Eight Legged Freaks: Hiding Under the Toilet Seat of Film Appreciation

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Eight Legged Freaks one of those films I have been meaning to get around to for a long time. I remember seeing the trailer for the film at the start of an unrelated VHS back in the days when I still regularly bothered with tape. The image that really stuck in my mind then was of a giant spider raising itself up and extending hairy arms behind an old man sitting in a lazy-boy style arm chair who is completely unaware of the danger he is in. At once it seemed scary and funny.

Having finally gotten around to seeing the film I can tell you that the full feature carries on much in this silly yet scary vein and is quite satisfying as a result.  Nuclear waste, random killings, doomed pets, a wicked sense of humour and giant spiders of all shapes and sizes abound. From the offset the film’s influences are obvious, Them!, Tarantula, The Incredible Shrinking Man and even The Birds are referenced visually and in the storytelling via character archetypes like the take charge sheriff, the corrupt official and the hormonal teen. The film isn’t simply a modern copy of these popular monster movies though; the characters feel refreshingly different and our expectations are exceeded on several occasions. Take for example the aforementioned horny teenagers. At one point the sheriff’s daughter tells her would be lover that things are moving too fast and enough is enough. When he takes no heed and continues to try and claim his prize she shocks him with a tazer gun sending him fleeing from the car causing him to pee his pants. Often this might be enough of a comeuppance for a threatening paper thin character but in Eight Legged Freaks writer-director Ellory Elkayem consistently refuses to allow his characters to remain one dimensional. Instead we launch from this scene immediately into a chase scene involving this same young man and through some solid suspense film making we find ourselves caring for his fate and cheering him on to escape the clutches of some deadly hopping spiders! 

Films of the 1950s and 60s are not the only point of  reference for Eight Legged Freaks. I was surprised and pleased to note the influence of the work of director Joe Dante – one of my favorite filmmakers – and not only through featuring creepy crawlies run amok ala Gremlins.  It may be unconscious on Elkayem’s part but the character of Mike Parker – the sheriff’s son and child prodigy – seems particularly Dante-esque recalling similar children in Gremlins, Explorers and Small Soldiers. It seems a shame that the above trailer, however effective it was on me, seems to target an adult cult horror audience and doesn’t take into account that Eight Legged Freaks could easily have appealed to youngsters on the cusp of adolescence and perhaps it would have performed better at the box office as a result

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The only disappointing aspect of the film I found was a lack of subtext. It is a roller-coaster ride with some good laughs along the way but I was left wondering what it was about.  There are slight hints towards government secrecy, a relevant theme considering Freaks was released during the first term of the W. Bush presidency, but little is made of it. In Dante’s case the films were almost always political in some way; Small Soldiers for example takes shots at the cynical nature of the modern toy industry and the self importance of the US military and doesn’t let the fact it is a blockbuster flick about murderous robots stop the filmmakers making a point. I would have liked a little more of this subversive undercurrent to Eight Legged Freaks.

When all is said and done  Eight Legged Freaks is that it is fun and I don’t know how it took me so long to get around to. More like this please Hollywood.

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One Response to “Eight Legged Freaks: Hiding Under the Toilet Seat of Film Appreciation”

  1. Eight Legged Freaks is great. It’s quite possibly the only time I’ve seen fake spiders anywhere and not been scared.
    Not like that damned “Arachnophobia” – which really could happen!

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