Ice Spiders (DVD)

Ice Spiders (click for larger image)Starring Patrick Muldoon, Thomas Calabro, Vanessa Williams, David Millbern, Noah Bastien, Stephen J. Cannell

Directed by Tibor Takacs

Distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Eight Legged Freaks meets Hot Dog: The Movie

Thought that’s not an entirely accurate description of Ice Spiders, that’s all I could think of as I watched acrobatic skiers getting tackled in mid-air by people-sized spiders.

Or maybe Melrose Place vs. The Spider would have been a better title given that three of the films stars are all ex-cast members of the defunct primetime soap opera?

Call it whatever you want, I’ll just stick to calling it a whole lot of fun.

Ice Spiders is pure Grade-A B-movie making; the sort of monster movie where whacking the creature with an ax doesn’t get the job done, but impaling it with the antlers of a mounted reindeer head does. I dare say Ice Spiders still takes itself a tad more seriously than even more over-the-top Eight Legged Freaks, but a serious monster movie this is not. If you’re looking to be scared then you’re in for a disappointment. If you’re looking for a good time being entertained by a creature feature that plays like a campier (and gorier) version of the sort of Saturday afternoon monster movie matinees of old then prepare to be pleasantly surprised. The important thing in this case is that it manages to be tongue-in-cheek without being aggressively stupid and consistently cheesy without constantly resorting to winking at the audience. Those are two nuisances I find often plague Sci-Fi Channel original movies that don’t try and take themselves too seriously (i.e. the ones that tend to be crushing bores!) The gleefully campy script by Eric Miller combined with Tibor (Mansquito Takacs) lively direction and a carefree cast that fully realizes the sort of movie they’re appearing in helps make Ice Spiders a rollicking romp.

A busload of Olympic ski hopefuls are headed up to a secluded resort run by Stephen J. Cannell (a much better producer than he is an actor) located up on “Lost Mountain” in Utah for two weeks of skiing with no cellphones, internet, or television to distract them from their training. The lodge’s head ski instructor is one “Dash” Dashiell (Patrick Muldoon, his every word spoken with a Spicolli-like sense of dudeness), a former national skiing champion who wiped out at the Olympic trials years earlier, shattered his leg, and has never been the same since, as evidenced by seeming his inability to comb his hair. Dash has the hots for Dr. April Summers (the other Vanessa Williams that caused the more famous Vanessa Williams to have to add an “L” to her screen name), a pretty researcher at a top secret government lab up the mountain who frequently has to come down to the ski resort to pick up her personal mail.

Dr. Summers returns to the lab after one of these mail runs to discover it in shambles and her colleagues, except for the one (soon-to-be dead) scientist cocooned for a later feeding by one of the mutant spiders that broke free and went crazy after their regular hormone-heavy food supply ran dry. Seems a plan to breed genetically engineered super spiders whose silk will then be used to create a new type of military body armor has resulted in a half dozen giant spiders with roid rage and ravenous appetites on a rampage. Who’d a thunk it given how rarely animal gene-splicing in the movies results in chaos and death?

Dr. Summers sounds the alarm alerting the paramilitary unit on duty led by Thomas Calabro. I can’t help but think Calabro, most famous for playing a scheming, backstabbing doctor on “Melrose Place”, would have been a much better choice to play the (more significant) role of Professor Marx, the requisite “evil” scientist in charge of the project who secretly accelerated the spiders’ growth and now demands the specimens be captured alive, showing little or no regard for the well being of others. Hey, it’s a Sci-Fi Channel original movie; there almost always has to be an evil scientist, military commander, or corporate executive to give the film a human villain.

Despite Professor Marx’s insistence that spiders don’t like the cold and therefore wouldn’t be running amok out in the freezing snow, that’s exactly what they’re doing. They are mutant spiders, after all. Now hunters, skiers, park rangers, and forest animals all find themselves on the menu of the augmented arachnids.

A pair of missing hunters leads local ranger Rick (Yes, “Ranger Rick”) to the lodge to recruit Dash to go searching for them since all his other rangers are currently (and conveniently) out with the flu. That search does not end well for one of the two searchers and given that Ranger Rick wasn’t played by a former cast member of “Melrose Place”, well…

There’s no arguing that the basic plot follows a tried and true formula, but this time it’s done with some genuine wit and zips along at a fast pace that never lets up. I don’t exactly how this Sci-Fi Channel does right what so many others have done so very wrong; I’m just thankful it does.

Soon it’s a mutant spider extravaganza with skiers and other hapless tourists getting chased down and gorged on by the spiders or snared with webbing and reeled in like fish for the kill. Those kills are often handled hilariously so – intentionally hilariously so, which is another huge difference between Ice Spiders and countless other Sci-Fi Channel originals that have come and gone.

Most of the survivors find themselves trapped in the lodge while some of the Olympic hopefuls find themselves trapped in a Jeepers Creepers 2 scenario, trapped inside a wrecked school bus under attack by one nasty bugger in particular. All the while, the military unit is trying to satisfy Professor Marx by capturing the spiders alive with net guns and keeping the now out of control project still a secret.

I freely admit to being a bit on the arachnophobic side myself, but Ice Spiders is a movie that I had no problem watching whatsoever. Chances are no one is going to get the heebie jeebies from watching these creepy crawlies in action because the computerized spiders don’t look even the least bit scary. That’s not meant as a knock against the CGI which is actually pretty good for such low budget schlock; though there was this one black spider in particular that looked positively inflatable. I never found them scary because, at least to me, they often looked more like big mutant ticks and they came in a variety of colors. Heck, one of the spiders was the same shade of green as Shrek! Watching these Skittles-shaded spiders in action – it was like witnessing a rainbow of fruit-flavored carnage!

There is a smattering of non-CGI spider action; though it’s mostly relegated to a spider head puppet sparingly used from time to time that pops up for a quick jump scare, usually at windows. I think that may have been the work of Fred Olen Ray, who I understand was brought in to help with the film’s second unit work.

I also couldn’t help but love the kooky spider-vision they viewed the world through. Forget the eight-eyed P.O.V. used in other spider movies, these spiders view the world like some sort of distorted funhouse mirror. The whole concept of the monster’s point-of-view has become a tired cliché to me but in this case I didn’t mind it because it was just one more goofy layer that added to the fun of it all.

I’ll tell you what; if more Sci-Fi Channel original movies were as much fun to watch as Ice Spiders, I’d dare say the network and their original movie division would have a much better reputation. It’s definitely worth giving a look. This is precisely the sort of unassuming b-movie that’s great to curl up with on a lazy Saturday afternoon. Ice Spiders spins a web of mirth and mayhem.

3 out of 3

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