Tuesday, October 18, 2011


This B-film from early in the 50s sci-fi cycle begins with some overheated narration about the miserable biped that is man, the possibility of miracles, and a desert that turns people into "dead things." Then we see a dehydrated man (Robert Knapp) and woman (Mary Hill) staggering along near death in the Muerto Desert. They are rescued by a hunky American oil worker (John Martin) and doctored up by a relatively handsome doctor (Allan Nixon) at the AmerExico Field Hospital. Knapp starts ranting about gigantic insects in an underground laboratory, and a rather torturous flashback begins. Mad scientist Jackie Coogan is indeed performing experiments in a lab on the Zarpa Mesa, injecting people and animals with spider venom. Harmon Stevens, a former colleague of Coogan's, visits him and sees a giant spider, a group of dwarves who do the doctor's bidding, and some crazy aggressive women, all created by Coogan. Stevens becomes a subject of experiments but manages to escape. At a cantina, an exotic woman named Tarantella does a bizarre dance, and a clearly addled Stevens takes her, Knapp (who's a pilot), and Hill hostage and makes them fly him to the mesa to get revenge on the mad doctor.

That story sounds more coherent in the re-telling than in the playing out. In addition to the tangled, nonsensical plot (and plotholes), there are other bad movie pleasures: terrible performances—some overheated, some practically nonexistent—cheap sets, bad monsters (there's really only one here, a huge spider puppet that barely moves), sexy but wooden women and men. Tandra Quinn, as Tarantella, doesn’t give a performance as much as writhe and stare. Coogan, a former child star who went on to later fame as Uncle Fester in The Addams Family, is disappointingly bland as the mad doctor. Stevens is the most fun as the pop-eyed man who spends most of the movie in a mild trance. The irritating guitar and piano score, which never seems to stop, was recycled by Ed Wood in his movie Jail Bait. Truly a bad movie for connoisseurs. [DVD]

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