Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Spiders from Mars

Today’s Silly Sci-Fi Summary explores a truism about the cinema. They say that some movies are so bad they’re good—well, some movies are so bad that they make you want to chew your own head off. The following film decidedly falls into the latter category.

Previous movies in this series are:
The Atomic Brain
The Amazing Transparent Man
She Gods of Shark Reef
Moon of the Wolf
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
Queen of the Amazons
The Incredible Petrified World
Sometimes a filmmaker has a vision, a view of the world that challenges our preconceptions and leaves us changed in some way. We are different after our cinematic journey. But then some filmmakers got nothin’ and are content to simply have scantily clad women frolic on an island while loathsome men (and occasionally spider puppets) paw at them.

The Horrors of Spider Island (1960)
Auteur/Perpetrator: Fritz Böttger (credited as Jaime Nolan, like it matters)
Star of Shame: None to speak of
Monster(s): Half-man/half-spider/half-nightclub manager, two other lecherous oafs

Let’s be clear: the spiders are the least of the horrors in this movie; far more creepy and disturbing are the humans in it, but I guess “Island of Leering Goat Men” wasn’t a compelling enough title. (IMDb tells us that this German/Yugoslavian co-production was actually called Ein Toter hing im Netz, or “A Corpse Hangs in the Web.” One of the alternate U.S. titles is “It’s Hot in Paradise.” I guess no one was quite sure which direction they were going (aside from down the drain). This was a tough one to make it through, and even the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version is rough going.

Oh, and the “horrors” also include the dubbing.

I should have known this was going to be rough when the opening titles feature stripper music. This does not bode well.

Hm... “Distributed by Pacemaker Pictures.” That could explain why the movie goes off when I use my garage door opener. Maybe I shouldn’t use the microwave while this is on. Then again, maybe I should.

OK, scene 1....The horrors!! Oh, it’s just Los Angeles. A palm-tree-lined boulevard. (remember that: the establishing shot is a palm tree-lined boulevard.)

And then...the horrors! Oh, it’s just a guy parallel parking. He is parking in front of a “talent” agency (and one does use the term loosely). Inside, several women are seated in a waiting room; a sign on a door tells us that they are waiting to see “Mike Blackwood.” As one women tells us where Singapore is, the cameraman is immediately distracted and pans down to another women adjusting her stockings. Ah, so the movie’s style is established right at the outset. As one of the women reads about the chief industries of Singapore, another asks, “Doesn’t it say anything about the 32 night clubs?” Damn World Almanac; always leaving out the important things.

The horrors! Oh, it’s just the women’s bad, overdubbed accents, as they discuss whether they have ever been to Singapore. One lady mentions she had a friend who was an oil sheik who took her there. (Huh?) “Aren’t they the ones who run around in them turbans?” “Listen, honey, when they take their turbans off they’re all the same.” Regular Algonquin Round Table this. So we now have the premise of the movie: the women are going to audition for the opportunity to travel to Singapore to dance in their 32 night clubs. Interestingly, this is one of the first movies to tackle the controversial topic of outsourcing. You know, companies offshoring their exotic dancing jobs to Singapore. Tsk.

The horrors! Oh, it’s just the manager who is selecting women for the Singapore trip, “Gary,” whose torso is a perfect square. Have no fear (or, actually, have plenty of fear): he will be shirtless very soon. He swaggers around the room and fondles the women upsettingly. One woman stands up. “I’ve already been to Singapore.” “And you look like it.” What the heck does that mean?

Gary and Georgia, his secretary (or something), walk into the office, where talent agent Mike Blackwood, who looks like Dr. Strangelove, greets them. Gary sits behind Dr. Strangelove’s desk, and they begin auditioning women in the creepiest, most upsetting way possible: the women come in one by one (in an endless scene) and either show their legs and/or dance about clumsily. (Sample dialogue: “This is Babs. Her legs are worth their weight in gold.” It’s a wonder she can walk. “I’ve had all the boys I can take.” Yow. “Are you always so picayunish?” Huh?) Gary says yes or no to each of them in an unnecessarily cryptic manner: He puts his feet up on the desk and, if he likes a girl, he crosses his legs. If he doesn’t, he leaves his legs uncrossed. Georgia understands. I feel for her. Gary then feels the need to explain this pointless system to Dr. Strangelove. “You always were a crazy guy,” says Dr. Strangelove. Oh, yeah.

Cut to an airplane taking off and flying over New York City. And— wait...New York City? They’re flying from L.A. to Singapore via New York? They are soon over Honolulu. What? And I thought getting from Albany to Atlanta involved some weird connections!

The horror!! Oh, it’s just stock footage of a plane in flames and heading toward the ocean (i.e., stock footage). Our auteur dramatizes the horror of the plane crash by putting two women on an all-black set and filming them in extreme close-up as they scream and fall forward. It is one of the silliest things I’ve seen in a long time.

Meanwhile, Dr. Strangelove is on the phone and drinking. “There’s no need to fear the worst. The last we heard the plane was on fire and we lost radio contact....It’s been four days.” Well, that certainly doesn’t sound serious!

Cut to a life raft in the middle of the ocean. Gary and several of the women are splayed out within it. One of the women is crying; “Would you stop that bawling!” says Gary. “You’re driving us all crazy.” It’s a good thing he’s there. “A ship has got to come by here. There’s got to be some land.” How big could the Pacific Ocean be, anyway? One of the women sees a bird. “Where there’s a bird, there must be land!” says Gary. A regular Noah, he is. And sure enough, it takes a while for them to notice the large island directly in front of them. They all start paddling for it.

Because Gary is the lone male, he has to physically carry each of the women from the raft to the beach, while at the same time being as condescending as possible. Oddly, as the women lie on the beach, Gary feels the need to adjust the position of their arms, as if he is posing them for something. It is at this point that all the women turn into shrill, petulant succubi while Gary in turn treats them like misbehaving two-year-olds. That must be part of the filmmaker’s vision. So here they are, trapped on a tropical island—and one with evergreen trees. (Evergreen trees? Are they native to the tropics?)

The next day, the stripper music strikes up as Gary announces that there is water. That is, a waterfall.

The horrors! Oh, it’s just Gary, shirtless. Here’s how to picture it in your mind: go to your kitchen, open a can of Crisco, scoop out a handful, and form it into a ball. Then, roll it in hair. That’s this movie’s leading man. Oh, and as he drinks from the waterfall, there are some overdubbed slurping noises which will forever haunt your dreams, as will the sight of Gary rubbing his hands all over his body. Excuse me, I have to run out and be violently ill...

There went breakfast. Anyway, the women literally crawl into the waterfall and moan appreciatively. Thank god Gary has his shirt on again. “That’s enough, girls! Let’s go have a look around.” Are they on a schedule? As they wander around the island, Gary demonstrates his alpha male capabilities by cutting his hand on a bush. You know, there should be two of him, as he is just too much man for one body. The girls’ accents and the overdubbing start getting even more bizarre.

One of the girls finds something. “A hammer,” says Gary. “There must be someone on this island.” Ya think? I mean, it could be a naturally occurring hammer. “A hammer, with a long handle. It must be for the purpose of excavating some sort of metal. Most probably uranium.” What is he, Louis Leakey all of a sudden? one of the girls says, in a ridiculous southern accent, “Can you eat that?” The horrors!

They then come across a cabin. Inside...the horrors! Actually, yes: they find a man stuck in a giant spider web. How do you blunder into a giant spider web like that? Did he not see it? Gary disposes of the body, and we zoom into what is apparently supposed to be a spider, but looks more like a cross between a crab and an owl (a cowl?).

They investigate the cabin, and learn (between scenes, I guess) that the place belonged to a professor of something or other, who had kept a diary. Georgia says, “The poor professor, when he made the last entry in the diary, never knew how horribly he would die.” I think that applies to most people who keep diaries. “Discovering that uranium deposit didn’t help him any,” adds Gary. I would imagine that large uranium deposits are of help in a very limited number of situations, and being trapped in a giant spider web probably isn’t one of them.

Fortunately, the professor has a lot of canned goods, and the rest of the shrill harpies file in for food. “It must have been a gigantic spider to weave such a large web.” Are we sure she’s not an entomologist?

The provisions will last for a month. Meanwhile, they also find a trunk full of the professor’s clothes. Why did he have women’s blouses? Oh, I so don’t want to know. The girls start fighting over a shirt. “Now stop it or I’ll take care of both of you,” scolds Gary. Um, what does that mean? Spankings? (In this movie that would not surprise me.) “Give me something to drink,” demands Gary, and Georgia gives him a bottle that is on a shelf five inches from his hand. He really is unappealing. Where are the giant spiders when you need them?

The girls continue to bicker, and they all sound like Wilma Flintstone. One woman suddenly has a posh English accent, and says, “I simply cannot stand this frightful heat any longer.” Good job, old bean. And she starts stripping, which pretty much gets to the main point of the movie: to have all the women frolicking around in their underwear. “Why don’t you throw your dirty blouse somewhere else?” The horrors! Oh, that’s just that really atrocious southern accent again. And of course there is an outdoor shower, which the director particularly liked.

Gary announces that it’s time for sleep, at which point the stripper music kicks in again, and we cut to the outdoor shower.

The horrors! Gary stands in the window, shirtless, rubbing his torso. one of the women walks past and rubs against him slowly, moaning “Oh, Gary.” Hang on, I have to go be violently ill again...

There went last night’s dinner. Anyway, Gary finds a revolver, and decides to go for a walk. That can only mean one thing...yes! Spider! Spider! Spider!

Sure enough, as Gary is rubbing his back against a hollow tree (huh?), a giant spider (or whatever it is) creeps out of the hole and bites Gary. Gary shoots the spider, but thanks to the spider bite, he immediately transforms into a half-man/half-spider mutant, although he isn’t any more or less hideous looking; kind of a lateral move, really. The girls all start walking through the woods shouting for Gary. That goes on for a while.

We then cut to a lone woman walking by a pond. The stripper music kicks in again; and she is soon killed by Gary. Two other girls hear her scream and run to her. As they find her body, real sexy music pipes up very loudly. (They’re not real clear about a variety of things in this movie, are they?)

The girls then all start fighting with each other. That goes on for a while.

Twenty-eight days later, two of the women see a ship on the horizon. One of the women starts yelling to it. The other says, “Would you stop that screaming! You’re driving me crazy.” Yeah, you certainly wouldn’t want them to hear you. The ship goes on by. I don’t blame it.

The horrors! Oh, on another part of the island, two more creepy, lecherous, loathsome guys pull up in a boat, and start unloading it. Who are they? Mr. Backstory fills us in: “Bob, I’m sort of glad the professor picked us out to help him with his work.” Ah. And: “Bob, all you think about is whiskey and women.” They then proceed to unload enough whiskey to float the Queen Mary. They waste no time becoming unappealing and creepy. Bob hears giggling, and climbs a tree and leers at several of the women who are frolicking partially nude in the water. He licks his lips...sorry, have to go be ill again...

There went lunch from two days ago. Anyway, the horrors! One of the swimming girls—Gladys—screams and is pulled into the reeds.

The other girls come across the dead spider and the gun from when Gary was bitten. That was 28 days ago, and no one noticed this before? They then ask what happened to Gary. You mean he/it hasn’t shown up for 28 days? What has he been doing all that time? Rubbing his torso?

Meanwhile, it turns out it was Bob who had pulled Gladys into the reeds, and he is suddenly mostly nude and they are lying side by side in a romantic embrace. Gladys thinks nothing of this guy’s sudden appearance or that he may have a boat.

Then the others hear a noise in the woods, and it turns out it is Bob’s partner. They point the gun at him, and his response is, “Hey, baby!” The horrors!

There is this exchange of dialogue among the women: “I think he’s handsome.” “He doesn’t look too terrible.” “They’re the ones who are the most dangerous.” The horrors!

Bob returns with Gladys, and things go really downhill from here. They all introduce each other; the guys tell them that their disappearance made all the world papers. Of course it did. Their ship is coming back in two days. “Just wait until you get back to New York...Maybe you’ll make it to Hollywood.” I thought they had been in Hollywood. Remember the establishing shot? There aren’t palm trees in New York. (I think this movie needed a botanist on the crew.)

The horrors! They then have a big island-themed party which goes on interminably. There is lots of whiskey, Bob hits on all the women, the other guy has a thing for Ann (there was a woman named Ann?). People dance, they love, they fight with each other, and Bob’s partner wastes no time getting his shirt off. Sorry, have to go be ill again...

There went every meal I have ever eaten. Anyway, the party goes on for rather a long time. Ann and the guy who is never named try to have some kind of romance, while Bob gets in trouble by hitting on everyone. One of the girls literally says to Bob, “Hello, big boy.” The horrors! He breaks off from kissing one girl to go off with the second one. For some reason, during this seduction scene, a telephone starts ringing. (Oh, it’s a trumpet. Why it sounds like a phone, I have no idea.)

This goes on forever. I’d recommend you go do something else for a while, and I’ll let you know when something marginally less upsetting happens.

After a lot of sexist blather from the men, Bob and Joe (ah, so that’s his name) start fighting with each other, for reasons that are unclear. But then they start laughing maniacally. Maybe this movie is an educational film on bipolar disorder. The horrors!

Bob wanders down toward the lagoon, shadowboxing while he walks. Maybe the spiders will come back into the movie. Hope springs eternal. Could it be...Yes! One of the spiders bites Bob, and he drops. And none of that turning into a werespider or anything. He’s dead! Woo hoo! Gladys finds his body and screams. Joe and the girls come out of the house. Joe says, “That sounded like a...” yes? “A scream.” Ah. Gary the Spider Mutant chases after Gladys, and Joe and the others chase after Gary. Joe discovers that the gun he tries firing is out of ammo. Doh! He runs back to the cabin to get more, and Gary chases Gladys to the top of a cliff, and Gladys plummets to her doom.

Like most movie monsters, Gary can instantly transport himself long distances in no time to attack whoever is conveniently attackable, and sure enough Gary pops in to attack Joe. He then vanishes, while Joe and the girls make it back to the cabin. Gary, who I guess had to run and pee in the bushes or something, comes back, bursts in the front door, and starts pursuing Georgia. She says his name, and he backs off. While Gary turns his attention to Joe, Georgia lights what looks like a stick of dynamite (dynamite?!). Oh, it’s just a flare of some kind. Whatever it is, Gary doesn’t like it, and he flees. They all light flares and chase after him. Joe says, “No one goes alone. Everyone stay in pairs.” So what do we see? The very next scene one of the women alone.

They chase Gary through the woods. Joe says, “Stop, the quicksand starts here.” Quicksand? Of course. Gary gets that sinking feeling.

Cut to exterior, boat sailing away and...

The End!!! Yes!!!

Oh, man, did this one bite. During the interminable party scene, I read some reviews online and apparently there were a number of these kinds of “nudie/stripper/horror” films released in the early 1960s, particularly in Europe. There are probably better examples (there would almost have to be), but this one has nothing whatsoever to redeem it. Acting? Terrible. Dubbing? Laughably inept. Makeup effects? The neighborhood kids do a better job on Halloween. Script? Come on; this thing could not possibly have been written. It’s basically porn without nudity, and a horror movie without horror. Logically speaking, this movie doesn’t exist. And, oh, how I wish that were the case!

1 comment:

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