Kevin Z has asked me to contribute my favourite choice of schlocky Z-grade horror movie, an idea that started with Rick Macpherson. I did have some objections to replying - the concept of "Halloween" is something of a bugbear of mine. Traditionally we don't celebrate it here in the Antipodes, and I've tried to dissuade its encroachment into the Great Southern Consciousness. What can I do at this point other than quote the great David Bowie:
In the end, though, I couldn't resist the opportunity to pull out a few wonderfully terrible monster films. I don't do actual horror films in the modern sense - I have a surprisingly low tolerance of gore on screen, or of things jumping out at me - but I adore a papier-mache monster.
The Wasp Woman
Janice Starlin has a problem. For many years, she's been the director and public face of America's leading cosmetic company, but time is collecting its inevitable toll. Despite her best efforts to hold back aging, anything less than perfection is unacceptable in the cut-throat business of beauty. Her search for a solution brings her into contact with Eric Zinthrop, a slightly eccentric researcher. Zinthrop, well aware of the anti-aging properties of royal jelly produced by bees, has begun research into the royal jelly of wasps. He discovers that wasp jelly can not merely slow aging, but actually reverse it!* Starlin wastes no time in installing Zinthrop in a primate laboratory, and insists on becoming his first human test subject. Unfortunately, Zinthrop is unaware that the impatient Starlin is sneaking into his laboratory and injecting herself with far more of the solution than he has judged to be safe...
*All the same, they should have known something was up when the guinea pigs he injects his solution into not only get younger, but actually change species into rats...
When I saw this movie last year, I was actually stunned by how good it was. It's not a great movie, but you can see a great movie somewhere struggling to get out - trapped by the dollar-a-day budget. The inescapable ridiculousness of the monster costume is, at least, ameliorated by its having very little actual screen time, with more mileage drawn from Starlin's attempts to conceal what is happening. In contrast to the usual run of mad scientists (see later), the mayhem is not caused by a researcher acting with disregard for humanity, but by the subject's refusal to accept the researcher's cautious approach. Like the classic King Kong, despite the monster's seemingly horrific nature, the intention is ultimately not to bring fear but pity. In King Kong, 'twas beauty killed the beast. In The Wasp Woman, it's the pursuit of beauty.
As an aside, the life of Susan Cabot, the actress who played Starlin, seems also worthy of film (and indeed, apparently a biopic is in production). Cabot met her own end when her son, a sufferer of both dwarfism and mental illness, bludgeoned her to death.
Horrors of Spider Island
Even in black and white, movie directors were well aware of the virtues of making a "horror" movie for the essential purpose of getting a whole bunch of large-breasted women to run about in very little clothing. A troupe of exotic dancers and their super-masculine manager crash-land on their way from America to Singapore and are washed up on a deserted tropical island. Nightie-ripping catfights over who gets to bed the only available MAN are dulled slightly when he is bitten by a giant radioactive spider, causing him to mutate into a supposed half-man, half-spider creature that looks more like a shaven Wookie in need of a good orthodontist.
I recommend that male readers of this blog watch this movie only when in the exclusive presence of their own sex. The levels of chauvinism demonstrated at some points are such that female viewers will probably have an uncontrolable urge to thrash the nearest male simply for being there.
And last but certainly not least...
Mesa of Lost Women
Oh. My. God. Sometimes words just fail me. I don't know where to begin...
I came across an IMDB comment that described this piece of bizarritude as "the greatest Ed Wood movie not made by Ed Wood", and I couldn't agree more. It has the complete absence of acting ability, the total disregard for lighting and perspective, even the overbearing Griswold style voiceover. Ed Wood, the... ahem... multi-talented director of Plan Nine from Outer Space and the quite unforgettable Glen or Glenda, or I Changed My Sex was actually not connected to this particular piece of drek, though he apparently did use the same flamenco guitar riff in his later Jailbait. Believe me, after sitting through Mesa of Lost Women, you'll remember the flamenco guitar. The same three bars cycle in an infinite loop throughout the entire - freaking - film! Not even the B-52's doing "Rock Lobster" can compete with that.
Back to the movie. On an isolated mesa in the middle of a New Mexican desert, a mad scientist is experimenting with injecting human growth hormone into spiders, producing an army of beautiful spider-women (as well as stunted little dwarf men, because male spiders are a poor comparison to the females). The mad scientist (named, ha ha, Dr Araña) tries to talk another scientist into joining his researches, depriving him of his reason when he refuses. Through a rather convoluted set of coincidences, the stupefied victim ends up escaping from the mental hospital he's been confined to, taking a bunch of people hostage and escaping in a light plane that happens to crashland on the very mesa housing Araña's spider people!
Seriously, I simply cannot explain this masterpiece of ineptitude. "In the continuing war for survival between man and the hexapod, only another fool would bet against the insect". Except, of course, that spiders aren't insects*.
*Funnily enough, I found this last point slightly less annoying than a similar problem in the recent movie version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a film I mostly liked except for an overwhelming urge to scream at the television: "Listen to me! Chocolate. Is. Not. Candy!"
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