“Where is my mind?”
That may be the question you ask yourself when reality hits and you realize yes, I did just go up to a box office window and say, “One for Big Ass Spider, please!” It also happens to be a Pixies cover that kicks things off, as our dazed and portly protagonist Alex (Greg Grunberg) walks unfazed through a mini-warzone, looking up at the end to see the gigantic arachnid of the title perched atop an L.A. skyscraper (yes, we have a couple of those). We are obviously in climax territory with a setpiece like this, so it’s no surprise when a title card setting us back 12 hours earlier appears.
What is a surprise nowadays is when a movie of this sort genuinely delivers the goods.
We’ve been conditioned by Syfy to be disappointed in the various permutations of sharks and spiders that have appeared – cheaply animated, all – on our TV screens semi-regularly. I’m happy to say that Big Ass Spider gets it; campy name aside, the movie does what is most important for a monster movie, and takes the jeopardy seriously. It’s filled with humor, but most of the laughs come from the ineptness of the characters rather than any winks and nods to the camera. And while the spider doesn’t exactly look real – it’s a CG creation that occasionally moves with the herky-jerkiness of vintage stop-motion – it looks real enough that its pointy parts could hurt, whether you think it resembles a genuine life-form or no.
All the pacing of a classic monster movie is here, though director Mike Mendez is a bit more generous with revealing his carnivorous critter than some (I assume the budget was fairly small, but he gets value out of it). At a taut 80 minutes, there’s no room to waste time – I was about to write “no time to mess around,” but the whole point of the movie kinda is that everybody messes around, especially Alex and the semi-inept security guard Jose (Lombardo Boyar) who becomes his de facto sidekick. Alex presents himself as the Will Graham of spiders, claiming to know how they think, and of course gets it woefully wrong at a key moment, while Jose seems to be the last guy in the world you should give a loaded gun to.
The spider’s origin is nicely brushed aside, its existence simply presented to us as a fact, only to get a token explanation much later (think Night of the Living Dead…and a little Ziggy Stardust). Finding himself at a hospital where he’s treated for a brown recluse bite, Alex begins chasing the creature when it bursts out of a corpse in the morgue, but soon finds himself at odds with the military, who want the place on lockdown. The troops are led by Major Tanner, played with impressive seriousness by Ray Wise. Only Patrick Bauchau, as the token pipe-smoking mad scientist, overacts just a touch.
Oh – props to Western Exterminators for allowing use of their logo – which really is their logo and giant mascot on the backs of their vans…
And aside from a few moments of digital gore (and the word “ass, perhaps), one of the coolest things about this movie is that it’s basically TV and family safe without being sucky – kids with a fear of spiders probably should not watch, but parents with a fear of watered-down horror ought to find this no less fun than some of the more explicit fare in the same vein. One of the most irritating aspects of vintage monster movies was how blandly handsome the heroes were; socially awkward Alex is a long way from that, and closer to Michael Moriarty in Q: The Winged Serpent.
Only one question remains for grammarphiles who may notice the lack of hyphenation in the title: is it a “big-ass” spider in size, a spider that has a big ass, or a big “ass-spider”? Well, I did say it was more or less family safe, so you can rule out option three, but both of the others work. Though somebody should do an Ass Spiders film at some point.
Big Ass Spider opens tomorrow in theaters and on VOD.