BluRay/DVD Reviews


By • May 7th, 2002 •

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A Columbia/Tri Star Home Entertainment Release
90 mins / Rated ‘R’

Colorful American International co-creator Samuel Arkoff spun a multi-picture remake deal with HBO, of which this production was one. I was told by my agent that six of Arkoff’s zillion exploiters were to be chosen for renovation, to be produced on relatively low budgets. Ideas were being pitched. I thought it would have made a great assignment for me and Rocco, but for reasons I no longer remember clearly, we never did get a shot at it, and it’s a shame, because I grew up with ‘B’s such as these.

Columbia/TriStar has ended up with them on DVD, and EARTH VS THE SPIDER is one of the six. It starts SPIDERMAN-optimistic and ends up THE FLY-tragic. I give it points for it’s narrative arc, for Dan Aykroyd’s peripheral performance, and for the final spider-head makeup by Stan Winston’s studio which gives ‘still-frame’ its raison d’etre. There are also some negatives, including the film’s periodic use of painful zoom-ins to comic book panels with harsh sound overlays which, after the first few times, feel like an obvious post-production effort to inject energy into the sluggish story.

Devon Gummersall is a sadsack biotech lab night watchman who, in an act of masochistic contrition after seeing a fellow employee killed by thugs, injects himself with mutated spider venom. The results are at first liberating, and he deals with local bullies and impresses the dreamy neighbor next door. But his transformation continues, and the film becomes a disturbing tale of watching out what you wish for.
Gummersal doesn’t have a whole lot of sympathetic cinema genes to spread around. The weakness in the film is mostly the result of his bland nature, though it may have been a directoral thing: I haven’t seen him enough to judge. Newcomer Amelia Heinle is better than laser surgery for restoring vision. I don’t remember her performance in THE LIMEY, and I’m not certain how good an actress she is, but that face buys her some time to show off her thespian wares.

Dan Aykroyd is at home on film. Low key and real, he engenders sympathy from an audience. However, considering that he gets star billing, his character is strangely tangential. It seems that nothing, not even the humiliating cuckolding by his drunken wife, can make him an integral part of the film’s trajectory, and things would have worked out better if it had been so. His good work seems part of a companion piece. And as his menopausal, destructive spouse, Theresa Russell is as good as he is, but with even less to do. She blows in and out, leaving a few good moments in her wake.

I’ve mentioned a few of the sources the film borrows from, but by far the most esoteric steal is from ALIEN – one of the deleted scenes from Ridley Scott’s classic, which has been restored as a supplement to that DVD. In it, Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley stumbles on an improvised alien lair aboard her ship where the creature has sequestered a few of the captured crew members. Encased in alien ooze, they are either reduced to slight, barely human movement, or uttering mournful, semi-digested pleas for death. That’s been replicated here.

The DVD boasts a quality transfer, and the film was apparently shot with both formats – widescreen and full frame – in mind. Both are functional. The sound has impact and some fun surround effects. The ‘making of’ featurette is frustratingly miniscule. If you were to double bill EARTH VS THE SPIDER with an analogous feature, you could either end the procedings on a downward spiral and show Cronenberg’s THE FLY (available from Fox Home Video), or hold off for the eventual release of this year’s upbeat SPIDERMAN.

DVD Features:
Widescreen and Full Frame versions
5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles for several nations including Thailand
‘Making of’ featurette
Theatrical trailers

Directed by Scott Ziehl
Executive Producer: Samuel J. Arkoff
Produced by Lou Arkoff, Stan Winston & Colleen Camp

Devon Gummersall, Amelia Heinle, Dan Aykroyd, Theresa Russell.

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