Premiering as part of SXSW Film’s Midnighters lineup of horror and sci-fi films, Big Ass Spider! sticks out from the usual fare of independent films headlining the rest of the festival. Namely, it’s an indie film starring a gigantic spider rampaging across LA, while two exterminators seek to bring it down with pure gumption and witty one-liners.
It may not be a slow-burning, melancholic drama, but just because it employs a CGI acid-spitting spider doesn’t mean this film isn’t worthy of its stripes. It’s as much a labor of love and art as any other independent film.
"And one thing that I truly believe is always true, is that humor and scares don’t need to cost money." - Mike Mendez
“Our extras came out of our Facebook accounts and Twitter followers,” says director Mike Mendez, a devotee of the horror genre. “We borrowed cameras… It was a combination of begging, borrowing and stealing. A little, not too much, stealing.”
Despite utilizing special effects, Mendez believes the story behind his film is like any other feature independent project — a small, positive team of artists working hard to make the best they can with only the limited resources on hand.
“I would say it’s only more difficult than a normal independent film because it’s a lot more time consuming, and it’s a lot more organization because you have to keep track of all of these different shots and moving parts," Mendez continues. "It takes a lot of your imagination when looking at the rough cuts because we’re looking at basically empty shots of nothing.”
Sharing familiarity and a common vision between like-minded artists also helps to make everything flow better, according to actress Clare Kramer.
“I’ve worked with Mike before, I love him as a director," she says. "The genre appeals to me, and his sensibilities as a director appeal to me. One thing is, when you see the movie, you’ll notice there’s an infusion of humor in the story that, even though it’s a gory monster movie, it makes it light and fun for the audience.”
It’s that light-hearted infusion into a ghastly monster film that helps to set Big Ass Spider! apart from the common horror-schlock flicks you might come across during late nights on cable TV or in the bargain DVD bin. The creators of this film want to provide more to a viewer than just cheap thrills.
“The seeds of the humor were there from the very beginning with the script,” says Mendez, “I tend to lean towards funny and so that tends to come out of me, and then once [lead actors Greg Grunberg and Lombardo Boyer] and Clare came on board, it just kept going that way and there was a certain point you couldn’t stop it. You didn’t want to stop it because it felt so right."
“And the other thing I would always say is, look, it’s hard to make a giant spider movie scary," he continues. "Secondly, when you’re making a low-budget thing or an independent thing, you want to play to your strengths. And one thing that I truly believe is always true, is that humor and scares don’t need to cost money.”
Those laughs, as producer Shaked Berenson points out, come from the actors filling their unique roles and providing different sources of comedy, whether it’s Ray Wise delivering the most ridiculous lines with utter seriousness or Lombardo Boyer actively commenting on the film's most ludicrous moments to reflect what the audience is thinking.
The minds behind Big Ass Spider! hope that the film will charm enough fans at SXSW to live on after the festival. If you are still itching to catch a glimpse at the colossal arachnid, additional screenings are scheduled for March 14 and 15.