Alex Mathis (Greg Grunberg) is a pest exterminator whose day started out very mundanely, but that was certainly not the way it ended up. In the morning he had attended the home of the elderly Mrs Jefferson (Lin Shaye) who was afflicted with a mouse in her house; Mathis caught it as he had many there before and in lieu of a fee, which she said she wasn't able to pay until her social security came through, she offered yet another home-baked cake which he was too polite to turn down. As he was preparing to go, trying to ignore the way she was chatting him up about his lack of a lady love, they noticed a small spider on his shirt...
But that wasn't of the Big Ass variety, it was a common or garden arachnid which nevertheless gives our hero a nasty bite. From that title, you might have thought this was about the level of your average SyFy channel or Asylum-produced schlock, but should you take a chance on it you might have been pleasantly surprised. Director Mike Mendez's efforts here were not likely to go down in history as one of the greatest ever monster movies, but if you liked to settle down with a vintage fifties sci-fi flick featuring some overgrown critter created by science gone bad then you would find something very favourable to keeping that tradition of B-movies alive, if not exactly booming.
Still, if a movie that had a huge bug causing mass destruction could be called unassuming then that's what Big Ass Spider! was, and a lot of that was down to the cast who for the most part underplayed amusingly. Greg Grunberg, who also had a hand in producing here, was a well-known face from television, often those projects of his childhood friend J.J. Abrams and had built up a following of those who appreciated his humorous everyman persona. What he didn't often get was a chance to star in a film that was released to cinemas, which this was, if only on a limited basis and a few festivals, but it was enough to raise its profile when it had a chance to be seen in people's homes.
Good word of mouth thus generated, Mendez's work found quite some degree of goodwill as you could see lead character Mathis as an encapsulation of everything that would appeal about the film, the little guy who proves cometh the hour, cometh the giant monster exterminator in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. He takes a trip to the nearest hospital to see about his bite, whereupon he gets mixed up with the fate of a spider which has killed one man and is accidently brought into the building with the corpse, biting a doctor in the process. Hello, thinks Mathis, I could be of use here and with a security guard sidekick for bilingual wisecracks in the shape of Jose Ramos (Lombardo Boyar) he seeks to pay his bill by killing the creature, not twigging how big and dangerous it is.
Or how big it will become, for that matter, as the more victims it claims the larger it grows, and our dynamic duo, whose banter sounds refreshingly spontaneous, seek to assist what quickly turns into a military operation headed by Major Tanner (Ray Wise, no stranger to cult TV adulation himself). Though it his lieutenant second-in-command Karly Brant (Clare Kramer) who catches the lovelorn Mathis's eye, having gotten nowhere with an Erin Gray lookalike doctor (Alexis Knight) and hope springing eternal he exchanges business cards with Brant, even if she is rather frosty. The spider meanwhile is getting huge thanks to some middling CGI effects - the 21st century equivalent of the man in the rubber suit of yore - though you couldn't fault their ambition and selected shots of the monster hanging off tall buildings were not bad at all. Will Mathis and Ramos save the day, even if they can't save Lloyd Kaufman? Where's Clint Eastwood in a jet fighter now we really need him? There was nothing groundbreaking here, true, but thank goodness for a low budget schlocker done well. Music by Ceiri Torjussen.