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Camel Spiders

Starz / Anchor Bay // Unrated // March 27, 2012
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted March 13, 2012 | E-mail the Author
Hey, you know what happens in Camel Spiders? Camel spiders happen! Geez, this review practically writes itself.

At least at first, it seemed like Camel Spiders was a SyFy Original after my own heart. I mean, the very first frame of the flick has a bunch of Army guys blasting the holy hell out of some ragtag insurgent
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types in Afghanistan, and you get your first peek at giant spiders, like, a minute later. When I say "giant", I don't mean that they're sixty feet tall or whatever like the critters in Them! -- more, like, Yorkshire Terrier-sized -- but still, they're big enough that you're not gonna stomp on these fuckers with your Reeboks. Anyway, that opening battle is so chaotically directed, repetitive, and uninspired that I couldn't really tell which side was winning, but then a bunch of camel spiders swoop in and finish the job for Uncle Sam, so I guess that's kind of a moot point. You know what they say about war being hell and all that, and victory comes at a cost. Capt. Sturges (Brian Krause) has the unfortunate duty of shepherding the remains of one of his fallen men all the way back to Arizona, and to go from Afghanistan to that is...yeah, I feel for you, man. As if being shipped off to Arizona weren't bad enough, it turns out there's more lurking in that coffin than a bullet-riddled corpse...!

Anyway, before too much longer, a few hundred thousand camel spiders are swarming all over this speck-on-the-map town that's sometimes in the desert and other times teeming with lush, green grass and trees and snowy mountains. If you don't have time to hit up Wikipedia, here's everything you need to know about camel spiders. They're big. They're fast. They jump. They scream. They eat faces pretty much exclusively. They breed and grow super-super-super-quickly. Like, however quickly you're thinking, it's totally faster than that. They can weave gigantic webs but mostly don't. They have six legs or eight or maybe ten, depending on who you ask.

Camel Spiders splits their food supply up into two distinct factions. For one, there's a group of suspiciously middle-aged college students on some sort of nature hike. A few of 'em manage to survive the initial attack and make their way to an abandoned house that looks kinda normal and suburban on the outside, and then they bust their way into some dark, dank, decaying, Fincher-esque nightmare. So, yeah, the house is in pretty rough shape. Will it hold against the onslaught of the camel spiders? Should they barricade themselves in the basement? Did you know that Tracy and Brent totally got married? Awww, congratulations, you guys!

Okay, and then there's the other group, which I guess is everyone else in town. You've got your smalltown sheriff, played by C. Thomas Howell because of course he is. Then there's the bickering couple on the brink of divorce, the asshole businessmen who are conducting
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business, the owners of a rundown diner, their post-op-tranny waitress, the jaded college boys who roll their eyes at everything, plus Capt. Sturges and the tough-as-nails sergeant he meets up with down in these parts. Individually, they don't stand a chance against the camel spiders, but together, united...? There's hope. They move from a sleepy little diner to a military truck container thingie to, finally, an abandoned gypsum processing plant. It seems like that's a worthy stronghold. They've got electricity, they've got food, they've got water, they've got coffee, they've got couches, they've got machine guns, and -- I'm just guessing here -- they've got gypsum. Still, with no way to reach the outside world for help, it's just them against the spiders.

Look, Camel Spiders being a SyFy Original Movie and all, obviously it's terrible. There's the good kind of terrible, which maybe is what you're holding out for, and...well, then there's this. It is kinda neat to see a Roger Corman-produced SyFy Original that isn't just mashing the names of different animals together, only...wait, what am I saying? Camel spiders. Nevermind. Anyway, Camel Spiders is just really, really routine. It's not dopey or ridiculous enough to pull off the so-bad-it's-good thing, and...well, kinda goes without saying it's not so-good-it's-good.

There's a hefty body count, but the spiders generally knock off everyone in the exact same way -- leap at their heads, some CGI blood spurts out, lather, rinse, repeat -- so it's not really all that interesting. The movie doesn't build up to, like, the survivors squaring off against the mammoth Spider Queen or something. It just kind of ends after a while. The action's all tepid and room temperature, and there's nothing all that menacing about the spiders. The dialogue's cringeworthy. The actors are generally earnest enough but are as stilted and wooden as you'd probably expect out of a SyFy Original. They do a hand-on-the-shoulder jumpscare, which is kind of unforgiveable...and shockingly out-of-sync with the sting in the score, for some reason. At least there's not a cat leaping onto the frame.

The spider effects look like Colorforms, floating on top of the scenery rather than seeming like they're actually a part of it. Whenever anyone's tooling around in a car, the background footage outside the window looks like someone searched Google Images for "desert pictures" and just pasted 'em in there. I mean, I get that Camel Spiders isn't going to be some $85 million onslaught of dazzling visual effects, but making it look like a car is actually moving seems kinda VFX 101. The characters are all one-note and just about completely interchangeable, even though Camel Spiders does screech to a grinding halt for, like, fifteen minutes straight of 'em talking so we can get to know them better. I look at characterization in horror as being a good thing since it ups the stakes, but...well, there's a difference between characterization and sixteen pages of inane dialogue. There's no pulse-pounding excitement or tension or suspense or scares or wit or comedy or...I don't know, anything. Camel Spiders is kind of boring, really, and that's about the most toxic thing a genre flick can be. Skip It.

I'm not really all that keen on that super-digital-video-ish look that Camel Spiders has, but if you're okay with that sort of thing, you'll probably give this Blu-ray disc enough of a thumbs-up. The photography is generally sharp and nicely detailed, and its colors sure are bright and vivid. No noise reduction, edge enhancement, or hiccups in the compression ever creep in. On the other hand, a bunch of scenes early on are dragged down by some really severe ghosting, causing just about everything that moves moderately quickly to devolve into some sort of fuzzy blur. That's out of the way kind of quickly, at least. Contrast is way too hot in a fair number of sequences as well, resulting in some uncomfortably blooming whites. That sort of thing drags the overall score down a notch or two, but
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other than that, it's pretty much what you'd expect.

Camel Spiders is served up on a single-layer Blu-ray disc, and the 1.78:1 image has been encoded with AVC.

The 24-bit Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track that Camel Spiders is lugging around is kinda mediocre. Bass response has latched onto the lower rungs of "okay, I guess", and distinctness and clarity aren't anything all that remarkable either. I mean, this isn't a track that roars with ferocity from every channel or whatever. The recording of the dialogue can be a little spotty, and a big chunk of it's borderline-completely drowned out in the opening assault in Afghanistan. On the upside, the sound design tries to take full advantage of the surrounds, heaping on fistfuls of atmospheric color, plenty of gunplay, hissing spiders, and the occasional aircraft soaring around. Passably okay but less-than-great, even for low-budget schlock like this.

No dubs or downmixes or anything this time around. Subtitles are dished out in English (SDH) and Spanish.

A whole lotta nothin'.

The Final Word
Nah. Skip It.

Okay, So I Snapped Way Too Many Screengrabs
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