Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Big Ass Spider! Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
Epic Pictures has now released Big Ass Spider! on digital download, DVD and Blu-ray.  The film stars Greg Grunberg (TV’s "Heroes," TV’s "Alias," Mission Impossible: III), Lombardo Boyar (Group Sex, Happy Feet I and II) and Ray Wise (X-Men: First Class, TV’s "Twin Peaks") and directed by Mike Mendez.  In Big Ass Spider a 50-foot-tall alien spider escapes from a military lab and rampages the city of Los Angeles. When a massive military strike fails, it is up to a team of scientists, soldiers, and one clever exterminator to kill the creature before the city is destroyed....

Film (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
When I first heard about this movie, I assumed it was another cheesy SyFy channel creature feature which I have to admit left uninterested in the movie.  But then I read some reviews and heard good things about it so I decided to check it out.  I'm happy to report that while this is a creature feature, it's also a surprisingly good B movie that's a lot of fun to watch.  This is a low budget film but they didn't let that stop them from making the best movie that they could.

Greg Grunberg stars as Alex, an exterminator with a heart of gold who takes care of pests in some cases for free (or for some homemade bread) for his loyal customers like Mrs. Jefferson (Lin Shaye).  In the process of helping Mrs. Jefferson, Alex us bitten by a poisonous spider which causes him to visit a local hospital to get it looked at.  Alex flirts with his nurse to no avail and is treated and left with an expensive bill that he is reluctant to pay.  While in line to make his payment, morgue technician sets off the fire alarm when he is bit by a large spider.  Hearing about the spider, Alex volunteers to take care of it in exchange for not having to pay for his medical services.

Assisted by the hospital's security guard Jose (Lombardo Boyar), Alex starts trying to track the whereabouts of the spider and soon discovers that this isn't your run of the mill spider.  That becomes even more evident when the military shows up at the hospital, led by Major Turner (Ray Wise) who have tracked the corpse that contained the spider there and want to contain it as soon as possible. Apparently, the military has been doing some experimentation and the project's lead scientist Lucas (Patrick Bauchau) and Turner's second in command Lt. Brant (Clare Kramer) have come along to help catch it.  Even though Turner ends Alex's hunt saying that it's a military matter, Alex still tries his luck with Brant only to be turned down twice in one day.

It shouldn't be much of a surprise that the spider continues to kill people as it grows bigger and bigger.  The first victims are initially easy prey like bedridden patients that can't escape, but the kills grow bolder each time and before long the spider is hunting down scores of people in a park.  Even though the film has a more humorous approach, that doesn't mean that the kills are any less gruesome.  We see people get their faces eaten off, impaled by spider legs, have their face burned off by acidic spider spit, and more.  I don't really care for movies that celebrate graphic murders, but the tone of this movie is so fun and over the top that I just went along with the ride.

The CGI is pretty good but not ILM standards but it works for this movie and it looks a lot better than the usual SyFy movies.  The biggest reason that the film works is the performances by Grunberg and Boyar as the two have great chemistry.  Grunberg wouldn't have been my first choice for this kind of role, but he was excellent as the nice guy with a healthy ego who steps up when needed.  Boyar's Jose is a board character that borders on becoming a caricature, but he manages to walk the tightrope without falling and he adds a lot of humor to the movie.  He frequently made me laugh and the two characters just work well together.  Wise adds a lot of authority to his role and grounds the movie while Bauchau plays the creepy scientist well.   This movie reminded me a lot of Tremors, so if you enjoyed that movie then odds are you will like this one too.
Video (4 out of 5 stars)
This 1080p (1.78:1) transfer looks pretty good for a low budget production.  There's a decent amount of detail present and the various colors come across distinctly.  Flesh tones look natural throughout but the black levels don't look as solid and inky as they should.  Although the darker scenes don't fare that well, the daylight outdoors scenes look much better as everything improves quite a bit.
Audio (4 out of 5 stars)
Big Ass Spider's Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix delivers a fun action packed track that belies its low budget roots.  The dialogue is clear throughout and never drowned out by the fun score or the action on the screen.  The rear speakers offers some good surround directional effects that are placed accurately. The destruction caused by the spider is well delivered and packs a punch.  All in all, this is a very good mix for this kind of movie.
Extras (2 1/2 out of 5 stars)
I wish there were more extras included because other than the commentary, the rest of the extras add up to about ten minutes or so of special features.
  • Commentary - This commentary track features stars Greg Grunberg, Lombardo Boyar, and director Mike Mendez who talk about the movie and joke around.  It's a fun commentary to listen to and the best extra on this set.
  • Big Ass Spider! Premiere - If you were dying to know what some random moviegoers in line for the movie at the South by Southwest Film Festival thought about the movie, then this is the extra for you.  We also get a clip of Mendex introducing the film to the audience. 
  • Interviews - At almost a minute and a half long, this extra lets some of the cast offer quick comments about the film.  When the interview segment is this short I don't really see the point in including it.
  • A Theatrical Trailer, the International Trailer, and a Television Spot have been included.
Summary (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Big Ass Spider is a fun creature feature with an appealing cast that walks the line between humor and horror better than any other movie since Tremors.  The CGI is better than you'd think and despite its low budget, you can see every dollar on the screen.  The Blu-ray offers pretty good video and audio quality but it drops the ball on the extras which could have much better.  I'm going to save this movie for when friends come over because it's one of those movies that you need to enjoy with friends.

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