Arachnid (2001)

Arachnid first published by

“I basically did it for the money and it was a stupid script … I got to live in Barcelona for six months and, you know, they paid me well. Everything was good except I had to go to work everyday and shoot a dumb script.” 

In 2012, this is what director Jack Sholder (Alone In the Dark, 1982; A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, 1985; The Hidden, 1987) had to say in reassessing his involvement, just over a decade earlier, in the creature feature Arachnid. One might say that the film is channeling the success of Frank Marshall’s Arachnophobia (1990), but it is in every way that film’s inferior. There is nothing that it does which was not done a year later with greater effects, élan and entertainment in Ellory Elayem’s Eight Legged Freaks (2002), or with more terror and existential bleakness in The Mist (2007). When it comes to alienation and intellect, Martin Villeneuve’s Enemy  (2013) leaves it for dead.

All this, though, is to measure Arachnid by the wrong standards. For really it is a throwback to the monster B-movies of the 1950s – the sort of Corman-esque straight-to-the-drive-in exploito-schlockfests whose fast, cheap production was affectionately deconstructed in Kelly Greene’s Attack of the Bat Monsters (1999). Put simply, turn-of the-millennium giant spider (and tick, and centipede) movies do not come bigger and dumber than Arachnid – at least until the Asylum and the SyFy Channel picked up the baton and perpetuated the tradition of self-knowing silliness with films like, well, Big Ass Spider!.

The opening of Arachnid establishes an extra-terrestrial visit to the South Pacific gone wrong, as an attempt to sweep up Earth bioforms (including, with canny sequel potential, a shark) via a tornado-like aerial vacuum cleaner ends with a regretful-looking alien being skewered by a spider that has been enlarged and mutated precisely – oh the irony – by this celestial intervention. Ten months later, an expedition is heading to the same island. Dr Samuel Leon (José Sancho) and his assistant Susana Gabriel (Neus Asensi) want to find out what has been attacking and poisoning the local populace. Ned Valentine (Chris Potter) and his small team of ex-Marine buddies are providing armed protection, and the native Toe Boy (Robert Vicencio) is serving as guide, while pilot Lauren Mercer (Alex Reid) is searching for her brother, a Stealth bomber test pilot who went missing in the area just shy of a year earlier. What ensues is a jungle adventure with gory interludes, as the hapless humans come face to face with super-evolving critters hell-bent on becoming “the ultimate predators”.

Made with an ensemble of limping stereotypes and perfunctory lines all too barebones to sell its ropey combination of equally poor CGI and practical effects, Arachnid is so dumbed-down that even its resident spider expert/expositor, Dr Henry Capri (Ravil Isyanov), has as his one academic credential and claim to fame a published book named Arachnid fun facts (with the improbable lack of titular capitalisation visible on its cover). Like a series of bad outtakes from the insect sequence in King Kong, Sholder’s film invests its creepy crawlies with Darwinian dread, and leaves us wondering whether the sort of humanity embodied by this collection of sketchy characters is really worth saving. The important thing, though, is that the director got to live it up off-set in Spain for half a year…

Summary: It is as though the Fifites never ended in this big bug-gy B-movie.

© Anton Bitel