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Mesa of Lost Women

Entry updated 24 September 2021. Tagged: Film.

Film (1953; vt Attack of the Spider Women). Ron Ormond Productions/Howco Productions, Inc. Executive producer Joy N Houck. Produced by Melvin Gordon. Directed by Ron Ormond and Herbert Tevos. Written by Tevos and Orville H Hampton (uncredited). Cast includes George Barrows, Jackie Coogan, Dolores Fuller (credited as Delores Fuller), Paula Hill (credited as Mary Hill), Robert Knapp, Nico Lek, Chris-Pin Martin, John Martin, Allan Nixon, Tandra Quinn, Angelo Rossitto, Harmon Stevens, Richard Travis, Kathrine Victor and Samuel Wu. Narrator: Lyle Talbot. 70 minutes. Black and white.

The film opens with the woman Tarantella (Quinn) killing a man with her kiss. The action proper begins with Grant Phillips (Knapp) and Doreen Culbertson (Hill) stumbling through the Mexican desert, near to death; they are saved by oil company surveyor Frank (John Martin) and his friend Pepe (Chris Pin-Martin), and taken to a hospital where Phillips begins to tell the main story in flashback to roughly a year before. Scientist Dr Leland Masterson (Stevens) escapes from an asylum and hijacks Phillips' plane at gunpoint, taking him, Doreen, her fiancé van Croft (Lek), his asylum nurse (Barrows) and van Croft's servant Wu (Samuel Wu) all hostage. Wu has sabotaged the plane's gyrocompass off-screen to make the plane crash-land on Zarpa Mesa, deep inside the Muerta desert. It is revealed in deeper flashback that Masterson had been there before, invited by Dr Aranya (Coogan) to become his colleague in experiments using glandular extracts to create superhuman "spider-women" such as Tarantella, plus human-sized Monster tarantulas with which Aryana can communicate telepathically. When he refused in horror to join Aranya, Masterson was injected with a Drug causing temporary insanity, and released to be found wandering in the desert, declared insane and confined.

Aranya's spider-women, though in no way overtly spider-like, can not only kill with a kiss but regenerate lost limbs (see Regeneration) and recover from normally fatal wounds. His work with males has produced only disfigured dwarfs, of which the most prominent (Rossitto) is unnamed. Spider-women, dwarfs and a giant spider kill Phillips and van Croft on the mesa. Wu is slain at the Underground laboratory by other spider-women after reporting back to Aranya, having secretly worked with him all along; his usefulness is now at an end. The three survivors are taken captive: Aranya restores Masterson's sanity with an antidote to the drug he gave him before. Masterson grabs chemicals off a shelf and, after giving Phillips and Culbertson time to escape, sets the complex ablaze to thwart the Mad Scientist. The film then returns to the hospital where, clearly, nobody believes this incredible story: Doc Tucker (Nixon) ascribes it to delusions caused by the pair's desert ordeal after the plane crash. A final scene shows that at least one spider-woman survived the destruction of the laboratory.

Mesa of Lost Women – one of the poorest Horror in SF films of the 1950s – is confusingly structured, being told in two flashbacks rather than one. At one point Masterson meets Tarantella in a cantina after escaping the asylum, apparently fails to recognize her at first, then shoots her when he does so (before taking his hostages); she returns to life. It has been speculated that Ed Wood Jr was connected with the film behind the scenes: possible clues are that narrator Talbot appeared often in Wood's own films, while Wood's then girlfriend Fuller has a non-speaking role as a spider-woman. Wood later used Hoyt Curtin's guitar soundtrack in his film Jail Bait (1954). Jackie Coogan had been one of the most popular child stars in the US of the 1930s, but his parents squandered the fortune he earned then; he regained fame as Uncle Fester in the fantasy-comedy tv series The Addams Family (1964-1966) (see Charles Addams). [GSt]


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