I have to admit, I have a fondness for “fake” movies – movies populated by either no-names or yesterday’s almost-stars and made quickly to cash in on a trend or title. They’re made cheaply, but with just enough slickness to cover the fact that they’re using the same sets over and over. These are not popcorn movies, these are the unpopped duds left at the bottom of your greasy bag. When I was a kid, fake movies were in the theater right alongside the real ones. Charlie Band flicks such as GHOULIES and ELIMINATORS played right alongside Robert Redford’s OUT OF AFRICA. Most of the kids preferred the fake movies because they delivered monsters, guns, explosions, corny jokes and the occasional tit shot. In recent years, they’ve disappeared from the big screen, relegated to the direct to DVD market before finding a permanent home on the SyFy channel. With their downgrade of size and status, fake movies have become a little too fake, a little too predictable, lacking the magic and fun they once had. SPIDERS, through some sort of fluke, is a fake movie that’s getting a theatrical release. Whether market research has deemed this type of material ready for a comeback or if this is some type of planned failure to be written off as a loss, we may never know. But what I do know is, this is one of the most bullshit looking movies I’ve seen get a theatrical release since the 80s, and I’m first in line. Like its straight to the point title, the plot of this flick is a no brainer. A Russian satellite crashes into New York City, cracking into a subway tunnel. Some heavily New Yawk accented transit workers go in to check it out, one of which is bitten by a mysterious CGI spider. A little bit later, he faints into the rails and is electrocuted. While the subway system is cleared for use by the authorities, Jason the head transit cop (Patrick Muldoon) smells a rat. No way could one of his best guys have electrocuted himself on the rails, and he orders an autopsy. Sure enough, the body is filled with weird mutant alien spider eggs!
The eggs begin to hatch and the spiders begin to spread. Sewer rats and some homeless guys are their first victims, but as they grow larger and more alien, the spiders begin attacking the innocent people of NYC. The military arrives and quarantines the area claiming there is a disease outbreak, but they know more than they are letting on. This was a cold war project developed by the Russians (damn those nogoodnicks!!) and is still one of those super weapons that can determine which superpower rules the world.
Patrick Muldoon’s family is in this quarantined zone and in a plot point most likely inspired by CLOVERFIELD, he must make his way back to them. Fighting through a multitude of mutant spiders, including their giant-sized queen, as well as a corrupt military presence, he sets out to save his daughter (played by newcomer Sydney Sweeney) and convince his recently separated wife (the always just out of the mainstream Christa Campbell) that he isn’t such a bad guy after all.
This movie is a few notches above its ilk on the small screen. The typical SyFy Channel movie starts out with an entertaining but cheap monster attack, followed by about an hour of military types and scientists arguing about what to do about said monster. Finally, the last ten minutes or so, they reach a plan to kill the monster and go blow it up. Wisely, this film chooses to forgo the boring middle of that formula, and actually have spider attacks throughout the film. Imagine that, one of these movies that delivers what the title promises! Director Tibor Takacs, who directed the great 80s oddball THE GATE, makes sure this film has enough cinematic flourishes to remind you that you are not in your own home watching this on a lonely Saturday night. My favorite aspect is that on the side of the main action, you can see spiders creeping around the edges, causing destruction and anarchy like the little guys in the margins of a MAD magazine. In one crowd pleasing scene, a spider bites a rat to death in the right hand corner of the frame while some important yet formulaic exposition is going on. Other notable touches, such as a spider backing away in fear from a toy robot dog and one unlucky arachnid meeting a messy demise on the business end of a forklift show the film clearly has its tongue in its cheek, and knows the stars of the film are the title creatures.
Unfortunately, all of this is just too little too late. While this movie gives it the old college try to be an awesome b-movie, it kicks a wide right and looses the Superbowl. For all the fun little touches thrown in to its painless 89 minute running time, with just a little more effort this could have been a real gem. A little more gore, a little more satire, a little more likeability in the characters, a little more fun; just a little more ANYTHING it could have been along the lines of TREMORS or SLITHER. The end product lacks a personality, which is one of the reasons the fake movies of yesteryear would occasionally beat out the real movies: they had personality in spades.
FINAL VERDICT: SPIDERS main achievement is that it is better than most SyFy Channel movies. While admirable, that is not enough to recommend it unless you just can’t get enough Megashark in your diet.
SPIDERS opens in select theaters and premium VOD on February 8, it then hits DVD and regular VOD on March 12.