The film begins in the jungle where Ahkeeba (Treva Etienne) a procurer of ancient artefacts is hightailing it away from a primitive tribe with a large stone ‘black egg’ that he’s liberated from the tribes ancient ceremony of worship and sacrifice to a spider-like deity. A bit later, as he delivers the black egg to the rural home of Walter Clark (Bruce Davidson) an invalid collector of mostly stolen treasures, there is a disagreement over their deal and Ahkeeba smashes the egg unwittingly releasing a giant spider with venomous intent (that doesn’t end well for him).
Meanwhile, Kara Spencer (Elizabeth Roberts) has arrived from New York to work as a carer for Walter, taking up residence in the house next door with her two kids Jesse (Arman Darbo) and Cambria (Chloe Perrin). Kara is not in a good way, haunted by the death of her other son Stevie in a car crash that was her fault and addicted to pain killers as she tries to deal with her guilt and her grief.
These two stories come together, uneasily, as Kara tries to care for Walter whilst Jesse begins to form a relationship with him presumably as a kind of surrogate father. And as Walter tells Jesse the story of the spider worshipping tribe, the giant spider itself is making itself at home in Kara’s house next door.
What jars with this story is that the elements of the narrative don’t fit well together and ultimately don’t serve the horror that the spider is intended to create. For a start, the title obviously comes from the children’s nursery rhyme about the spider who climbs the spout but gets washed down by the rain. But, even though there’s a little girl who’s afraid of spiders, there’s really nothing in this story that suits the nursery rhyme reference (despite there being spooky voices singing the rhyme in the trailer, which doesn’t happen in the movie).
Secondly, the idea of a white western man procuring sacred artefacts from primitive tribes is a great starting point for a horror story if it delved into the propriety of such acts and, classically, used the spider trope as way of the collector getting his comeuppance. That almost happens here – there’s a nice scene between Jesse and Walter when Jesse returns an object he’s stolen, and Walter calls him a thief. Jesse comes straight back at the old man pointing out that his ‘collecting’ is no different. But that’s about as far as this idea goes before it gets swamped by the final story element which, of course, is Kara’s drug addiction and guilt over her dead child. As a set up for a mother who must ultimately face the giant spider, this backstory and character flaw gets in the way of the horror story and fails to fuel its suspense.
It's a shame that these elements don’t form a more cohesive narrative spine, because many of the other aspects of the film work quite well. It’s nicely shot by Marcos Durian and the special effects overseen by Dan Rebert provide some nicely icky and gooey spider secretions and the spider itself is pleasingly non-CGI (even if the creature work is at times a bit stilted). There are some good scary moments that work fine but would be all the more terrifying if they were better embedded in the narrative.
The performances are solid and the presence of more experienced actors like Bruce Davidson (X-Men, Apt Pupil, Willard) and Denise Crosby (Ray Donovan, Deep Impact, Star Trek: Next Generation) add some gravitas to the cast and Gallo’s direction keeps things moving at a good pace.
Itsy Bitsy may not be the most satisfying flick in the cannon of spider-horror, but it does offer an entertaining and occasionally scary night in front of the screen.
Itsy Bitsy will be available on home-entertainment through Eagle Entertaimnet in March 2020.