Imagine, if you will, the early 2000's era of film. Superhero movies were just finding their footing with equal successes and flops. They wouldn't really get huge until about 2008, when 'Dark Knight' and 'Iron Man' became paralleling benchmarks. Up until then, the big Box Office hits at the turn of the century were a mishmash of 'Star Wars', 'Lord of the Rings', whatever superheroes were doing at the time (again, finding footing) and lingering disaster movies that people were finally getting sick of (they were a big deal in the late 90s).
Enter 'Eight Legged Freaks' in 2002, which pulled the same sort of thing 'Scream' did for slasher movies in the mid 90s. It said "hell, we know this type of thing is ridiculous, so let's just have some fun with it." It dug its creepy-crawly legs into the past, dug up all the ironic fun of a 60's B movie, put a modern twist on it. Titles like 'Mars Attacks' tried prior to this, but there was too much of a divide. People weren't quite ready for that goofiness yet, as disaster movies were a part of the same era. It was seen often as "trying too hard" at the time. But by 2002, this one was a breath of fresh air - something really different, but familiar enough to play on some kind of nostalgia. By the way, 'Mars Attacks' did eventually find is audience over time, but that's a whole other review waiting to happen. For now, let's take a peek into that trap door and allow the spiders to pull us in.
A guy by the name of Chris McCormick (David Arquette) makes a return to his sleepy little fictional hometown of Prosperity, Arizona to reopen the gold mines that his late father left behind. Due to a toxic chemical spill, however, we get some of that old school monster movie action when the local spider population is affected, causing them to grow several times their original size. With the help of the town's Sheriff (also Chris' ex), Sam Parker (Kari Wuhrer), and her kids, Mike (Scott Tera) and Ashley (Scarlett Johansson), can they figure out how to stop these "eight legged freaks" from turning the town into an all-you-can-suck-the-guts-out-of buffet?
As the film unfolds, it proves to be a pretty well-paced ride, and it does a fantastic job of really leaning on that PG-13 rating with its visuals. I don't consider myself arachnophobic at all, but I'm not ashamed to admit that it wasn't without its scenes that made me squirm. Of course, all that means is that it really did its job. It delivered a lot of good laughs, but balanced it with some pretty horrific imagery. By the way, I feel absolutely obligated to inform you that pets are not safe at all in this. If that's the kind of thing that gets to you, it might not be the best go-to. That said, their deaths are pretty well always off-screen and somewhat comical. That's coming from a guy who loves his cats dearly, so I do feel like it can all be taken with a grain of salt.
Aside from the fun of it all, it's not without its place in a certain actresses history. It's actually pretty interesting to see Scarlett Johansson is in this while she hadn't quite found her big break yet. It's the last film of hers that predates 'Lost in Translation' (which arguably was her big break) by about a year. Thus, this is pretty much the last smaller role for her before she went on to bigger and better things (though one could count 'Ghost World' from 2001, but she certainly became more famous because of 'Lost in Translation'). She is still finding her acting muscles here though, so don't be shocked if she's not quite the mother from 'Jojo Rabbit' yet.
As for the other roles in this, there are no real surprises from anyone. The big lead is David Arquette, playing another version of Dewey from 'Scream'; Kari Wuhrer is pretty much in her element, known for roles at the time in movies like 'Anaconda' or 'Thinner'; and Scott Terra, the other lead, probably has his most notable role here as a fairly typical nerdy kid. Otherwise he may be best recognized as young Matt Murdock in 2003's 'Daredevil'. But there's one addition to the cast I consider a guilty pleasure of a character.
Doug E. Doug plays a radio announcer named Harlan Griffith, and you will either love this guy because you loved Sanka Coffee in 'Cool Runnings', or hate him because he's the irritating comedy relief. I tend to lean towards the former, as this guy has always had this effect on me. Even when he's being recognizably irritating, I can't help but laugh at what he does. He's this off the wall character here, so convinced about an alien invasion that he constantly has to be reminded that the spiders aren't aliens. On top of that, his biggest fear is getting probed. It all adds to the absurdity of it being a modern B movie, as in the 60's, those films were so often about either giant monsters or alien invasion.
So, if you can make it past a few things, this one does end up on my list of recommendations to some degree. If you're severely arachnophobic, or have a very soft spot for your pets, it might be one to avoid. That said, being 2002, a lot of the CG here is still a little obvious, and in all honesty, it could be passed off as a cartoon in the way its executed - and I mean that in a good way. It makes for a great watch around Halloween when you want something creepy but fun, but remember to accept it for what it is. It doesn't take itself seriously in the slightest, and neither should anyone else. Just enjoy the ride!