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Eight Legged Freaks (July 17/02)

Eight Legged Freaks clearly wants to be a Gremlins for the 21st century, but never quite makes it due to lackluster character development and shaky pacing.

As the film opens, a truck carrying a large cachet of toxic waste accidentally dumps its cargo into the lake of a small town. Infected crickets make their way to a nearby spider farm, where they're subsequently devoured by the insects. This being a giant spider movie, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that the influence of the toxic waste on the spiders is not exactly benign. Meanwhile, we're introduced to the various inhabitants of the town, most notably a man returning home after a lengthy absence (played by David Arquette). But really, this isn't a movie about characters; it's about gigantic spiders that eat people and when the movie concerns itself about them, it works.

Part of what makes Eight Legged Freaks inferior to films like Gremlins, Tremors and even that other spider movie Arachnophobia, is its inability to create a single character worth caring about. Arachnophobia, for example, had Jeff Daniels as the central character and he was someone we wanted to see win the battle over the spiders (it didn't hurt that he had to face his fear of the eight legged freaks). But here, we get Arquette; his character is so poorly developed, by the time the movie's over, we don't know much more about him than we initially learn (he has a crush on the town sheriff and had a falling out with his father before he left). As for the other characters, they're not much better - though an intellectually challenged deputy does provide some funny comic relief. On the flipside, the film takes the time to create a villainous character in the form of an evil mayor, and we expect that he'll wind up spider food by the time the film ends. We expect that, but it's not what we get...

Add to that an opening half hour that just plods along, and you've got a film that's not quite the B-movie classic it wants to be. Still, the movie is worth checking out if only for the multitude of big spiders that wind up attacking the town. An early sequence featuring the insects pursuing a dwindling band of bike riders is easily the highlight, and there are several equally thrilling moments that follow. It's that aspect of Eight Legged Freaks that makes it a decent flick for a matinee.

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