Decidedly goofy, Eight Legged Freaks is a modest horror comedy reminiscent of the campy B-movie creature flicks of yesteryear. Armed with cheesy humor and a tongue-in-cheek story, it offers light-hearted entertainment fit for a sci-fi monster movie marathon.
After a ten year absence, Chris McCormick (David Arquette) returns to his sleepy little hometown, only to find that it is being overrun by giant, mutant, man-eating spiders. But not everything is a loss: his old flame Samantha Parker (Kari Wuhrer) is now the local sheriff and resident hot single mom--which means she's both available and pre-equipped with her own handcuffs. Together with this law enforcement honey, a dopey deputy, a paranoid whacko, and his fellow townsfolk, Chris must defend his turf against the arachnid invasion.
Its casual acceptance of the outrageous makes Eight Legged Freaks a fun movie that doesn't need to be rationally explained--the idea of killer spiders coming from toxic waste is easily taken at face value. Its ability to express the realistic and the unrealistic in the same breath adds a certain charm, evident in a citizen's first encounter with the titular freaks: in a single scene, he gets tasered in the stones by his girlfriend, has his truck stolen, is attacked by giant spiders, and sees his buddy get eaten by one of the monsters (talk about a bad day). Rather than marvel at the scientific implausibility, he reacts to the spiders as if they were as possible as a vicious dog.
The redundantly named Doug E. Doug, a radio show vigilante who sees government and alien conspiracies everywhere, brings amusing comic relief, as does comedian Rick Overton as the sluggish town deputy with a stockpile of firearms. A rant on extra-terrestrial anal probes is reflective of the movie's overall tone: funny, if not particularly original. The spiders themselves are also humorous, and demonstrate quirky personalities on occasion. (I may have read too much into it, but the monstrous tarantula seemed unfairly and constantly exploited for heavy labor.)
While its story, monsters, and sense of humor are right on target, Eight Legged Freaks is missing a few elements to keep it from being true to the B-movie tradition: namely, gratuitous sex and violence. Kari Wuhrer plays a saucy sheriff and Scarlett Johansson fills the role of her cute teenage daughter, but neither of them get raw for a typical, convoluted slasher flick reason (like having to take a sudden shower right before being gutted by "the creature").
The violence is similarly PG-13, with the total body count remaining relatively low because of the spiders' habit of storing--not eating--many of their victims. Unimportant characters previously thought dead return by the story's end, and it's disappointing. While the attacks on kids, old people, and animals were a refreshing change of pace, this movie would have benefited more from an over-the-top slaughterfest.
Ultimately, Eight Legged Freaks is too polite to be a classic in its genre. But as horror comedies go, it's breezy fun that recognizes its limitations and revels in its own absurdity. With that rare quality of self-awareness, it puts itself considerably above ill-conceived peers that take themselves too seriously.
Rating: 7 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)