POSSIBLY THE GREATEST WERESPIDER FILM EVER MADE
For awhile now I’ve been considering doing a column discussing how bad movies can be good, and if any movie cries out for such a discussion it’s HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND. The script is idiotic. Only a single cast member’s acting rises above high school drama club level. The special effects are ludicrous (albeit, cute). The actual implementation of the plot is goofy. I’m not sure anyone actually directed it. If so, there are no signs of it. Nice, if utterly inappropriate saxophone sorta jazz score (at times). But still, this is a highly entertaining movie.
First, the title. ‘Nuff said.
Second, the plot: A planeload of showgirls heading for a dancing gig in Singapore crash lands on a deserted Pacific island overrun by giant mutant spiders. ‘Nuff said.
Third, the execution. This is where it gets tricky, and it can only be explained by going into a slightly more detailed plot rundown than I usually provide.
HORRORS opens in the office of a talent agent where this guy named Gary (aided by his girl-friday/girl friend Georgia) is putting together a gaggle of dancers for a Singapore tour. (The second I saw Gary I knew he looked familiar, but I couldn’t place him. The name in the credits, Alex D’arcy, didn’t help. Once again, IMDB came to the rescue. He was the fake millionaire with a fake eyepatch in HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE, among other things. He was the only performer in the film who could actually act, but, as we will see, he was to relinquish most of his thespian duties fairly early on.). They end up picking out like eight girls after looking at their gams, having one or two twirl around the floor (but they didn’t pick the ballerina; what she was doing in this film is anybody’s guess). One just took off her blouse and stepped out of her skirt. (“So,” Gary laconically remarks, “you’re a stripper, eh?”). But, don’t spend too much time memorizing their names, because by the time their plane crashes some of them have been replaced by others we haven’t seen before. Okayyyyy.
And speaking of planes, the very next scene is stock footage of a plane taking off, followed in rapid succession by two guys sitting in a crude cockpit mock up shouting into a microphone “Our right engine is on fire!”, and then more stock footage of an obviously different plane crashing into the ocean. In between you get a few seconds of a couple of the dancers screaming (heads only with no discernible background), illustrating in a shot both money and time saving, that it is, indeed, the dancers’ plane going down. Masterful.
Cut to drifting in a raft (The plane’s crew, by the way, is nowhere in sight, nor are they ever mentioned. I take this not as uncaring brusqueness on the part of Gary and the girls, but as simple neglect by the screenwriter.) and, after a moderate amount of suffering and bitching, they spot the island and paddle for shore. Gary remains surprisingly cheerful and upbeat throughout this ordeal, helping the girls out of the surf, chiding them like a big brother, carrying several to safety. This cheery positiveness was to remain Gary’s hallmark expression, until, well, more later.
The island itself looks suspiciously more like the northern California coast than a tropical Pacific island, both geologically and florally speaking, and it turns out, I was right (mostly). It was actually filmed in Nicola, Yugoslavia, when there was a Yugoslavia. More later.
So, they’re on the island, having gone without food and only a few sips of water for about four days. Gary, of course, finds a freshwater spring running down to the ocean only a few feet away from where they beached (lucky, that) and everyone has a drink of water and they all perk up. Amazing, though most of the girls’ skirts are torn and split up the sides of their ample dancer’s thighs and hips, they’ve hung onto their high heels, so no one has any trouble climbing the cliff. One of the girls finds a peculiar, long hafted hammer and proclaims, “There must be people on this island!” Gary hefts the hammer, ponders for a moment. “This is the type of hammer used to mine some kind of metal. Probably uranium.” And, son of a gun, both of them are right! In a thrice they discover a rundown cabin and in the cabin is a diary mentioning the discovery of vast amounts of uranium on the island.
Unfortunately, also in the cabin is the remarkably well preserved body of the Professor (the erstwhile prospector) hanging in a huge spiderweb. That’s kind of a shock, but they take the body out and discreetly dispose of it in some bushes about twenty feet from the cabin (The smell won’t bother them at all from there!). They inventory the food supplies and incidentally cat-fight over the professor’s shirts. Gary decides they have about a month worth of food, so they’re covered. Everyone can go to sleep now, after eating stew or something out of a big pot.
They try, but it’s so damn hot that the girls have to take off most of their clothes. Gary wanders out on the veranda, where the stripper grabs him by the leg like the girl on the Frazetta cover of CONAN THE ADVENTURER (first Conan book I ever read, by the way).
They have some small talk and the stripper kind of climbs up his leg and plants a hot one right on his lips. They’re still in a clinch when Georgia (Gary’s girlfriend/girlfriday) comes out onto the veranda and gasps. Gary turns to her and shouts kind of incoherently: “It’s so hot! I don’t know what I’m doing!” and to prove it he runs out into the forest where, yes, I suppose you knew this was coming, gets bit by a terrier-sized cute mutant special effects spider and is indeed
turned into a werespider. So, he spends the next twenty-eight days (which go by like THAT!, until Bobby and Joe show up, bringing supplies to the Professor) lurking in a hollow tree and occasionally reaching out his taloned, supposedly spider-like hands to lamely try to strangle one of the girls. He doesn’t grow any extra limbs, though. Special effects budget probably wouldn’t allow that. And, unfortunately, this was the only mutant spider terrorizing the island. Ditto the special effects budget. Also, no one ever explicitly links the giant mutant spider with the uranium deposits (which, actually, are never seen or even much talked about again), but the notion is out there, just waiting for savvy audience members to put two and two together.
I’m going to halt my synopsis here, both to preserve some surprises for potential viewers out there (and many are still to be revealed) and to reserve some space to talk about the movie’s background. Besides, if you haven’t picked up on the film’s charm yet, you’re probably deaf to the concept. Good bad movies are usually earnest in their intent but utterly yet endearingly incapable of pulling it off. They generally lack mean spirits. (Sure, it was too bad about Gary and the spider, but you can’t make a movie without breaking an egg or two.) They’re not boring; they have to be visually interesting (in this case, it was all the semi-clad women frolicking in the lagoon, taking showers, cat-fighting, running away from werespiders, etc.; but also more on this later). They have to strike odd notes or take odd turns that keep you guessing as to what’s going to happen next. HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND has all this is spades.
But this film was not originally called HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND. Researching a film’s history doesn’t help with the initial viewing, but can add to the its legend, or mystique.
In this case, it turns out that HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND was originally a German- Yugoslavian co-production (1960) called EIN TOTEN HING IN NETZ (I wondered about the occasional bad vocal synchronization; turns out it was bad dubbing), or for those of you illiterate in the language of Goethe (but really, you can almost figure it out even if you can’t order a beer in German) A CORPSE HANGS IN THE WEB (1962 US release as IT’S HOT IN PARADISE). It ran a meaty 89 minutes. Apparently, the rest of the film consisted largely of nude shots of the dancers frolicking in the lagoon, taking showers, cat-fighting, running away from werespiders, etc, but the guts of these scenes were left on the cutting room floor (why, oh, why?) for the 77 minute cut (1967) which is basically this public domain version. The HOT version has never received a commercial release. We can only wait and hope.
Rating: 8 (entertainment value)/ 2 (technical merit)