The giant spider movie has had a bumpy ride over the years. I think the problem is that if you try to make a scary spider film then people who are scared of spiders won’t show up. The biggest of this genre, Arachnophobia, suffered most from this. Although it was had a goofy turn from John Goodman, generally it was an expensive film designed to scare people. Of course those people tend to be terrified of a daddy long legs on the otherside of the car window so they are hardly likely to show up to see giant ones eating peoples heads. So the other option is to make a goofy B-movie type, where our eight-legged friends are, okay, yes eating people but no one is taking it very seriously. Eight-Legged Freaks did this a few years ago to not much success and now Big Ass Spider! is doing it too, this time somewhat better.
Right, when I say better, I do not actually mean good. This is very much a B-movie but it has no pretentions otherwise and in its own way it works. It’s called Big Ass Spider! after all, and that’s exactly what you get. Let’s talk about that title for a second. What’s it all about? If they mean it is a very large arachnid then where is the hyphen? So, if its not that then does that mean the spider has a big bottom? Well, that is certainly true, but then the rest of it is rather on the large side too, besides if it was a comment about its fanny (as our American cousins hilariously call it) then it should be Big Assed Spider which it most certainly is not. This leaves the only other possibility: that the monster is a giant version of an “Ass Spider” which either lives in people’s arses or has a fetish for arses. Either way it is deeply disturbing and I’m glad the filmmakers don’t explore this aspect of the Ass Spider’s character.
The film starts well, with a slow motion scene of our hero waking up in amongst the mayhem in downtown Los Angeles caused by the ass spider. As he steps through the fighting and fire he looks up to see the beast clinging onto a high-rise, King Kong style. We then zip back twelve hours to how it all began. It is a strong, atmospheric and well shot opening which suggests the film is going to be better than it actually is, because when we actually do leap back in time, things suddenly look a lot cheaper. That’s not to say it isn’t nicely made for this kind of thing because it is. But the more the film progresses the more you feel they put all their efforts into that opening section (which is also, fortunately, the climax) and didn’t have much time or money left for the rest of the film.
The hero in question is Greg Grunburg, the lovable super cop in the dreadful Heroes TV show. He is a pest exterminator who claims he can get into the mind of spiders and understand them, although he spends most of the film asking other people or no one in particular where a big ass spider might hang out. After being bitten by a normal house spider he ends up, as luck would have it, at the hospital where a government experimental killer spider has hatched. With the help of a really rather small hispanic hospital security guard, Lombardo Boyar, who is both enthusiastic and rather rubbish (“I could be like your Mexican Robin!) , he sets about to capture and kill the ass spider. He does this mostly for the fame and the increased chance of pulling women. See Grunberg seems much more interested in women than spiders. When he arrives at the hospital he tries it on with the likable nurse who pretty much ignores him. Then when the army shows up he suddenly looses all interest in the nurse and has a thing for Lieutenant Karly, gamely played by Clare Kramer, who at no point looks like she has ever stepped near an army base. He obviously has a thing for women in uniforms, like, well, men basically.
Grunberg and Boyar make a fun team, and it feels like they improvised a fair amount. When Boyer meets the military scientist, he seems more interest in the white-coat’s tobacco pipe than what he has to say. Grunberg has a natural big-friendly-guy charm as the hero, not unlike a younger and smaller John Goodman. But a lot of the other characters get short changed. Ray Wise, who can chew scenery with the best of them, is given nothing to do as the army Major other than look at monitors and shout occasionally. The chap who plays the scientist’s only characteristic is the aforementioned pipe. Of course scientists in giant monster movies are only there to spout exposition but the bloke playing him here does so with such little conviction that you completely switch off to what he’s saying. It seems like even the other actors where aware of this, Boyar yawns when the scientist starts waffling on, as do we all.
But really we are not here to see a deep character driven movie, we are here to see a Big Ass Spider with an exclamation mark, and the film gives us that. There are lots of scenes of the spider melting people’s faces, attacking picnickers in a park and being shot at by soldiers in black overalls because black overalls are cheaper to hire than proper military uniforms. This is all quite entertaining stuff, especially the face melting and a bit where scantily clad volleyball players get caught in webs and are cocooned although the effects are all over the place. The stuff up the tall building is almost studio quality, but then the action in the park is not much better than Syfy channel effects. Oh it IS better of course, but not much. However, the film makers have definitely gone more for quantity over quality and they rarely seem to use the same effect twice, which is a bonus.
I don’t think I can really complain too much though about the effects. When I was a kid I went to see a double bill of The Monster Club with The Giant Spider Invasion. Now I thoroughly enjoyed that creature feature at the time (2.8 rating on IMDB, shows how much this nine year-old knew) but the giant spider of the title looked to me remarkably like a black Volkswagen Beetle with fake legs attached to it. This is because the giant spider WAS a black Volkswagen Beetle with fake legs attached to it. Things have come a long way in visual effects since then.
Big Ass Spider! may well be goofy and silly, but as giant spider movies goes its up there with the best of them, which okay. isn’t very high and there aren’t very many of them. But as a warning about the dreaded ass spider, it has its moments.