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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Earth vs. the Spider

This is one of those movies I added on my Netflix queue about fifteen years ago, and has patiently moved up the ladder, so I can't say why exactly I chose it. It has gotten only a little over one star from Netflix viewers, so figured it would be some crappy horror film from the Ed Wood school. I was pleasantly surprised. This wasn't bad at all, and was almost good.

Back in 2001 Cinemax was using old American International titles and making new films, though just using the titles and not the plots. This film was produced by the interesting trio of Stan Winston (a great FX guy), Lou Arkoff, son of the great B-film maker Samuel Z. (who is an executive producer) and actress Colleen Camp, probably best known as one of the dancing Playmates in Apocalypse Now.

The old film, from 1956 was about a giant spider terrorizing, presumably, the Earth. This one is much more character-driven, with a screenplay by three authors that make some interesting choices. The director is Scott Ziehl, who manages to create suspense and atmosphere on presumably a small budget.

The film stars Devon Gummersall as a security guard and comic-book fanatic. His favorite hero is The Arachnid Avenger, a man who is part spider (I don't know how they escaped a lawsuit from Marvel). Gummersall is in love with the woman next door (Amelia Heinle), a nursing student who you know is innocent because she wears socks with her high-heel sandals.

Gummersall works at a chem lab, where they are doing experiments with tarantulas. Unlike Peter Parker, though, he chooses to be injected with super spider venom to gain superpowers. After a few days of feeling very strange, he starts showing great strength. He really knows something is up when he shoots web out of his chest. Problem: tarantulas don't spin webs, and spiders make web out of their asses.

Anyhoo, also unlike Peter Parker, he can't control it, and the spider is taking over the man, like in the remake of The Fly. There's also a Jekyll-and-Hyde quality, as he has to feed his hunger and starts a collection of bodies in the basement, while understanding he is doing wrong.

A subplot involves Dan Aykroyd as the detective on the case (Gummersall leaves one of his husked victims in a convenience store). Aykroyd is married to Theresa Russell, who has fallen out of love with him after he froze during a shooting. Their relationship and scenes together are very touching. Aykroyd is perhaps the most talented man with the biggest wasted career. After Ghostbusters (and even then, he was the bland guy) he has made one disastrous choice after another, from Dr. Detroit to My Stepmother Is an Alien). Here he incorporates some of his Joe Friday impersonation, but it's not for laughs. It's a very good performance.

Earth vs. the Spider is a parable on what bad things can happen when you mess with nature and want to be something you're not. It's thought-provoking and heartbreaking. I have no idea why it gets such a low rating on Netflix. I'd give it at least three stars.

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