And now… in the tradition of Snakes on a Plane, Penn and Teller Get Killed and Death of a Salesman… another movie with a title that tells you all you need to know: Big Ass Spider! (At the Alamo Drafthouse Vintage Park, Friday and Saturday, and on VOD.)
One of the most amusing guilty pleasures displayed last spring at the SXSW Film Festival, this latest tongue-in-cheek creature feature from filmmaker Mike Mendez (The Convent) is a briskly paced and surprisingly clever riff on B-movie monster mashes that is all the more enjoyable for not going entirely over the top. To paraphrase the classic line from Rocky: The protagonists don’t act like they’re in a homage – they act like they’re in a real horror show.
"But I think that’s what makes this film different from a lot of movies like it: The people who made it cared a lot about it."
The plot by scripter Gregory Gieras calls for a romantically challenged insect exterminator named Alex (Greg Grunberg) and a wisecracking hospital security guard named Jose (Lombardo Boyar) to become unlikely heroes when a humongous arachnoid, the unfortunate byproduct of a military experiment, runs amok in Los Angeles. It’s a dirty job, but what the hell, somebody has to do it. Besides, the army officer (Ray Wise) and the eccentric scientist (Patrick Bauchau) charged with leading the hunt for the 50-foot predator clearly aren’t up to the task.
We caught up with Mendez a few days ago, and asked him to spin a few stories about Big Ass Spider! He graciously complied.
CultureMap: Perhaps the most surprising thing about Big Ass Spider! is its relative restraint. It’s hardly the sort of wink-wink, nudge-nudge concoction that such B-movie homages often are.
Mike Mendez: Yeah, that was our intention. We wanted the audience to be laughing with us, not at us. It seems to me that, lately, there’s been kind of a movement toward movies where, you know, it’s so bad, it’s good. Like this whole thing now where you have the mega monster of the week on cable TV.
But that wasn’t the kind of thing we were interested in making. We honestly were interested in making something that was legitimately entertaining, with legitimately likable protagonists. The aim was to take these kind of oddball characters, and put them in a grade-B monster movie. To me, the collision between these two things – the oddball characters and the sort of archetypes and conventions of B monster movies – would lead to a lot of fun, and make it interesting.
CM: What’s really extraordinary is that, if you could somehow digitally lift the performances by Ray Wise and Patrick Bauchau, and place them in a quote-unquote “straight” sci-fi movie, they’d be right at home there.
MM: Exactly. Ray Wise’s performance as the military guy – that was something straight out of a B-movie. That was part of the whole idea of crafting this B-movie world, and then having these oddball characters who are not normally in a B-movie sorta crash into it. Hopefully, it’s all of a piece, and it all feels like one film. But it also sort of feels like Alex and Jose are on the wrong track, or the wrong trajectory, while the military people are doing their own B-movie. The fun comes jamming those things together.
CM: Considering your limited budget, your production values are quite impressive.
MM: Well, yeah, that was something else we hoped would set us apart from the companies that make these B monster movies for cable and DVD. They tend to churn out maybe 10 to 15 of these things a year. Which is great from a financial point of view. But we figured we’d take a different approach.
I mean, we have the same budget as any of those films, about a half-million dollars. But we had the attitude of, “Hey, let’s just try to make this one the absolutely best movie we can, no matter how long it takes.” Maybe we didn’t have the money to do that. But we sure took the time. We literally spent about a year-and-a-half in post-production on special effects. Now, I’m not gonna say our effects work so fabulously well that you can’t distinguish Big Ass Spider! from Gravity, because it’s still a far cry from that. But I think that’s what makes this film different from a lot of movies like it: The people who made it cared a lot about it.
CM: So has any thought been given to a Return of the Big Ass Spider? Or maybe Bigger Ass Spider ?
MM: There’s definitely a kernel of an idea for a sequel. But I would say the sequel probably would not feature a spider. What we came to believe while we were shooting was that, if people really did want to see a sequel, it would be because they’d want to see our two lead characters, Alex and Jose, going off to have another adventure.
My fantasy – which I know may not happen, but I can dream – is a television show. A kind of Ghostbusters Meet Men in Black on the Syfy Channel television series. Like, whenever governments have bad accidents, and you have giant insects or other creatures come out to wreak havoc – who you gonna call?