stylized with all the “wannabe” Ed Wood traits, it’s a movie that recognises the fact that its not going to make it to any top 100 lists any time soon.  I guess we can all appreciate that this movie isn’t really methodical in comparison to the usual garbage that litters Hollywood these days, and expanding on the former, it’s surely a relief that this sci-fi parody stood well clear of that gate.

Eight Legged Freaks

Prior to watching this film that originally appealed to audiences who favour generic trash, I was expecting a hackneyed slice of appallingly scripted waste. Well, if had placed money on my original bet, my current financial situation would have become even more pathetic as it is now. I can confidently say that the scripting of this film is the most commendable aspect of the film as a whole. It jubilantly makes fun of it’s ridiculous and equally comedic characters, it pulls of some hysterical and memorable “one liners”, and whenever it feels a cliché coming on, it completely massacres it and sews it back together.

What seems like an embarrassing story is introduced by one of the more shameful characters of the packet, Harlan Griffith (Doug E. Doug), who doesn’t really do this film any justice. Harlan is (unfortunately) the town’s only radio host, who seems pretty keen to scare (please!) audiences with his rather unusual tale. In this case, Harlan’s story takes place in his lonesome and dreary hometown of Prosperity, Arizona, its name quite contrary to its current economic state. Prosperity’s former trademark as booming gold-mining town eventually precipitated, and all that eventually became of it was a few empty trenches and mine shafts. This town wouldn’t be the same without Wade (Leon Rippy), the town’s shifty mayor who is more than tempted by an offer from a chemical company who plans to fill these empty trenches with barrels full of toxic waste. Being the sci-fi/horror movie it promises to be, we can all see where this is going…

Every town has a wacko, and in Prosperity’s case, it’s the local spider-guru, Joshua (an unbilled Tom Noonan), living on the outskirts of the deprived town in close proximity to those deserted trenches. So what happens when a few hundred of his fury friends are released out into the wild after a clumsy panic attack? Well, considering spiders are one of the smaller types of creepy crawlies, why should one start worrying? Well, its just a darn shame that a truck transporting drums of toxic waste through the town loses a barrel that falls into the river right next to Joshua’s spider farm. This is when the town becomes infected with a few hundred colossal arachnids. Uh oh…  

Eight Legged Freaks

In the meantime, local boy Chris McCormack (David Arquette as his usual dopey self) returns to the barren town after his ten-year absence, and knowingly, he still has a crush on the town’s cute Sheriff, Sam Parker (Kari Wuhrer). Thanks to Sam, we are complimented with an entertaining “trailer trash” family, constituting of her spider-enthusiast son, Mike (Scott Terra), and her rebellious teenage daughter, Ashley (Scarlet Johansson). Along with a hilarious town of nuts, it’s up to these four and the rest to open a can of whoop-ass on a few hundred-or-so of these Eight Legged Freaks.

It sounds like fun, and in many cases it fills the cup generously. However, it does have the potential to cook up a few more gags. What could prove itself as a marvelous and fun concept seems promising in the beginning, but after a while it just gets too silly. As for the spider-effects, they’re great. It’s an absolute riot to see hundreds of giant spiders terrorize everything from domestic cats to annoying pubescent punks. Oh, and the spiders growl, too!

Roadshow have earned a name for themselves since the birth of DVD video. It’s very rare that we will be presented with a disappointing transfer that lacks brilliance and vibrancy. In the case of Eight Legged Freaks, what starts out a crisp and particular transfer slowly sends itself downhill, though it doesn’t get to the point where it will distract audiences from the actual film. It’s certainly still an adequate transfer, but I was still surprised to see that Roadshow hadn’t perfected this one. The slightly contaminated presentation varies throughout its duration. While some scenes are dynamic and clear, others are victims of moderate shadow, grain and grit. The picture is nicely framed in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, which is 16:9 enhanced. Although it’s not enough to disappoint the majority, those particular folk may stand clear of this one.

Eight Legged Freaks

One would only hope for an active and potent soundtrack to boot for a film of this sort. Luckily, this is certainly the case, with the soundtrack proving itself worthy of the purchase. What we have here is an impressive 5.1 surround track that takes any home theatre system to its advantage. Effective use of surround channels is competently achieved through this efficient soundtrack, enhancing the nature and atmosphere of this slightly fun film. The soundtrack undoubtedly boasts its ability, convincing viewers that the spiders have come to join them in watching the flick, with the plausible scattering that is heard passing though the rear speakers throughout! The sub-woofer is also a significant key player in this package, donating sudden jolts beneath you as those creepy crawlies come out to play. In addition to the effectiveness of the surround sound, dialogue is always audible, and John Ottoman’s eerie score is successfully balanced between action and conversation, making this mix top dog.

The constantly enjoyable audio commentary steals this package, without a doubt. The track features director Ellory Elkayem, stars David Arquette and Rick Overton, and producer Dean Delvin. These four guys know how to go about recording a commentary that is incredibly appealing to fans of the film, offering hilarious round-the-table discussion of all aspects of the film. In between the technical-talk and trivia, these four guys are comfortable with joking around and having an honest laugh about their experiences on and off set. This commentary is definitely one of the more memorable few.

In addition to the impressive audio commentary, we’re given 11 deleted and alternate scenes. Although they’re insignificant, these scenes are still marginally entertaining, primarily expanding upon the film’s characters. These scenes have obviously been removed due to time restraints, considering director Ellory Elkayem and producer Dean Delvin admit during the audio commentary that they basically wanted to get along with the action, so as one would expect, these deleted scenes are vacant of any serious energy.

Eight Legged Freaks

One of the more interesting supplements, however, is Ellory Elkayem’s 1997 short film, Larger Than Life. As mentioned before, this thematically similar film was the inspiration behind Eight Legged Freaks. Larger Than Life was recognised by Dean Delvin and Roland Emmerich, and eventually earned Ellory Elkayem the director’s chair on the set of Eight Legged Freaks. It’s nice to have this little appendix attached to the package, although an optional audio commentary from director Ellory Elkayem would have trimmed this package off quite nicely. The film runs for just over 12 minutes, and is presented in its non-anamorphic widescreen ratio of 1.85:1 in its original black and white format.

Also included is the film’s original theatrical trailer that is regretfully subject to its own embarrassment. The trailer runs for just over a minute, and will send sensible film goers running. Thankfully, it’s a deceptive trailer and the film manages to offer a lot more than what was initially advertised. The cast/director film highlights are just listings of the key actors and their roles in the film, despite David Arquette, whose film highlights are actually listed, as promised. We’re also treated with hidden spider trivia, accessible through the main menu and a special feature entitled Creepy Crawling Giants, which is basically a listing of a few 1950s sci-fi bug movies that correspond with the film’s nature. For those of you with access to a DVD-ROM drive, additional supplements are offered, such as an interactive spider killing challenge. It’s just a shame that this somewhat standard package of extras wasn’t complimented with some urgently needed production featurettes. Those damn spiders must have done the bolt with them…

Eight Legged Freaks

Director Ellory Elkayem knew exactly where he wanted to go with Eight Legged Freaks, and he certainly embarked on his cinematic journey with firm and motivated prospects. Elkayem has created a science fictional playpen for those select few who can appreciate the film’s forgotten genre, but unfortunately his ideas weren’t manifested effectively enough to appeal to the wider proportion of today’s film-fuelled society. It’s evident that the marvelous concept behind the film wasn’t used to its absolute potential, and consequently, Eight Legged Freaks just turns out to be another underdeveloped science-fiction horror film. The DVD package itself also has room for further development, however, the impressive audio is a sure asset to those fans of the film.