Camel Spiders [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Anchor Bay Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (31st March 2012).
The Film

I couldn’t tell you the exact date – I’m sure a “when” is debatable amongst all of his fans – but there came a definite time when the “Roger Corman Presents” banner went from being a must-see to a must-avoid. Personally, I was a big fan of his output through New World Pictures through the 80's ("Godzilla" (1985) being a childhood staple of mine), but somewhere in the 90's things started to get a little murky. You see, back in the 80's horror fans had little to worry about with regard to CGI being used in place of practical, tangible effects work. In the mid-to-late 90's, however, Corman’s low-budget ways saw him eschewing the processes that made even his bad films good, and embracing the low-cost alternative of computer-generated imagery. I’ll give him some minor credit for continuing to use some practical effects peppered in with the CGI work, but you’d be hard-pressed to find many people who can name a legitimately decent Corman production since… "Carnosaur" (1993), maybe? It’s been a long time, and in the ensuing years Roger hasn’t done much to improve his company’s current trajectory.

Not that he has to, mind you. His legacy is already very much secured in cinematic history, so whatever crap he cranks out these days is purely to satisfy himself as a producer of motion pictures; it has nothing to do with needing to prove himself. The guy has been working closely with the SyFy Channel for the last decade, if that tells you anything. While I have (mercifully) been spared having to watch 99% of those films, I still feel confident in stating that “Camel Spiders” (2012) might just be the worst thing he’s ever slapped his banner across. I can suspend all the disbelief he asks me to when watching something like “Sharktopus” (2010), since that titular beast could potentially be intimidating despite being completely ludicrous. But camel spiders? C’mon… you seriously expect me to believe that fully-capable, functioning adult human males are incapable of outrunning a spider that is slightly larger than a pair of boots? The damn things are CGI – nobody thought to make them appear slightly imposing? Just make them mutant nuclear camel spiders. All it would have taken was two extra lines of dialogue and the computer effects guys could have hit “increase size by 50%” on their renderings and at least we’d have something to potentially fear.

“Oh, hey, look… those spiders are coming out of the nuclear waste silo/reactor/discarded refrigerator!”

Bang. Done. Now the spiders can be human-sized, which is something that I could seriously see scaring the shit out of me. In real life, though; not in some bad Z movie.

The film’s plot – because I know by this point you’re dying to hear all about it – opens with a fierce (well, as fierce as CGI bullets can get) gun battle in the Middle East. One of our troops is killed, but just as they’re packing his body up for home a few of the indigenous camel spiders hop aboard his coffin for a free ride to civilization. Hey, wait, didn’t we already see this in “Arachnophobia” (1990)? Yes, yes you did. The officer in charge of supervising the body, Capt. Sturges (Brian Krause), is driving it through a small town with another solider when they get into a car accident and the coffin goes flying off into the street. And, of course, unleashing the “horde” of camel spiders. I put “horde” in quotations because there are less than a dozen camel spiders, although the film forgets that small fact about as quickly as I forgot about the film as a whole. Anyway, they start terrorizing locals, leaving the town sheriff, Sheriff Beaumont (C. Thomas Howell, sadly, not in blackface), to team up with Sturges to eradicate their eight-legged foes.

Please, someone tell me this was a rushed first draft that they had no time to do re-writes on. That would at least partially explain why the young people in this film have such incredibly banal dialogue, or why men who are apparently police and military soldiers are completely incapable of hitting a massive spider with a bullet from 20 feet away. At one point a character threatens to ram through a security gate at a high-tech compound if some guy doesn’t give them the access code. He refuses, so Sturges says, “Ram it!”… and we cut to a shot of the van slowly driving through an obviously already-opened gate. The filmmakers should have played this one a little more tongue-in-cheek than they do, because it comes across like someone involved thought this was going to ever be taken seriously.

I feel bad for Brian Krause. It seems like everyone got the memo that this isn’t a serious picture, but Krause seems to think he’s in a real movie. If I were to equate his attempt at acting by drawing thespian parallels, I’d say he was going for Julia Roberts when he should have been channeling Eric Roberts. Don’t try to be the standout here. Do you ever look down into the toilet after a morning bowel movement and decide which turd looks the best? Of course not, and no one is going to be doing that here. Some casting agent won’t watch this and decide, “Hey, Brian Krause sure nailed the shit out of his role in Camel Spiders!” This is a film that will be enjoyed by young horror fans too green to know any better, or by some of the older crowd who will (clearly) watch anything. Krause should have dialed things down a bit and added some levity to his performance.

In on the joke: C. Thomas Howell. He’s hamming it up for real here, folks. If the thick-as-a-brick Southern fried accent doesn’t convince you, his performance will. I’m not saying he’s reaches Nic Cage levels of crazy here, but it’s clear that he knows this isn’t the kind of film that’s going to define a career. I don’t remember the last time I’ve seen Howell enjoy top-billing for a film. Actually, I don’t recall the last time I saw him in a film at all. A glance at his IMDB page shows he’s been keeping himself pretty damn busy, mostly with TV shows and direct-to-video fodder. He even decided to sully one of his few gems, “The Hitcher” (1986), by appearing in the straight-to-video sequel, “The Hitcher II: I’ve Been Waiting” (2003). I’d say things are actually looking up for him since it also shows he’s got a role in “The Amazing Spider-Man” (2012), but I have a feeling that’s going to suck, so he’s likely to stay in the trenches where he’s at now.

Jim Wynorski directed this? Damn. That’s too bad. He was responsible for some great schlock in the 80's and 90's - titles like “Chopping Mall” (1986), “Sorority House Massacre II” (1990, under the pseudonym Arch Stanton… bonus points for whoever gets the reference), “Dinosaur Island” (1994) and many more sleaze pictures. He’s worked with Corman for a number of years, so it’s no surprise that he’d be hired to direct one of their recent pictures. Besides, despite doing a few fan favorite cult films Wynorski hasn’t exactly set the genre world on fire. I wouldn’t ever say “Camel Spiders” is below him, and judging by the quality of what he turned in it really should be.

It saddens me that Roger Corman’s name no longer commands the draw it once could. What was once a proud badge of promotion is now the punch line to a lengthy joke, but I can never fault the man for continuing to do what he loves most. There’s one thing you can be damn certain of: if Corman continues making these films it’s for one reason and one reason only – they must be making money. Roger is no fool; he rarely ventures outside of his “sure thing” box. That’s why he’s never lost money on one of his pictures. I’ll always sit down to watch his classic productions, but getting through anything contemporary is too much of a chore.

Video

If you’ve seen any recent Corman production then you should know what to expect here. They all share similar technical specs: 1.78:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image, shot digitally. The image here looks a little heavy at times, with some over-saturated colors weighing things down. As with anything shot using digital media, the image is generally clean, clear, and free of grain. All the stuff that makes film look so cinematic is completely stripped away. Colors are generally pleasing, as are skin tones. The scenes at night exhibit a marked loss of detail in the image, not that there’s a whole lot to be missing. All in all there’s not much to draw complaints. This is a crisp, detailed image that doesn’t contain anything to visually impress viewers, but there are no deficiencies in the picture to take note of either.

Audio

There are a lot of two things here: gunfire and talk. The English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround sound track mixed at 48kHz/24-bit does a fine job of delivering both to the audience. The film opens with a gun battle that we, the viewer, are supposed to be smack dab in the middle of. I wanted to hear better use of the surrounds, but the gun shots felt weak in comparison to the front end of the track. That seems to be the theme for this one: heavy in the front, minimal in the rear. Honestly, I don’t think anyone would complain (or notice) if this only had a 2.0 stereo track on it, so whatever they’ve put together for a surround sound mix should be considered a minor blessing. The track has zero range, often sounding compressed and narrow. Again, these are things most anyone who watches the film will probably expect. Subtitles are included for English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.

Extras

I’m going to go ahead and assume whoever was in charge of putting together the extras for this disc was attacked by a camel spider and is now in a large cocoon of some sort as I type this. Aside from a few bonus trailers that open the disc, there’s not a single supplemental feature to be found.

Thank you.

Bonus trailers (1080p) open the disc for the following:

- “Corman’s World” runs for 2 minutes and 4 seconds.
- “Ice Quake” runs for 1 minute and 34 seconds.
- “Metal Shifters” runs for 1 minute and 43 seconds.

If you’re wondering, yes, that last one is a complete and total rip-off of “Transformers” (2007).

Packaging

The single disc comes housed in an Blu-ray keep case.

Overall

Rog, this is one you should’ve let die on your desk!

The Film: F Video: B- Audio: C- Extras: F Overall: F

 


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