…or, Final Girl and the Spiders From Mars.
There are several reasons why the 2001 movie Arachnid came home with me. First and foremost, this is Animals Run Amok Week here at Final Girl and a flick with oversized spiders in it is exactly the kind of amok I’m looking for. What I was hoping would really separate Arachnid from the rest of the eight-legged pack, however, are the names attached: the film is directed by horror veteran Jack Sholder (The Hidden, Alone in the Dark, Nightmare on Elm Street 2), written by Mark Sevi (who also wrote the movie with probably the best title EVARRRR: Excessive Force II: Force on Force) (I take that back; it’s the second or third best title evarrrr, right behind Baby Monitor: The Sound of Fear (starring Josie Bissett of television’s Melrose Place) and Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? (starring Tori Spelling of television’s Bev Niner)…but I digress), and stars Alex Reid (‘Beth’, my favorite caver from The Descent). I’d have been a fool to pass this one over- a fool, I tells ya!
Of course, Jack Sholder and Alex Reid notwithstanding, the beauty of a movie like Arachnid is firmly in the eyes of the beholder. Depending on which way your tastes run, a B-Grade monster movie is either a Ronstadt (it hurts so bad) or a Mellencamp (it hurts so good); and make no bones about it- Arachnid is strictly a B-Grade monster movie. Yes, I’ve coined some sweet (if…odd) new terms there, and in my humble opinion, this flick is a total Mellencamp. Whether it was intentional or not, Arachnid is a total throwback to those monster movie heydays, the 1950s. Had it appeared on the scene then, it would’ve been in black and white and there’d be an exclamation mark in the title, like this- ARACHNID!
Our tale begins as a bad-CGI stealth fighter is zooming out over the ocean to investigate a bad-CGI waternado. When the bad-CGI stealth fighter arrives on the scene, however, the bad-CGI waternado turns invisible and the plane has a total system failure. Suddenly there’s a bad-CGI explosion, but our fearless pilot has ejected himself and thus has avoided the explodening.
Despite being far far out over the ocean, our fearless parachuted pilot has drifted over to a tropical island where he lands safely in the jungle-esque environs. As if he wasn’t having a bad enough day, he encounters a bad-CGI alien, who flickers in and out of sight and emits a sort of “wah wah wah” sound. As our fearless pilot stands and stares all mouth-agape-like, the bad-CGI alien is attacked and killed by a giant spider. The bad news is, our fearless pilot is next on the spider's menu. The good news, however, is that the spider is not a bad-CGI spider. It’s all rubber, baby, and it’s all good.
The scene shifts to another island where a man is dying from some sort of insect bites. The typical motley assortment of stock characters sets out to find out what bit the dude: Valentine (Chris Potter), the ex-marine who I think might now be a doctor but I never knew for sure…Dr Leon, the head of the island clinic...his lovely assistant, Susana…Valentine’s crack squad of gun-happy military hotheads…and the resident nerd- a scientist who’s written a handy book called Arachnid Fun Facts. Flying them down the highway to the danger zone is Mercer (Alex Reid), an ex-Navy pilot with a chip on her shoulder so big that she only needs one name, dammit. She’s a hardened woman, on some sort of solitary mission out here in the islands of the South Pacific. Will her heart melt for the “hunk” so appropriately named Valentine? Not a chance! When he tries to make small talk, she tells him in short order: “I’m not interested in companionship, a relationship, or even a hump buddy.” Ouch! Hey, Valentine- I smell smoke. Someone got BURNT!
Incidentally, I’ve added “hump buddy” to my ongoing list of completely unsexy terms and phrases, a list that also includes classics like “manpurse” and “fish mitten”.
The waternado is notably absent, but regardless Mercer’s plane undergoes a system failure not unlike that of the stealth fighter at the film’s beginning. The bitch has mad piloting skillz, though- she crashes the plane but she crashes it well and no one gets hurt.
With both the plane and the radio on the fritz, the group sets off to…well, I don’t know why they set off, but they set off nonetheless. As they’re trudging along, one of the gun-happy military hotheads gets bitten by a tick, which quickly burrows under his skin and…multiplies. Suddenly he’s very ill and he’s got all these bumps moving under his skin and it’s gross. The scientist nerd is called over to give his expert opinion, but he’s never seen anything like this before. It’s some sort of poisoning, he says, but the tick must be some sort of new species. The gun-happy military hothead then gives a response quite common in Arachnid- that is, a Completely Inappropriate Response; he pulls out a pistol, points it at the scientist nerd, and yells, “If you don’t shut up, I’LL KILL YOU!” Come to think of it, though, maybe that’s NOT an inappropriate response at all. In fact, I did the same thing just the other day when the UPS guy knocked on my door and was all like, “Sign here, please”. I mean, what the fuck, you know?
Eventually our intrepid band comes across a small village which is all empty and totally eerie and shit, and they decide to set up camp. The scientist nerd busts out his microscope to examine a strange-looking spider (yes, he brought along a huge microscope for their jungle trek- so?) and surmises that the weird arachnids on the island are alien in origin. Like…aliens from outer space. Isn’t that the first hypothesis any good scientist would throw out there? No, you say? Well, no matter- the idea is never revisited anyway. The bite victim is getting sicker by the second and he's moaning and groaning and being a general nuisance. Soon he starts puking up some wormy egg things in a way that reminded me of the egg-puking scene in Airplane!…but much gooier. Things escalate quickly as the medical team stands around doing nothing- the dude’s eyeball explodes and huge ticks start bursting through his skin. Finally another military hothead shoots the poor bastard and put him out of his misery….this means it’s time for a Group Inappropriate Response! Essentially, the man was just exploding giant ticks everywhere and then got shot in the head, but no one in the group seems overly perturbed.
Later that night, the group is huddled around the campfire. Mercer is deeply engrossed in Arachnid Fun Facts, and I get an inkling that her newfound arachnid knowledge will come in handy at some point down the road…but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here! There’s more important matters at hand, namely: GIANT CENTIPEDE ATTACK! Yes, my friends, the tranquility of the campfire is interrupted when the centipede leaps out of the darkness, makes a high-pitched “WHEEEE!” sound and flies across the screen. Now, I hate to be crude here, but it looked not unlike...a giant poo. Or maybe a big grinder. At any rate, there was a 3-foot poo flying across the screen going “WHEEEE!”. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I rewound the DVD six times to watch it again and again…and that’s when I fell in love with Arachnid.
The next morning, the group decides they’re going to stop doing whatever it is they were trying to do and they’re gonna fix the plane and get off the island. Mercer, however, wants to stay behind; now we get a glimpse into her soul, an idea of what’s happened that’s turned her heart to ice cold ice. Remember that super stealth pilot who escaped the bad-CGI waternado and the bad-CGI explosion and then saw the bad-CGI alien but unfortunately he didn’t escape the big rubber spider? That was totally Mercer’s brother! His plane went down and the Navy eventually stopped looking for him…but not Mercer. Mercer will never stop looking. She’s gonna stay on the island until she finds out what happened to her brother…then Valentine reminds her that she was hired to fly them around and Mercer says OK. Lucky for her, however, that she doesn’t have to go far to solve the mystery of her brother’s disappearance- on the way back to the plane, they find his body all webbed up in a tree. After burying her brother in the jungle, Mercer, ever the tough and noble sister, vows revenge: “I’ll find the son of a bitch who did this to you!”. The best part of that vow is that she’s talking about a GIANT SPIDER.
Meanwhile, the scientist nerd has gotten distracted by something shiny and has wandered off. He's found another giant centipede, but he's stumbled directly into the giant spider’s lair! Egaaahhhh!
By the time our group finds him, the nerd is completely cocooned up between some trees and he’s near death- he calmly explains that a giant spider injected nerve toxin into his spinal column and webbed him all up. He can’t feel anything, and won’t they please put him out of his misery? You know what that means- it’s Completely Inappropriate Response time! Upon hearing all this and seeing the nerd all webbed up, Dr Leon calmly says, “This is truly astounding.” When the nerd is finally dead (after having been injected with nerve toxin from a giant fucking spider!), again, our group is largely unperturbed.
Hanging out for long in the spider’s lair is not a good idea; sadly, the group figures this out too late and it’s time for GIANT SPIDER ATTACK! So long, Dr. Leon…truly astounding, indeed.
The group’s numbers dwindle; people do stupid things or just plain disappear. I don’t care, however, because there’s a giant spider running amok and THAT’S what I came here to see!
Eventually our very few plucky survivors head into the real lair of the spider- the underground lair. Mercer, having boned up on Arachnid Fun Facts, knows that spiders are susceptible to poisons; with a blowgun and a little moxie, the nasty giant spider problem is solved.
You know that in a movie like this, the hero (or in this case, the heroine) has to have their last line, their cool send-off to the beastie recently dispatched. The best of these quips (in fact, probably the only good one ever written) comes from MacReady (Kurt Russell) in John Carpenter’s The Thing, when he shouts “Oh yeah? Well, FUCK YOU TOO!” and ka-boom goes The Thing. Mercer’s last line is…decidedly less effective: ”Fuck. I hate spiders.” Oh well- at least she was spunky.
Let’s lay it on the table, folks: Arachnid is NOT a good movie; in fact, it's probably terrible. It’s got that 1950’s monster-movie plot that makes little sense: people go somewhere to do something and they get killed by a monster. The effects range from decent (exploding eyeballs!) to "decent"-is-a-pipe-dream (bad-CGI everything and giant flying poos), the script is nonsensical, and the acting is largely atrocious. Your enjoyment of this film will be in direct proportion to how much you like watching a giant fake-looking spider scuttle after Alex Reid down a fake-looking rock tunnel. Me? I like that… I like that a lot. It’s Animals Run Amok Week, baby! I give it 6 out of 10 hump buddies in a pear tree.