It's hard not to love Lance Henricksen. From his amazing personal story - he was illiterate until age 30, teaching himself to read by studying scripts, - to his esoteric hobbies (he's a painter and a potter), no genre icon can claim his renaissance state. While he typically plays the tough guy, gravitas expanded by a craggy, gravel voice and wrinkle-ridden façade, he comes across as deeply compassionate and open in interviews. So when a true fan like yours truly discovers his name on a new direct to video fright flick - in this case, a supposed insect spectacle entitled In the Spider's Web - it's cause for cautious celebration. After all, while his persona is more or less immaculate, his career choices have been less than successful. For every big screen bravura turn (The Right Stuff, The Terminator, Aliens), there's been dozens of dopey, derivative fear fests (Deadwater???). Unfortunately, this bug hunt is another unexceptional effort. Instead of overflowing with schlocky goodness, it just sits there like a dead gnat.
Angry that her best friend Stacy choose the Far East, not a cozy beach, for their planned trip together, disgruntled Gina tries to make the best of a bad situation. While she has eyes for the American assistant of their Downunder jungle guide, she'd rather be sipping a margarita than battling the untamed elements. When a member of their touring party is bitten by a deadly spider, they travel to a local village. There, they learn that an ex-patriot named Dr. Lecorpus has set up shop, and he's more than happy to help them out. After a while, however, his motives appear more sinister than Samaritan. Heading back to the city to get help, Gina and the object of her affection find very little assistance. A local policeman, fresh on the job, appears willing to investigate, but everyone else seems spooked. When they return, Stacy is missing, the bite victim has vanished, and a mysterious helicopter keeps circling the compound. Apparently the maniacal medico is using insect poison to paralyze people. Then he steals their organs and sells them to the highest bidder. If she's not careful, Gina will find herself the next casualty caught In the Spider's Web.
When you see a title like In the Spider's Web, and discover a cast that includes a bunch of nobodies accented by solid scream seer Lance Henricksen, certain expectations instantly arise. First and foremost, you anticipate some real over the top human histrionics. These grade-Z groan inducers need something to shine a light away from the typically craptacular special effects and subpar locales. Luckily, we get some decent jungle jive and a rather impressive thatched roof village for our troubles. Next, there's going to be some interpersonal angst. Characters we don't like or know are going to gnash their teeth and defy the laws of nature in order to get what they want, achieve uncertain goals, or simply supplicate their growing sense of ego and/or entitlement. Yep, all that happens here. A young American girl runs ramshackle over most of India expecting every non-English speaker in sight to bow to her continence. She is matched by another camcorder carrying waste that thinks she's making the Brahman Blair Witch. Her illogical POV shots do indeed come into play later on in the narrative. And our organ harvesting bad guy is one weird whack job. Wearing his dirty fingernails extra long (and yellow - ew!) and eating the occasional eight-legger like it's nature's power bar, Lance's Dr. Lecorpus is a real piece of weirdo work.
And then there are the spiders. If you call a film In the Spider's Web, you better have some damn impressive arachnids (or damn good reasons why you don't) or be prepared to face the wrath of 'nature gone berserk' aficionados everywhere. These bugs better be big, bad-ass, brutal, supersized, irradiated as all get out, or capable of spitting poison directly into its victim from great distances, or there's no reason for a viewer to validate their existence. After all, tarantulas and their Haunted Mansion like cob-based abstracts, stopped being scary around the time Bill Rebane turned them into a clichéd Wisconsin disaster. Oddly enough, there is good news and bad news here. On the side of success is the CGI. Since we aren't dealing with oversized insects (BOOOO!!!!) and are, instead, looking at quantity over quality, the bitmap rendered pests better be effective. For the most part, they are. They do resemble a throng of wicked web slingers, that is, if you don't look too closely. Sadly, the physical manifestations of these motherboard creations are laughable to say the least. We get what resembles plastic turds on strings dangling down before our actors, and the occasional 3D close-ups are inexplicably comic. William Shatner battled a far more believable foe when he took on his Me Decade Kingdom of the You-Know-Whats.
Still, there's Lance, struggling mightily to make it all work. He gives Lecorpus the depth and inherent quirks missing from everyone else in the cast (who all appear to be South African/Australian performers attempting to cover their native accents with bad American attitudes), and imbues every line with an equally absent sense of menace. And director Terry Windsor also does a good job of exploiting his Thailand backdrops. You get a real sense of untamed wilderness and old fashioned foreign intrigue. Of course, this comes with a side order of stagnancy, thanks to a storyline that substitutes endless scenes of people walking through Styrofoam caverns for anything remotely resembling suspense. Even the main motivational plot point - the illegal collection of human pieces for sale on the black market - is completely pushed aside for more cave dwelling. Spelunkers may enjoy all this unexciting unearthing, but your basic b-movie fan couldn't give a good stalagmite. In the Spider's Web is a confused, unimpressive pile of bug butt. True, it replicates the irritation and nuisance of an insect bite, but that's about it.
As part of something called the Maneater Series (a better label would be the "Soul Stealer Collection"), Genius Products delivers a less than stellar set of technical specifications. The 1.33:1 full screen image - that's right, it's all 4x3 here anamorphic fans - is drab and colorless, doing very little to enliven the lush greens and bright blues of the rainforest setting. It was a TV movie after all (or so the cover art proclaims). Apparently, that's the excuse for the family friendly presentation. The details are decent, and the contrasts are handled well. But overall, this is an unimpressive transfer.
It's dull, derivative Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 all the way. No utilization of the back channels. Very little mood or ambiance created by the staid sonic mix.
There are none, therefore, there's no need to discuss them.
God bless him, but not even the studied sturdiness of Lance Henricksen can save In the Spider's Web. It's a painfully ordinary experience accented by moments of outright awfulness. Unless you like your arachnid cavalcade swimming in bad performances, lame exposition, and enough cartoon creeps to choke several stagehands, avoid this movie at all costs. Clearly requiring a rating of Skip It, you'd be better off searching an old woodpile for errant Black Widows rather than spending 90 minutes with this noxiousness. He's perked up everything from feeble westerns to specious speculative fiction, but there are some limits to Lance's wizard-like powers - and he's clearly met his match with this unoriginal movie macabre. The only scary thing about In the Spider's Web is that someone thought it would make a decent movie. Clearly, someone needs a shot of insect venom stat. Otherwise, they may be compelled to greenlight more of these pointless endeavors.