So, how does a movie like this get such a high rating on the Dragon Scale? Do I really have such bad taste? I'd like to think not, hence the caveat that I started with. This movie is a "horror" movie in the sense that it aims to startle you and keep you a bit off balance... oh and it has "monsters". It's fully aware of it's limitations and I think it makes very good use of them. I think it falls somewhere in the realm of the Evil Dead & Scream series. It takes full advantage of umteen years of random big bad mutated monster movies and it puts a bit of a spin on the genre and it does it with a big ol' smile.
It reminds me of the things like the first season of Farscape, the first Austin Powers movie, and Army of Darkness. All of those productions had a decent budget, but it wasn't close to what was needed to make a fully polished "Summer Hollywood Blockbuster" that would fully realize the vision of it's creators. So what did they do? They improvised. They went back to the basics of "movie magic" and rooted around in the old smoke and mirrors bag o' tricks. Yes, this movie has it's share of spiders that were done with CGI, and some of those are really silly looking. However, those problems can be overlooked because they only happen in situations where they had to do CGI to accomplish something (e.g. the spider/motorcycle chase scene). Some of the CGI spiders look genuinely creepy, and there is quite a bit of mechanical spider use (e.g. semi-cheesy "real" spider legs grabbing someone and yanking them off camera), so you get the impression that the filmmakers were trying to make the story that they set out to, rather than just trying to make the most off the wall spider effects.
The big star of the movie is David Arquette. Certainly not my favorite actor, but I have to give him credit for taking amusing roles that he can do well. He's not trying to break out and become a "real actor." He's a goofball and he tends to play goofballs. In this movie he's actually quasi competent, but he still gets lots of chances to be a dingbat and he does it well. You'll laugh at him despite yourself.
Co-starring with Arquette is the ever appealing Kari Wuhr (of Sliders fame... or infamy ;). She's cast as the sheriff of the sleepy little Arizona burg. She's attractive and probably the most competent character in the movie. She ends up being the straight man to a lot of Arquette's goofiness and I think that pairing works. Their flirting is somewhat cute and subdued, but that seems to be par for the course in these movies...
Random Note: Why is it that in Friday the !3th, Nightmare on Elm Stree, etc... type movies where you have a normal sized big bad, people seem to fuck like bunnies, but as soon as it's a giant ____ people seem to end up more disposed to keeping their clothes on. Perhaps it's because it's hard to miss the 20 story tall giant lizard and seeing one of those probably kills most people's mojo (or totally demoralizes most guys :-p)?
The rest of the cast is made up of folks that you will probably vaguely recognize from movie X or TV show Y. Personally I think that's a good thing. This way you get a fairly cheap cast that has experience in movies. Let's face it this is a B movie with an A- movie budget, but not having to spend it to get big names is a good thing. Not blowing their wad on excessive CGI is good. That means that some of the budget was left over for the plot and the story seems to bear this out. There are lots of random amusing lines that get thrown out (very reminiscent of Army of Darkness in fact) and the plot isn't quite as tired or unappealing as you might expect. It's a fun horror movie plot and it's done rather well considering where it could have ended up. Yes it has it's predictable moments, but even those tend to be done with at least some decent style (or they'll take that opportunity to make that an interesting action sequence). I think my favorite example of this is towards the beginning when we see that this whole mess was caused by a single rabbit. Heh, the killer rabbits of Holy Grail fame have nothing on this evil little bunny.
Some ofhter specific things that I liked about the movie...
- The spiders chatter - They don't actually talk, but spider swarms sound vaguely liike a high pitched angry mob, and there are a few scenes with spiders getting hit hard and going "Ooohhh". It reminds me of the end of the Fly where the fly with the human head is going "Help me!, Help me!" It's that kind of voice and it's used very sparingly. It's an amusing detail.
- Making fun of other movies - There are probably a half dozen references to either old movies (for some reason the TVs in this town only show old horror movies) or random horror movies etc... It's been done before, but in this movie it's just there and it's amusing when you notice it
- The Kid - Normally I'm not a big fan of kids in movies, but this one is cool because he actually does get to geek out and do useful stuff.
- Multiple spider species - Think Spider Jurassic Park. It's amusing and it makes it possible to have many more options for killing people in the movie.
- Cartoon references - There are probably 4 or 5 scenes that look like they're straight out of a cartoon. They're silly, but somehow really funny. The whole theatre cracked up at several of them. Heck, David Arquette kept reminding me of a cross between Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck :).
So final analysis, if you go into this movie looking to find errors, plot holes, sketchy production values, and whatnot, you will find them. It has more than it's fair share of them. I'll remind you, this is a movie about giant mutated spiders. If you want to see Dr. Zhivago (sp?) don't go see this. If you're in the mood for an MST3K aware movie (i.e. a movie that takes shots at itself in that vein), then this is probably a good call.
Ed. Note: Yes, I did just recently see Army of Darkness, and that prompted many of the comparisons. If you think AoD was entertaining and fun, you'll probably find this one cool too.