Thursday, April 11, 2013

Monstrous Mayhem: SPIDERS (2000) vs. SPIDERS (2013)

With the remake craze going full blast (and, sadly, most horror fans lovin’ it), it seems like it was only a matter of time before Nu Image would start cannibalizing themselves.  So no one was really shocked when they announced they giving the world an unwanted redux of SPIDERS, one of their earliest “insects gone amuck” flicks.  Sadly, if you compare the two features it perfectly showcases the company’s decade plus between films.

It is kind of ironic that it was the trailer for the new SPIDERS that finally convinced me I needed to check out the old SPIDERS.  Like fine wine, I had to allow SPIDERS from the year 2000 to age properly before checking it out. Well, I finally popped the cork on it last month. Man, was the year 2000 really 13 years ago?  Anyway, I missed out on the original release due to leaving the video store to go back to college and having some innate sense in my head telling me Nu Image’s flicks were going to be rough.  I knew my brain did something right.

SPIDERS opens aboard a space station where some top secret experiments are being done on spiders.  Naturally, someone gets bitten and everything goes to hell at zero gravity.  Back on Earth, college newspaper reporter Maci (Lana Parrilla) convinces a couple of friends to go check out a secret military bases because she believes some UFO activity is going on there (she’s seen one too many X-FILES programs).  When they arrive, they see the space shuttle Solaris crash in the desert.  This is strange because her editor tells her media reports said the craft burnt up on re-entry.  Can a girl looking for the big scoop be any luckier?  Maci and her two male companions sneak into the underground military base and soon find out the U.S. Government was up to some nefarious activities as they were messing with spider DNA in order to create the ultimate soldier.  This results in Mother, a huge spider that just happens to get loose in the facility while the kids are down there.

To be honest, I almost gave up on this one during the first 20 minutes as it was pretty rough going.  Just your typical boring stuff with the insufferable type of character banter that has worked its way into movies post-Tarantino (must everyone mention movies in dialogue nowadays?).  But I'm glad I stuck with it. Director Gary Jones had previously directed MOSQUITO (1995), an entertaining monster mash that most certainly got him this gig.  Even better, he has a background in special effects and when the spider attacks start happening, this is pretty fun stuff. The film does feel more like a mid-90s movie with the emphasis on practical FX over computer stuff (I'd say 90% is actual on-set FX).  There is some CGI stuff at the end. While it is obvious, Jones still does a nice job of combining the computer images with stuff that was shot live (like the spider flipping over a car).  Sadly, Nu Image went the complete opposite direction as the decade progressed.  Just a year after this L.A. lensed flick, they were firmly ensconced in Eastern Europe making cheapo horror action done on the cheap in Bulgaria with cheap looking CGI effects.  Case in point: SPIDERS II: BREEDING GROUND (2001).  The FX proportion has switched from the 90% practical/10% CGI of SPIDERS to 10% practical/90% CGI. Also, it doesn't help that there is barely any spider action for the first hour of the film. Avoid the sequel unless you are a dummy like me.

The parallel between SPIDERS of old and SPIDERS of new is pretty interesting for me.  The new film was made by a director who made something I hold dear.  New SPIDERS director Tibor Takacs made the insanely great THE GATE (1987), one of my favorite 1980s flicks.  In addition, he also made the solid I, MADMAN (1989) a few years later.  So, once again, I’m drawn in by a love of an earlier film.  What I seemingly always forget is the rest of Takacs’ filmography.

SPIDERS opens aboard a space station where some top secret experiments are being done on spiders.  Déjà vu.   Oh wait, it is totally different because this one was owned by the Russians and everyone inside is dead.  Anyway, the facility is torn apart by meteor fragments in a frenzy of low budget CGI chaos.  A piece survives re-entry and crashes down into New York City.  Cue NYC stock footage and dust off that NYC Bulgarian backlot.  Enter Jason Cole (Patrick Muldoon, doing one very bad NYC accent), New York transit authority dude who loves to keep them subways running.  He’s pissed because one of his workers investigating dies and the health department rep Rachel Cole (Christa Campbell) won’t let him reopen the tunnel.  Wait a sec…Cole…Cole…oh, damn, not only is she his occupational nemesis, but “Rach” is his soon-to-be-ex-wife.  To make matters worse, there are now these growing mutant spiders running around the subway tunnels. You see, the Soviets were doing some experiments on spiders to create a super web like material that would be impervious to everything.  And to throw a swerve in there, this stuff was created using DNA found in some alien spaceship frozen in the mountains decades ago.  Anyway, the U.S. is now using Dr. Darnoff (Pete Lee-Wilson) to get the technology and quarantines the entire block…where Jason’s 12-year-old daughter that he neglects just happens to be stranded.  Daddy’s coming to get ya!  Yup, it is SPIDERS with a side of TAKEN.

Anyone guilty of a bad NYC accent,
please raise you hands!
It’s hard not to be cynical watching the revamped SPIDERS.  After all, does the world really need another big spider movie? Apparently Nu Image feels they do.  But even if you enter it with an open mind, I have no doubt you’ll be the most pessimistic person in the world by the time it ends.  Once again working from a story by Boaz Davidson (“Hey, let’s make a movie about a big spider!”), Takacs and his co-screenwriter Joseph Farrugia appear to have sat down and written a list of everything popular at the time of their screenplay crafting.  TAKEN is big? Let’s work that in.  THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE remake made some money? Let’s incorporate that.  The BOURNE films are popular?  Good, let’s work in a little “cat and mouse” espionage for no reason.  Sadly, the onscreen proceedings are as coldly crafted as the screenplay.  Takacs goes all CGI for his tiny creatures and the sense of wonder is nil.  Jones’ earlier film has some great moments where you wonder how they pulled it off.  Here you just sit back and go, “Yeah, they used a computer.”  Even worse, the new SPIDERS was shot in 3D to cash in on a craze that no one is crazy about.  So you have a bunch of shots of stuff flying at you for no reason since you are most likely watching it in 2D on a television and not suffering in a theater.  As it stands, the new SPIDERS is the perfect encapsulation of where Nu Image/Millennium Entertainment stands now.  It is just a bigger budget version of their Bulgarian adventures from 2001-2010 where they think literally throwing things at the audience will create a better film.  Wake me when they remake SHARK ATTACK 3.  

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