Saturday, October 4, 2014

31 Days of Halloween 2014: Big Ass Spider!

*Note: This year for our annual 31 Days of Halloween marathon of horror movie reviews, rather than write about old favorites, we're focusing on modern horror films that haven't had a wide theatrical release. So for the entire month of October, we will be dealing with horror fare that you can find in the “New Release” section of Netflix or (if you still have one) your local video store. So instead of nostalgic appreciations and recommendations, this promises to be more of a “the good, the bad, and the ugly” kind of affair. Hopefully more good than bad and ugly, but that remains to be seen.

Review by Bob Ignizio

In the fifties, it was radiation. Today, it's genetic engineering. Either way, you end up with the same thing: giant critters hellbent on mankind's destruction. At least in the world of low budget sci-fi/horror movies, you do. Clearly inspired by classic creature features like TARANTULA and THEM!, screenwriter Gregory Gieras and director Mike Mendez don't try to fix what isn't broke with their modern take on the genre, the aptly titled BIG ASS SPIDER!

The film's hero is exterminator Alex Mathis (Greg Grunberg, who you might recognize from Heroes or Masters of Sex). When Alex suffers a poisonous spider bite while on the job, he winds up at the local hospital just in time for an even nastier arachnid to hatch out of a corpse in the morgue. After the spider, about the size of a basketball, injures a doctor, Alex offers to exterminate it as payment for his medical bills. Security guard Jose (Lombardo Boyar) serves as backup and comic relief.

Before Alex can put his full resources into eliminating the eight legged terror, the military shows up. Major Braxton (Ray Wise, Twin Peaks' Leland Palmer) gives Alex the brush off, certain he and his crack team can stop the spider before it moves on to its next, bigger, and potentially deadlier stage. Alex sticks around, though, partly because he thinks he can do a better job (and as Jose suggests, get a ton of publicity for his business), and partly because he has the hots for Braxton's second in command, Lieutenant Karly Brant (Clare Kramer). 

Not surprisingly, the military wind up needing Matt's help. But even with Matt's ability to think like a spider, it may be too late to prevent catastrophe now that the genetically engineered nightmare has grown to colossal proportions.

The cast may not be household names, but most of the actors are talented veterans of numerous TV shows and supporting film roles. I especially appreciated Grunberg as the kind of working class, everyman lead we too rarely see in Hollywood productions these days. The real star of the film, though, is the spider, and despite the film's low budget it looks pretty good. It wouldn't pass muster in a LORD OF THE RINGS film, but for a straight to video sci-fi/horror flick, it's more than good enough. Mendez doesn't particularly stand out as a director, but he's certainly competent and has an obvious affection for the material.

Lately there's been an onslaught of intentionally bad (because that's easier than actually being funny) “nature runs amok” monster movies on the Syfy channel, including the inexplicably popular SHARKNADO. Rather than go that route, BIG ASS SPIDER! instead tries to be the best giant spider on the rampage movie it can be given its limited resources. That's not to say the film takes itself seriously; there's plenty of humor, but there's a balance between laughs and thrills. Kind of like TREMORS or EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS, but not as slick Still, the results are surprisingly good and never less than entertaining, at least if you're in the mood for a giant bug movie. 2 ½ out of 4 stars.

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