Arachnia (2003)

arachnia - Arachnia (2003)Starring Irene Joseph, James Aspden, David Bruce, Alexxus Young, and Dan Merriman

Directed by Brett Piper

True confession time: I am highly arachnophobic. I’m not as much so as I was when I was a kid but the sight of big hairy spiders is still not something I can stand to look at. I can’t even bring myself to watch the trailers for movies like Kingdom of the Spiders or Arachnophobia let alone the movies themselves. Even the use of trick photography to make a normal tarantula seem giant-sized as used in such 1950’s flicks as Tarantula and Earth vs. The Spider actually gets under my skin in certain scenes. I did see Eight Legged Freaks and had surprisingly little problem watching the big CGI spiders because while the CGI was quite good, it was still quite obvious that they weren’t completely realistic. On the other hand, I had to look away during the sequence with the big spiders in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets because that proved just too much for me. Go figure. Suffice it to say, spider movies are not my forte. Hell, to this day I’m still psychologically scarred by that episode of “Gilligan’s Island” with the giant spider in the cave.

This brings me to Arachnia, which I saw the trailer for on another DVD and much to my surprise actually looked amusing although that might be because of the spider effects that…well, I’ll talk about that a little later.

Arachnia could be best described as a hybrid of an old-fashioned 50’s monster movie and the Evil Dead 2 style of tongue-in-cheek horror comedy. In a way, Arachnia is Eight Legged Freaks but with a budget roughly equivalent to the catering budget of that film. There’s also some gratuitous nudity tossed in for good measure, whereas all Eight Legged Freaks could muster was Scarlett Johanssen in a towel.

Arachnia opens up with our cast in a chartered plane flying out to Arizona to research this newly discovered dinosaur fossil. Yep, it’s another one of those “Professor with his students” B-movie scenarios. The Professor is this snobby paleontologist with a bad habit of propositioning his female students. Then there’s his student assistant, the film’s standout played by Irene Jacob, who doesn’t take any crap from anyone let alone the horny Professor. Rounding out the cast are the wise-cracking class doofus, two nubile coeds that need “extra credit” from the Professor in order to pass, and a hunky pilot who turns out to be the hero of the group.

Flying to Arizona during a meteor shower, the plane crashes out in the middle of nowhere after being struck my one of those meteorites. What are the odds? Walking away from the crash unscathed, they find their way to a seemingly abandoned cabin out in the middle of the woods where they take refuge and help themselves to some left behind moonshine. Oh, and one the nubile female students decides this would be a good time to take a washtub bath.

Shortly thereafter, the shotgun-toting old man who owns the cabin shows up and is initially displeased to see them, but, fortunately, the sight of a naked girl changes his mind and he agrees to drive them into town first thing in the morning. Whether or not they make it to morning remains to be seen as giant spiders are on the prowl in the woods. To say any more would be giving too much away, but let’s just say it involves a horde of giant spiders, explosives, a chainsaw, two girls deciding now would be a good time for some sexual experimentation, and an awful lot of cheesy goodness.

As I said before, the movie has its tongue planted firmly in cheek and the cheekiest aspect of all are the spiders, which are brought to life via almost claymation-like stop-motion effects as well as a little puppetry. Ray Harryhausen might not be too impressed with the final product but he would probably be proud to know someone is keeping the technique going in the age of computer animation. The question remains whether or not people today are willing to accept such antiquated special effects. I watched Arachnia with a friend of mine and while we both thought it was a fun movie, he felt the stop-motion spider effects were so subpar that it brought the film down some, wishing they’d been more realistic looking. I, on the other hand, had no problem with the effects because I thought they were perfectly suited to the film’s silly, low budget nature. Personally, I’ll take decent stop-motion effects over really bad CGI any day of the week. That said, I do understand why my friend and many others would roll their eyes at the F/X because the claymation vibe is unmistakable.

And unlike so many other spider movies, I had no problem watching this one because, quite frankly, they don’t even look like actual spiders. The heads look like spider heads but otherwise they looked more like ticks. Hairy spiders, these are not. Of course, not looking much like actual spiders might have been by design but, again, that would be giving away too much.

Also, I loved seeing the spider P.O.V. where everything is shaded red since director Brett Piper chose to film a couple of scenes of the spiders themselves in this same tint. What? Does a giant spider have the power to see a reflection of itself?

Brett Piper’s last film prior to Arachnia was a pain-inducing atrocity called Psyclops that I would have done a review of if not for a rule I have against reviewing movies I spent the majority of time fast forwarding through. Ironically, the cast of that film and this one is virtually identical, and while the acting isn’t the greatest, it’s still interesting to see how much better the same actors can do when they have some choice material to work with. Although Dan Merriman, the star of Psyclops, is just as annoying in this movie in the supporting role of the wise cracking idiot as he was in the other one. Dan, if you’re reading this, please, I beg of you, turn it down a notch because you keep entering into spastic Carrot Top territory in terms of being overtly annoying. To quote my friend just 10 minutes into the movie, “I know who I hope dies first.”

If you liked Eight Legged Freaks and you can overlook the film’s cheap stop-motion effects, then Arachnia should satisfy your B-movie fix on a rainy night.

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3 out of 5

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Written by Jon Condit

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