Wednesday, May 18, 2011

DVD Review: Arachnid (2001)

Arachnid (2001)

Label: Arrow Video
Release Date: June 6th 2011
Region Code: 0 PAL
Rating: 15 Certificate
Duration: 92 mins
Video: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Director: Jack Sholder
Cast: Chris Potter, Alex Reid, José Sancho
Tagline: Prepare to be eaten inside out!

Synopsis: Alien spiders threaten the very existence of man in Arachnid, only a team of scientists and mercenaries stand in the way of eight-legged doom for humanity. Trapped on an island with a nest of hungry enemies, time is running out before the eggs were laid in every last one of them...

Film: Who doesn't love a giant spider creature feature? This one has the added bonus of being from director Jack Sholder, a man with a few films worth mentioning beginning with Alone in the Dark (1982) which is
a pretty fantastic siege-slasher, the underrated science-fiction actioner The Hidden (1987) and the film he's probably best known for A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Dead (1985) with it's wonderfully homo-erotic subtext, it's much maligned but it just ain't that bad a film in my opinion. He's done a ton of other stuff I've haven't seen so there goes my credibility but the point is he's done some mighty fine genre pictures and I was fairly excited to check out Arrow Video's treatment of Arachnid.

The film opens in the South Pacific as a Naval jet fighter is in pursuit of a
UFOwhich goes into stealthy cloak mode. The pilot encounters mechanical failure forcing him to eject just as before the fighter collides with the cloaked craft. The pilot parachutes to safety landing on a tropical island where he discovers the wreckage of the alien craft and it's pilot who seems to be trying to warn him of something when a only briefly glimpsed alien arachnid kills both the alien and naval pilot. Let me just say these sequences contained some of the worst CGI special effects I've seen in awhile. Granted the film is a decade old which must be about a century in CGI years, but it was distracting to say the least. This is the kind of stuff we were seeing in Roger Corman produced Syfy originals five years ago, oh yeah it was bad.

Next thing we know we're in Guam and meet the totally smokin' hot charter pilot Loren Mercer (Alex Reid, The Descent) whom arrives at a hospital to meet Dr. Leon (Jose Sancho) and his assistant Susana (Neus Aseni) from the World Health Organization. Dr. Leon is there to treat a tribesman suffering from necrotic paralysis stemming from an insect bite of unknown origin. The WHO require Mercer's services to fly them and  a trio of well-armed jarheads to the island where the man was bit to discover the source of the bite. The Marines are lead by Valentine (Chris Potter of TV's Kung Fu: The Legend Continues) and the muscle bound grunts Bear and Reyes. Also joining the expedition is a native tracker named Toe Boy, entomologist Dr. Henry Capri (Ravil Isyanoc) who was a total Ted Raimi clone and several unnamed islanders who kinda like the red-shirted ensigns in Star Trek are
total spider-bait, y'know? En route to the island the prop engine plane loses power and Mercer makes an emergency crash landing on the beach. It's a fairly unsatisfying "crash landing", pretty laughable in fact.The crew rocking back and forth in the cockpit, a brief shot of the landing gear skimming the water and someone obviously throwing sand at the plane from off screen. So far the effects are rather unimpressive but I promise you they get better once the team arrive on the island and the alien-arachnid action begins.

Wouldn't you know it the same interference that inexplicably downed the plane also prohibits radio communication. With no communications and no plane the group press forward with the expedition forging their way through the thick jungle where they encounter smaller and mostly harmless insect mutations. Things really begin to go awry when jarhead Reyes is attacked by larger than normal ticks which burrow beneath his skin. Shots of parasites crawling just beneath the skin always give me the creeps it's no different here. As the ticks burrow deeper Reyes is overwrought with pain and begins to vomit blood and then parasites and then the fun really begins when they erupt
from his neck and chest and his eye socket, which was very reminiscent of what we've seen in many Lucio Fulci films but not as stylish as all that, good stuff. Bear ends up putting Reyes outta his misery with a shot to the head. Great effects works that looked to be mostly practical with some digital enhancements.

That night the expedition reach Toe Boy's village which they find deserted, seems the spider has been mighty busy. A mutated serpentine creature that appears 1/2 python and 1/2 centipede attacks the camp killing a one of the red-shirts. Valentine realizing that the expedition is clusterfucked calls off the mission and decides to head back to the plane come first light. The next morning as the group head for the plane Dr. Capri strays from the expedition and discovers the remains of the creature that attacked them the night before but he falls victim to the alien-arachnid. The arachnid webs him into a cocoon and injects him with neurotoxin and spider eggs. The group find him but it's far too late for the doctor who actually seems morbidly intrigued by what's happening to him as he describes what is happening to him with a scientific curiosity. As the eggs within him start to hatch Susana injects the entomologist with a lethal dose of poison ending his suffering but theirs is just beginning.

Up till now the main arachnid has been only briefly glimpsed but now it
is finally revealed and we see the
awesomely realized alien-arachnid in it's full grotesque glory. The practical creature design and effects in the film were done by a talented guy named Steve Johnson who's done a ton of great work. Watch the special features, there's fantastic interview with him, he's quite a character. Aside from the lame CGI effects at the top of the film most of the rest of the film is crammed with old school practical effects and animatronics and are pretty
awesome. Our remaining member find shelter in an WW2-era Japanese bunker while the giant alien-arachnid lays siege, I don't wanna spoil the whole damned film so that's all you get from me.

The cast is quite good for a silly b-movie creature feature. All were pretty one-dimensional stereotypes but not bad for what it is. The worst acting comes from the beefy jarheads Bear and Reyes, oh Christ they were bad. Our two main protagonists were fine if generic. Alex Reid's Mercer seems like a cookie cutter Lara Croft caricature and Chris Potter as the Valentine was also pretty solid with good comic timing with a Nathan Fillion vibe about him. Isyanoc's portrayal of the bookish entomologist Capri was my favorite character, perfectly cast and deliciously annoying. I am a big proponent of the films practical effects, the digital stuff not so much. My hat is off to Steve Johnson for the impressive creature design and animatronic effects. Grotesque well done gore on a budget. A few bits of shitty CGI at the start of the film don't ruin the show. What could have been better? The CGI enhanced prologue could have been nixed in my opinion without affecting the film, and I would
have liked to have seen more of Alex Redi's character if you know what I mean but c'mon, while it's not a great film it's definitely a fun b-movie creature feature.

DVD: Arachnid is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, it's a good
looking transfer with bright, vivid colors, the jungle scenes really pop with luscious greens offering up decent detail and consistently good black levels. On the audio side we get English Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 plus Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 with optional English subtitles. It sounds great, the 5.1 delivers on Francesc Gener's film score and the films effects tracks spring to life once inside the jngle canpy. When the film was initially released on the Region 1 home market from Lionsgate it was a bare-bones edition. Arrow Video have sweetened the deal with reversible artwork, an 8 pg. booklet with a Jack Sholder interview, a fold-out poster with some great Tom 'The Dude Designs' Hodge artwork, a theatrical trailer and two interviews. One with Brian Yuzna who recalls the founding of Fantastic Factory and why they chose to do Arachnid plus a very interesting interview with special make-up effects designer Steve Johnson who recalls striking out on his own in the industry with Night of the Demons (1988), making Arachnid and an experience designing animatronics for Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are (2009) only to have the project to have collapse on him and pretty much cause him to throw in the towel. A very nice array of supplemental features and while a Jack Sholder commentary would've been grand what we do get is pretty informative and enjoyable, especially the Johnson interview.

Special Features:
- Reversible sleeve featuring brand new and original artwork
- Double-sided fold-out poster featuring new artwork
- King of the Spiders – Brian Yuzna remembers Arachnid (20:21) 16:9
- Creature Comforts: The Monster Mayhem of Steve Johnson (26:02) 16:9
- Original Trailer (2:23)
- 8 pg. booklet with Jack Sholder interview by author and critic Calum Waddell

Verdict: A very enjoyable throwback to the atomic creature features of the 50's and 60's with some great special effects (and some not so great). There's some nods to Mimic (1987) and Alien (1979) here, original it ain't but it is quite enjoyable. If you've enjoyed Deep Blue Sea (1999) or Eight Legged Freaks (2002) there's no way this is not gonna be a blast. Sit back, grab a bowl of popcorn and
a beer and enjoy. 3.5 outta 5

Arachnid is available June 6th 2011 as a single disc edition or you can grab the currently available Fantastic Factory Presents 4 DVD boxset which also includes three other films from Brian Yuzna's Fantastic Factory Presents studio; Faust: LOve of the Damned (2000), Beyond Re-Animator (2003) and Paco Plaza's Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt (2004).

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