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EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS

Assembling The Cast
As producer Devlin points out, no matter how spectacular a film's visual effects are, "it's meaningless if you don't care about the people involved. We took a lot of time and care to establish the characters in our story, to present them as individuals and then put them into a situation in which their isolation and peril is believable," he explains.

Toward that end, the filmmakers began casting only after securing a story and setting it in a small, remote town with an underground network of abandoned mining tunnels where giant spiders might easily breed and hide.

Never losing sight of the fact that humor is part of the charm of this kind of film, Emmerich says that this influenced the filmmakers' casting choices. "When you hire actors who are adept at humor," he explains, "that nuance comes across. Even if their lines are straight -- and in most cases they are -- the actors inject subtle humor just by their delivery or their reactions."

After reading the script for Eight Legged Freaks and watching Ellory Elkayem's short film, David Arquette campaigned for the key role of Chris McCormick, a former resident of the town who has just returned following the death of his father, the owner of the mine. Chris is a quiet, introspective guy, somewhat tongue-tied in the presence of his former flame, Samantha, who is now the town sheriff, but he finds his courage quick enough when all hell breaks loose.

"David has a very natural style," says Elkayem of the versatile actor. "You don't feel that he's acting, but rather that he has become the character he's playing." That ease works well for the Chris character, who appears fairly low-key for the opening portion of the film. As Arquette describes him, "Chris has just returned to his hometown after 10 years. He's dealing with the death of his father and the hard decision about selling off the old mine, facing the woman he once loved and lost, and he's just generally disconnected and emotionally overwhelmed."

However, once the town is overrun with gargantuan spiders, a more confident Chris emerges, and Arquette shifts gears accordingly. Says Devlin, who likens Arquette to the silent film comedian Harold Lloyd, "David has an amazing comic ability as well as the depth of a well-trained actor. He came to prominence playing outrageous comic parts, but has recently been proving his talent in more dramatic work as well. All of that comes together in Chris McCormick, which is a traditional leading man role, but in a very non-traditional story."

Kari Wuhrer, who plays single mother and town sheriff Samantha "Sam" Parker, is also breaking tradition with her role. The films that inspired Eight Legged Freaks were not known for their strong female characters. Actresses in Them, Tarantula, The Black Scorpion and the like were mostly required to scream, run and faint. "When we were developing the film," says Devlin, "our intention was not to duplicate those films but to honor them by updating them, and part of that modernization was the inclusion of a strong female lead who is capable and believable in action sequences."

"What's great about Kari," Elkayem adds, "is that she not only conveys total competence in handling the action, but she is simultaneously believable as a parent, a sheriff with strong ties to the community, and as a woman who was once very much in love and might be again."

Carrying a<

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