Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Mesa of Lost Women

Originally this film began shooting as Lost Women of Zarpa under director Herbert Tevos. Tevos ran out of money, one reason apparently being that Tevos didn't get along with anyone, including the cast and producers. The production was shut-down and then eventually abandoned, but the film was bought by Robert Ormond who shot some new scenes and retitled it Mesa of the Lost Women in 1953.
In ths film, a mad scientist named Arana is creating giant spiders in his lab in Mexico (more free trade jobs lost). He wants to create a master race of superwomen by injecting his female subjects with spider venom. Again with the insect venom!
To give the film a little credit, it's structured as a series of layered flashbacks, much like many modern films like The Usual Suspects or Resovior Dogs. Perhaps Quentin Tarantino caught this one when we worked at the video store. Or not.
But that's all the credit this film gets. This is truly awful. One is tempted to think that Ormond hired Ed Wood as a script doctor for this film. And there is a connection -- this film is narrated by Lyle Talbot who appeared in Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space.
I hate to belabour the comparison to Wood here, but this film is worthy of it. All the Wood touches are here -- the mad scientists, the cheap sets, the bad acting, the overly earnest cautionary tale, the abundant use of stock footage, a fatally cheap budget that cannot be overcome, bad editing, the single piece of stock music that appears over and over again masqurading as a musical score, and a mute female monster, this one named Tarantella (as opposed to Wood's casting of Vampira). And the narration is in that strange and baroque Woodian style, referring to spiders as hexopods, and constantly foreshadowing that one day, maybe this day, Man will GO TOO FAR! All we need is Criswell showing up!
And whereas Wood had the aging Hollywood star Bela Lugosi to star in his films, here we have former child star Jackie Coogan playing the mad scientist Arana. Coogan, who starred opposite Charlie Chaplin in 1921's The Kid, would later find stardom again by playing Uncle Fester on tv's The Addams Family.
For a supposed thriller, this film is deadly slow. It's only 69 minutes long but I felt like I was watching it for days. Old seaQuest DSV epiosdes were starting to look good by comparison.
The worry that science was going too far was a staple of 50s SF films, and the fear of atomic radiation and nuclear weapons was reflected in the guise of cinematic scientists who were pushing the boundries of knowledge into possibly dangerous realms. Who knows what evil they might unwittingly unleash on us?
The worst evil the 1950s unleashed may have been this film.

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